Birzebbuga – Then and now

The Town-Then

The seaside town of Birzebbuga is situated at the southeast of the island of Malta and lies between Kalafrana to the south and the fishing village of Marsaxlokk to the northeast, and although Birzebbuga is on the coast, it is the meeting point of four beautiful valleys, which are Wied Dalam, Wied Zembaq, Wied Qoton and Wied Buni.

Many stories revolve around the name of Birzebbuga. For example, legend has it that olives were stored in wells filled with sea water; another story is that olive trees were planted in and around what was then a small village; another is that when the word ‘Birzebbuga’ is divided into ‘Bir’and ‘zebbuga’, ‘Bir’ means a well, while ‘Zebbuga’ means an olive, thus when the two are joined together the word ‘Birzebbuga’ will emerge, and finally there was the question of whether the name should be pronounced Bur Zebbuga or Birzebbuga because Bur Zebbuga means land of olives. Up until the end of 1800’s wells, which would have been used for olives, could be seen at the bottom of the sea where it is shallow. Today wells are still in existenceand can be seen on the rocks at St. George’s Bay.

Prehistoric Sites

Prehistoric remains of elephants, deer, hypos and many others were found in a cave at Ghar Dalam. It was revealed that during prehistoric times these animals used toinhabit this island, but the most famous discovery in the cave was the two teeth belonging to Neanderthal man. This discovery was made in 1937.

Borg in Nadur, a megalithic building is situated on a hillside overlooking St. George’s Bay. This building was erected by stone Age man, and was used later by Bronze Age inhabitants. Tools made of stones, flints, and artifax were discovered at this site.

The Phoenicians

The first people who inhabited Birzebbuga were the Phoenicians. They chose this part of Malta because the southern part of the island was the first land to be found when coming from the east, and the bay, which is called Marsaxlokk offered substantial sheltered inlets for their ships. During their stay they even built a tample called the temple of Erocle. Around Birzebbuga and up to the village of Benghaisa, many graves, which belonged to these Famous mariners, were found and subsequently excavated.

Roman Sites

On a high hill to the south of Wied-Dalam and in front of Ghar Dalam, in a placed called Kaccaturo, there is to be seen the remains of a typical Roman Villa, which the Romans used to built in the countryside.

The Hamlet

The Hamlet of Benghisa is surrounded by farms, and lies on the way to Benghisa Fort, which was named after the hamlet. The centre of Benghisa is a square, which is surrounded by houses and includes the Church of Immaculate Conception. On the 8th December each year, the local residents celebrate the Feast of their Patron Saint.

Chapels and Churches

There are a large number of chapels and churches that have been built in the limits of Birzebbuga. The Chapel of St. Joseph is to be found in a private house at. St. George’s Bay. In this same area, there is the Chapel of St. George’s. Two chapels were actually built on this site. The first chapel was demolished due to its being unsafe and the second was built in 1683 by the Noble Gregory Bonnici.

At Benghisa, two churches had also been built on the same site. After the first church was demolished, the second, The church of the Immaculate Conception, was built in 1822, under the initiative of Dun Gakbu Gauci. It was rebuilt at the insistence of Dun Joseph Gauci, his cousin.

The church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of all Christians comes under the ownership of the Cachia Zammit family and was built in 1830

The church of our Lady of Sorrows was built in 1912 for the sum of 100 pounds Sterling. On 6th September 1913. Archbishop Pace sent a circular to his parishioners stating that this church was to be the Parish Church of Birzebbuga, and it continued in this role until 17th June 1937 when it was succeeded by the now Parish Churchof St. Peter in Chains.
St. Peter’s in chains was built under the initiative of Parish Priest Bugelli, who after a short time, was replaced by Dun Ang Fenech. The architect, Godwin Galizia PAA, drew up the plans. Archbishop Maurice Caruana OSB laid the first stone and the church was completed on 29th August 1976. During the building of the church, even the architect Professor Joseph Terreni took part.

