International Fireworks Festival – April 2016

Fireworks in Malta have a long tradition which goes back to the time of the Order of the Knights of St. John. The feu de joie using gun salutes, the musketterija firing of muskets, the solfarelli d’aria, St. Catherine’s wheels (irdieden) and other forms of fireworks originated from explosives that were lit off from mortars (maskli) as an expression of rejoicing. Special occasions when such festivities were held were: the election of a Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St. John, the election of a Pope who was the overall protector and ruler of the Order, the birth of a prince from a friendly European state or else to mark an important victory over the Ottoman military might. Fireworks developed into a craft when the Maltese started to celebrate the events connected to their British rulers in the 19th and 20th centuries. This centuries-old tradition is still very much alive in the crowded calendar of village festas that take place all over Malta and Gozo, especially in the summer months.

The Ministry for Tourism and the Malta Tourism Authority will be organising the 15th edition of the Malta International Fireworks Festival.

Pyrothecnic displays will take place on:
Saturday 16th April, Saturday 23rd April and Saturday 30th April 2016

Carnival 2016 – That time of the year again!

Carnival in Malta is a colourful extravaganza of huge artistic papier-maché floats parade through the streets of Valletta, accompanied by boisterous brass bands and a cacophony of dancers and revellers in outrageous costumes. By night the party continues in the clubs and bars of Paceville.

In Nadur, Gozo, carnival takes on a zany and yet macabre mood, with grotesque masks and satirical floats parading through the streets of the town at night.

Book your accommodation in Nadur, Gozo

Walk-Through video of catacombs in Malta

Watch this amazing walk-through video of St Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat Malta.

St.Paul’s Catacombs are a typical complex of interconnected, underground Roman cemeteries that were in use up to the 4th century AD. They are located on the outskirts of the old Roman capital Melite (today’s Mdina), since Roman law prohibited burials within the city. St Paul’s Catacombs represent the earliest and largest archaeological evidence of Christianity in Malta.

The cluster gets its name from the myth that it was once connected with St Paul’s Grotto, which was once also partly re-cut into a Palaeochristian hypogeum.

Although much smaller when compared to the catacombs of Rome and other large Roman centres, the catacombs of St Paul are a good example of the Maltese underground architecture, which is the result of an indigenous development which was barely influenced by overseas traditions.

The entrance to the main complex of St Paul’s Catacombs leads to two considerably large halls, adorned with pillars made to resemble Doric columns and painted plasters most of which have now disappeared. On keeping with what seems to have been a norm in most Christian catacombs, these main halls are equipped with two circular tables set in a low platform with sloping sides which resemble the reclining couch (triclinium) present in Roman houses. In all cases found in the main complex and the numerous other Christian Hypogea of the site, both table and couch are hewn out in one piece form the living rock forming a single architectural unit within an apsed recess. Although various interpretations may be found, these triclinia, or Agape tables, were probably used to host commemorative meals during the annual festival of the dead, during which the rites of burials were renewed.

The night of candles – Birgufest 2014

Once a year, the residents of the old city of Birgu (also knows as Vittorioso) switch off all their lights and the cobbled streets of this proud city reflect the tiny candle flames for another edition of Birgufest.

During Birgufest, the historic city turns romantic and boasts not only its glorious pasts but also its architecture through a playful dance of light and shadow. The streets are lit up with a gentle glow by thousands of candles of all kinds and locals together with visitors enjoy the narrow cobbled streets of Birgu discovering centuries of history and culture.

The historic re-enactments, extended and cheaper museum entrances, and the opening up to the public of other venues of interest including churches, highlight the immense historic value of this city.

In addition, Birgufest 2014 will also feature food stalls offering both Maltese and other food, various musical concerts – ranging from classical to modern, and various exhibitions, make this event truly an outing with something to suit all tastes and ages.

Birgufest 2014 will be hedl between the 10th and 12th October.

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Certificate of Excellence to 7 Malta Sites

Seven  sites on Malta have just received a Certificate of Excellence for 2014 by TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site.

