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 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 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.
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 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 Church of 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.
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.
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.