The Legend of Ghar-Hasan

This cave in Birzebbuga is situated high up on the rocks overlooking the sea. Because of its interesting location and extraordinary style of formation, it is visited by many tourists. A traditional legend has it that during the rule of Count roger, a certain Arab named Hasan kidnapped a Maltese girl and kept her in the cave against her will.

The Harbour

Marsaxlokk Harbour was always prominent; its stunning scenery was impressive. The Phoenicians, the Romans and the Arabs used it and during the 1565 Siege of Malta even the Turks landed there. During the 20th Century it became a base for all sorts of British naval warships and vessels, and it was used even for military flying boats. Up to 1938 the Italian airline, Alitoria, used its flying boats to bring passengers to Marsaxlokk Terminal.

The Fortifications

Between 1750 and 1762 the renowned architect, Burlemach, was commissioned by both Grandmaster De Redin and Grandmaster Pinto to build a number o fortresses around Birzebbuga. These were the Ridott at St. George’s Bay, which was equipped with five guns; Pinto Battery (also known as Faretti Battery) which was equipped with 13 guns; the ridott at Kalafrana, which was equipped with 6 guns; the tower at benghaisa which is surrounded by a moat (now dry) and was equipped with 8 guns. St. Lucan Fort, which was built during the period of the Knights of Malta, overlooks the harbour and the Miniaca Battery, which was built during 1761, was equipped with 8 guns.

The fortifications during the British

The British built large forts such as Benghaisa, Delimara and ta-Silc. These forts were used as on-call shore batteries and were equipped with guns to guard against enemy naval ships, but during the War in 1940 only anti-aircraft guns were extensively used.

From the 1600’s until the late 1800’s the people of Birzebbuga were mostly farmers, hunters and fishermen. Those who were relatively well off owned summer houses for their vacation, but by the end of the 1800’s the British forcs started to build military establishments in Kalfrana and Hal-Far. People who were employed by the British Forces began to move to Birzebbuga to live and by 1913 the population had grown to 1,000. IN 1961 a census was carried out and the population of Birzebbuga was recorded at 5,239. During World War II Birzebbuga was bombed and buildings were destroyed and people moved away. After the War, when rebuilding had begun, people, including those from Cospicua and Senglea began to move back. By the time rebuilding was completed Birzebbuga had expanded. After the 1970’s Birzebbuga once again expanded into three residential areas, the main town of Birzebbuga, ‘Qajjenza’ and ‘tal-Papa’. Its population is about 9,000, which increases to approximately 12,000 when the owners of summerhouses come to spend their summer vacation.

The Town-Today

Today Birzebbuga is a Thriving seaside town. It boasts of a beautiful beach, a fine hotel, restaurants, bars, boutiques, beauticians, gift shops and many others that go a long way to making life in Birzebbuga a pleasure. The main attraction is the gazebo, which which stands in the centre of the bay, which is surrounded by a pleasant walkway, which takes you from one end of the beach to the other. There is also a playing field, which is greatly enjoyed by the children and a Greek Theatre where many functions are held during the summer months. It is a great meeting place for both residents and tourists and is wonderfully peaceful during the winter.

The most popular of all in Birzebbuga are the two clubs, both of which have their own band. Their music is of the highest quality and they are the focal point in Birzebbuga’s important festival of the year. The feast of St. Peter in chains is celebrated on the first weekend of August when both bands march through the town to the enjoyment of the crowds who follow it. The highlight of   the whole Feast is the carrying of St. Peter’s Statue through the streets, the climax being when the statue is carried back into the church, and the spectacular firework display. The brightly decorated streets of the main town are lined with hawkers selling souvenirs, nougat, toys and food. Many tourists come to the Feast during their holidays as a special treat and they mingle, not only with the residents of Birzebbuga but also with the many people who come from other villages throughout Malta to enjoy the celebrations.

The Local Council

Sixty-seven local councils in Malta were elected. After taking the Oath of Office, the first legislation was initiated on 1st March 1994. Mr. Joseph Farrugia was elected Birzebbuga’s first mayor and has been in office since then.