The National War Museum, Ġgantija Temples, Ħaġar Qim Temples, Mnajdra Temples, Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, Malta Maritime Museum and St. Paul’s Catacombs have received the award which is given only to establishments that consistently achieve outstanding traveller reviews on TripAdvisor.

As stated in the official website, “Winners of the Certificate of Excellence are located all over the world and represent the upper echelon of businesses listed on the website, with only the top 10 percent receiving the prestigious award.” This means that these four Heritage Malta sites have constantly featured as top attractions by those who visited them.

To qualify for the Certificate of Excellence, businesses must maintain an overall rating of four or higher, out of a possible five, as reviewed by travellers on TripAdvisor. Additional criteria include the volume of reviews received within the last 12 months of the year in question.

For more information regarding these seven award winning sites one may visit Heritage Malta’s official website

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The Changing Face of Folk

There is the music of course – a varied programme of foreign and local acts which this year will revolve around the gypsy theme, with bands from Spain, Croatia and Israel. And there is the gћana – in turn soulful or comical – but always heartfelt, which comes pouring from the stage. And then there is the ambience, too, the beautiful Argotti Gardens, decked with lights and life, providing a fairytale setting to the tunes, old and new, filling the air.

But perhaps the real reason which makes Gћanafest one of Malta’s fastest-growing festivals is the atmosphere: friendly and relaxed, families, young and not-so-young will feel equally at home here. Local artisans work at their crafts before your eyes, and will often chattily explain how they are made. This year, there’s a children’s workshop on tberfil too – the decorative painted lettering often found on the old buses which is rapidly dying out.

Yet despite its increasing popularity, the festival is still intimate enough for details to be curated lovingly. Even the food is carefully picked to a theme: no commercial entities are in sight: you are likelier to find pastizzi, imqaret and all things traditionally Maltese, making this festival – devoted to music, food and crafts – much more than just a series of concerts.

In such a setting, folk music can flourish. Folk’s power lies in its telling of simple stories, the stirring tunes, the stunning rich voices – and this year’s Gћanafest – which will run from 30 May to 1 June with a gypsy/klezmer music theme – promises plenty of all of those. The festival, which is supported by the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts and the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government, is organised under the auspices of Fondazzjoni Ċelebrazzjonijiet Nazzjonali (FCN) in collaboration with Valletta 2018 Foundation.

BGKO – Ghanafest 2014Foreign bands include BGKO (Barcelona Gypsy Klezmer Orchestra), an ever growing family of professional musicians and singers that are often invited for guest appearances. As musicians and singers from Turkey, Slovenia, Switzerland, England, Russia, Serbia, India, France, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Iran and Israel gave their contribution to the never-ending story, the BGKO brought Klezmer, Gipsy and Balkan music to all generations of Barcelona. Musical band Cinkuši has been playing ethno music for many years, combining their Kajkavian roots and heritage with contemporary trends using many different songwriters and lyrics from sources such as Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža, Joško Božanić, Carmina Burana, The Book of Genesis all the way to the clichés that stir collective emotions. Cinkuši’s music has been included in prestigious foreign and national song collections and the band has collaborated on numerous theatre and film projects. Cinkuši received an award for the best original music at the 13th Days of Croatian Cinema and they were the subject of a documentary by Croatian National Television. Cinkuši’s third album Spiritus Sanctus won the Croatian music award Porin in the category of best ethnic (world music) album of the year.

Ramzailech from Israel will play on Sunday; their formula is simple and highly effective: an unstoppable live act, band members that head-dive right into the crowd, hora-circles and mosh pits of happy people and hardcore klezmer music everywhere. Ramzailech carried the hardcore-klezmer gospel overseas to Europe and even Asia with the spicy mixture of rock, Yiddish, English, Arab, Hebrew and hardcore Klezmer. They will play at Gћanafest 2014 with the support of the Israeli embassy.

The Maltese bands, too, bring their own specific brand of contemporary folk rooted in tradition. From Mistura and Frank O’Neill on Friday night to Kantilena on Sunday night, these bands all bring a focus on the Maltese language and contemporary folk. The qarċilla, too – the wedding parody which was revived for this year’s Carnival – will make a return to this year’s Gћanafest, accompanied by a musical element, on Saturday evening.

