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Phespirit goes to Malta
Valletta     November/December 1998

AROUND MALTA

Map of Malta

1 Valletta

Ups and downs in Valletta: Phespirit tumbled over a chain around the square outside St. John's Co-cathedral, and was shat on by a pigeon as he walked through the city gate to Triton Fountain.

On the up-side, he found Valletta a beautiful, comfortable place to live, its streets an easy grid to navigate.

On his last morning, Phespirit sat on a battlement overlooking the great harbour by Fort St. Elmo, reading a book in the warm winter sunshine, with no passers-by to disturb him ..... life was good.

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2 Vittoriosa

Vittoriosa sits upon the central promontory that juts into the grand harbour opposite Valletta. Whilst it is very much overshadowed by the capital, it is worth visiting to look around the museum of Malta memorabilia that occupies the old St. John's chapel.

More warm and wonderfully human a museum Phespirit has never visited. At its heart is the marvellous old character who welcomes guests and charmingly brings his eclectic collection to life.

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3 Tarxien

Megalithic Malta, part 1:

Tarxien is the least impressive of the megalithic temple sites that Phespirit visited in Malta. It suffers from being surrounded on each side by close proximity streets and houses. It's hard to credit that this bit of urban Malta dates back to 3100BC, with remains on the site thought to be 500 years older still.

The wooden planks for walkways don't help.

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4 Marsaxlokk

The profusion of colourful fishing boats, known as 'luzzas', makes Marsaxlokk harbour and bay particularly photogenic. The seafood markets on the quayside are no less interesting, although trade is swelled and diluted by the profusion of camera-toting tourists.

Phespirit was one.

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5 The Blue Grotto

Having followed directions to the correct spot on the south coast, Phespirit was perplexed by his failure to spot the colossal natural stone arch that plunges down from cliff-top to sea, and marks the entrance to Malta's Blue Grotto.

Eventually he realised ..... he was standing on top of it.

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6 Hagar Qim

Megalithic Malta, part 2:

This megalithic limestone monument is constructed as a complex of six major spaces with a particularly impressive main entrance.

It is a fine temple indeed.

In location, setting, size and quality, Hagar Qim is superior to the Tarxien site, but even better is 500m downhill at Mnajdra .....

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7 Mnajdra

Megalithic Malta, part 3:

Mnajdra is little more than a stone's throw from Hagar Qim, but by being just that bit nearer to the coastal cliff's edge it has the edge on its neighbour. In Phespirit's opinion, anyway.

Location is important, even for prehistoric temples.

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8 Dingli Cliffs

The village of Dingli is thirteen kilometres southwest from Valletta. Situated on a plateau 250m above sea level, it is the highest point of Malta.

Phespirit travelled by bus to the Dingli Cliffs, from where he could enjoy the views up and down the coast and across the sea to the tiny uninhabited isle of Filfla.

The weather wasn't ideal, and the cliffs weren't wildly spectacular, and it wasn't easy getting a bus back, but it filled a day.

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9 Rabat

There is a Roman Villa in Rabat, which is nice, and below ground there are the catacombs of St. Paul and St. Agatha.

Phespirit popped underground to see the grotto where St. Paul is believed to have preached and possibly lived for a few months.

It's a bit musty.

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10 Mdina

The walled city of Mdina was the capital of Malta in Roman times. Nowadays, with its status diminished, it has been pedestrianised and has come to be known as the 'silent city'.

St. Paul's Co-Cathedral is its most spectacular monument. On a slightly less grand scale, Phespirit enjoyed cheese toasties with chocolate cake at the Ciappetti tea gardens.

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11 Mosta

There is one reason, and one reason only, to visit the small village Mosta, and that is to admire the enormous Rotunda of St. Marija Assunta. With a diameter of 37 metres its dome is apparently the third largest unsupported dome in the world, exceeded only by St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London.

The Laftwaffe dropped three bombs on it in 1942. Two bounced off the roof, while the third went straight through and landed amongst the congregation without exploding. A good day for Christianity.

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12 Victoria

The capital of Gozo was named after the British monarch, Queen Victoria, to commemorate her Silver Jubilee in 1897 but the locals still know it by its original name, Rabat.

Top places to visit are the Citadel - a good vantage point for views across the island - and the large domed St. George's Basilica.

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13 Xaghra

Phespirit journeyed by bus from Victoria to Xaghra, not for the joy of visiting Xaghra itself, but to use it as the starting point for walks to the Ggantija temples and Calypso's Cave.

For the return trip he was lucky to find a bus already waiting. The driver indicated for him to get on board and the bus waited a while longer. It was only when a crowd of girls in uniform got on that he realised he was in a school bus waiting for classes to empty.

Nobody batted an eyelid, but Phespirit was cringing.

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14 Ggantija

Megalithic Malta, part 4:

The oldest of Malta's surviving temple complexes stands upon the Xaghra plateau of Gozo.

It was built around 3600BC, and became the first Maltese temple to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in 1980.

Pity it wasn't a sunnier day when Phespirit visited.

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15 Calypso's Cave

Several Mediterranean islands claim to possess the cave in which Ulysses was delayed by the goddess Calypso. On paper at least, Gozo's claim is as good as any.

Phespirit set out on a long walk to reach the cave, following a trail of small signs to a coastal cliff, with Ramla Bay just to the south. A brief flight of steps lead down to the cave entrance. Such a tiny cave, arranged into two tiers, both cramped and wholly unsuitable for a Greek hero.

At least the legend provided work for an old candle-seller.

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  1. Valletta
  2. Vittoriosa
  3. Tarxien
  4. Marsaxlokk
  5. The Blue Grotto
  6. Hagar Qim
  7. Mnajdra
  8. Dingli Cliffs
  9. Rabat
  10. Mdina
  11. Mosta
  12. Victoria
  13. Xaghra
  14. Ggantija
  15. Calypso's Cave
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Valletta Vittoriosa Tarxien Marsaxlokk The Blue Grotto Hagar Qim Mnajdra Dingli Cliffs Rabat Mdina Mosta Victoria Xaghra Ggantija Calypso's Cave