In direct contrast to that of the Mayor, the office f vice-mayor has been changed more than once. Mr. Michael Farrugia was the first vice mayor to be elected, but today Mr. Joseph Baldacchino has held the office of vice-mayor for the last two legislations.

As a matter of interest, the Emblem of Birzebbuga Local Council has been proved to be more than 100 years old. The first local council insisted on using it, and it was enforced by law to represent the local council. It has a light blue chevron and a light blue olive branch on a white background.


The Mayor

The Mayor of Birzebbuga is Joseph Farrugia. He is 60 years old and has been in office since the first elections in 1994. he has lived in Birzebbuga all his life and he has seen this once small seaside village change the what it is now.

As a boy he can remember Birzebbuga as a lovely seaside village, which hi ancestors used to call ‘the fridge of Birzebbuga’. This name came about because at that time if anyone wanted fish or their dinner, they just caught enough for the meal. There was always enough for everyone. He remembers going of long walks through the valleys, enjoying the flora and fauna, which were found in the country side. He enjoyed breathing in the clean fresh air in a quite atmosphere, which today can no longer be enjoyed.

As time passed Birzebbuga began to be developed.

It first started with British Petroleum who built a huge fuel installation, which has become part of Enemalta Corporation. This was followed by the naval station at Kalafrana, and then the Air Force Base at Hal-Far.  Since then we now have the underground fuel installation at Wied Dalam; gas tanking at Qajjanze (northern Birzebbuga); Malta International Airport 32.End runway which starts from the southeast of Birzebbuga, the Malta Freeport and, finally the Power Station.

Due to excessive developments, the residents of Birzebbuga are not only suffering from environmental noise and fume pollution, but are also inconstant fear of a life-threatening situation because fuel and gas installations are in residential areas. Infact houses surrounded the gas tanks.

Till now every Maltese Government we have had has tried to create even more industry and facilities on this southern side of Malta, despite the ever-increasing level of pollution levels. I do not blame any of these governments because the intention was always to create jobs. No one foresaw that we would be faced with an ever increasing level of pollution that these accidents industries, including installations have created.

The petrol tanks as mentioned above are surrounded by residential homes and the fumes, which leak into the environment lead to sickness and nausea, besides the threat of living very close to a time bomb.

The flight path of Malta International Airport is directly over the town, and aircraft fly in all day and all night, with their approach being very low. This creates, not only noise pollution, for the whole town, but the residents living in the flight path suffer from lack of sleep and continual disturbance.

The Freeport was built to encourage trade and industry. It created jobs and gives security to many people. Once again, it was built in a residential area, albeit opposite has created the coastline. In fact, the site used was the Kalafrana naval station. The pollution this has created is excessive noise at night with total disregard for the residents, especially when containers are either dropped or banged together; the generators, which are used for power, and sea pollution, again regardless of the fact that Birzebbuga is a seaside resort with its own hotel.

The Power Station was built to provide electricity to the southern part of Malta. The pollution this creates is one of black dust emissions, which fills the air and covers the houses with black dust.

Many of the residents, especially the children, suffer from asthma and bronchial related illnesses because of the excessive air pollution. They also suffer from lack of concentration at school due to being distributed at night by both air craft and Freeport.

Today, Birzebbuga has endured a great deal of damage to its way of life. Mr. Farrugia that it is not enough to compensate the residents by building of a new road, which will not benefit anyone, or planting trees which will have no effect on their lives. Drastic action is needed to be taken to solve this problem of pollution in order to give the residents a better quality of life and a cleaner environment for the benefit of the children.

It is the Mayor’s wish that the people of Birzebbuga who have lost entirely the clean environment, which the old folk used to enjoy, will be compensated in such a way that benefits them for the rest of their lives. The Mayor, and his fellow Councillors acknowledge very seriously that what Birzebbuga has lost can never be regained, but they can save what has not been lost and which is still good.

Mr. Farrugia, Mayor of Birzebbuga promises to work with honesty and integrity for Birzebbuga so that the residents will gain what they are entitled to – a good clean healthy environment.