Of course Gћanafest remains the biggest local showcase of gћana, offering a unique opportunity to experience the different styles of Maltese folk music. Simple but heartfelt, folk music is often about stories – from the personal to the universal, from the ancient to the modern, and gћana is particularly suited to this type of storytelling. As with gypsy folk music, there is a raw intensity which seems to pour out of a collective soul. Set against the beautiful setting of the Argotti Gardens, with its timeless themes, stirring tunes and rich voices, this is a festival that will not leave you unmoved.

The Festival will be held on 30 May-1 June at 7pm, Argotti Gardens, Floriana – within walking distance from Valletta. Tickets: €3 and €7 for a three-day block ticket available at the door.

A Gallery of Maltese balconies

One of the most important cultural and architectural heritages in the Mediterranean is the balcony.

Thanks to the Spanish governance over Malta from 1282 to 1530, the islands still features important cultural markers in the Maltese daily today. These include culinary, religious, and musical influences. Two examples are the enduring importance of the Spanish guitar (Maltese: il-kitarra Spanjola) in Maltese folk music, and the enclosed wooden balconies (Maltese: gallerija) that grace traditional Maltese homes today.

These balconies have been influenced by different cultures and the growing needs of the population. This article features some of the most beautiful example of architectural balconies around the island of Malta.

The Maltese Village for Hollywood Stars

Like everywhere else, life has become fast-paced in Malta. People seem to be in a rush everywhere. The buzz of activity in the commercial centres of Valletta and Sliema is living proof of this. No doubt it’s all fun if you’re on holiday and people watching is your kind of thing. And if it does get tiring you can always try an altogether different scene…

Just outside the quaint village is Palazzo Guarena – a knight’s summer residence of some elegance but of more interest to film buffs. Hollywood’s most glamorous couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stayed here for some time in 2011 while Pitt was filming World War Z in various locations in Malta.  A year later actor Tom Hanks, no doubt on reputable recommendation, chose to use the same palazzo as his base for fourteen weeks while filming Captain Philips.

Some of the villages further out of the harbour areas seem to escape this madness completely, and once most of their inhabitants have driven off to their work places, an oasis of calm descends on these villages with very few (understandably mostly elderly) people about. The commercial activity in these places is also on a much slower level with a couple of grocery shops, the odd bar and the obligatory confectionery – the Maltese are big on their sweetmeats.

The village of Qrendi on the way to Hagar Qim is one such place and makes for a pleasant diversion before or after visiting the hallowed megalithic site. Tracing its origins to at least as far back as 1417, Qrendi became a parish in 1618.  An elegant parish church was built around 1720, and this takes pride of place right in the centre of the village. The church is flanked on both sides by a series of picturesque narrow streets. Some two hundred meters to the church’s right one can find a unique octagonal tower known as the Captain’s Tower on Triq it-Torri (translates as Tower Street appropriately enough) with features like drop boxes which are unknown on other defensive buildings here. In the area is also a largish chapel, St.Saviour’s which during the Second World War served as a dormitory for people made homeless by the enemy raids in the Grand Harbour area.

At the village’s southern end is the quaint chapel of St. Matthew with a regenerated piazza ideal for some quality lazing. Of more interest is a huge “hole in the ground” behind the chapel, known locally as Il-Maqluba. In reality this is a karstic depression created by a collapse of huge underground caves creating a sizable sinkhole. Reputably the collapse occurred during a storm in 1343 and was superstitiously seen as a sort of heavenly warning – thus the building of the chapel as a conciliatory gesture. Steps lead down some way down this sinkhole where one can appreciate its sheer size.

Quite near to St.Matthew’s  and on the village periphery is the ancient sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercies – a church with origins dating back to the 13th century – ironically before Qrendi came into being and the area was then a long lost hamlet going by the name of Hal Lew. It’s a robust church with a lovely porticoed façade bordering some lovely country lanes.

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Places to visit nearby include

Stay at this Traditional Village Townhouse in Zurrieq.