Easter in Malta

Procession Good Friday

The image above is the last statue to be carried through the streets of Haz-Zebbug in the Good Friday procession but more about that later.

I came back to Prague last Tuesday after spending two weeks around Easter in Malta with Ann and her family. And for the last 5 days my parents joined us as well. It was again a really nice trip and great to see Ann and her family.

I’ve just finished uploading all my pictures and this time round Ann and I shot a lot of video that I hope to turn into 3-4 different videos. All that takes time but the videos will eventually come up over the next couple of weeks.

I’m used to celebrate Easter with bunnies, colored eggs, “gækkebreve” and with an Easter egg hunt as the highlight of the Easter dinner. Most of these Danish traditions have little if any religious content. This is in contrast to Malta where Easter, as the most important feast in the Roman Catholic Church’s calendar, is celebrated in many unique and colorful ways.

On Maundy Thursday we eat Qaghaq ta’ l-Appostli (the apostles ring bread) a sweet white ring of bread. I think it’s to represent the last supper (correct me if I’m wrong). For Easter these breads are sold everywhere from the back of cars and in the shops.

Qaghaq ta' l-appostli

There are also some sweets called Figolli which I will spend a whole blog post on some other day and Kwareżimal which are one of the few sweets that is suppose to be eaten during lent.

The night of Maundy Thursday a lot of Maltese people go out and visit seven different churches or go in of seven different doors of the same church saying seven different payers. So there is a lot of people in the streets as the towns are buzzing from people strolling around. In the churches the main cross and alter is covered or removed and instead the attention is directed to a side-alter where a display with a halo/sun as the centerpiece is made for this event.

Church#1Church#2Church#3Church #4Church#5

We went to Rabat/Mdina in the middle of the island and visited churches there. If you click on the pictures above you can see the special decorations made in churches we went to.

Good Friday was the day of Christ’s long suffering and this is commemorated with processions in Malta. We went to the processions in Haz-Zebbug. This is a parade of groups of people dressed up in various costumes from the times of Christ. Everybody looking sad or solemnly as they parade in front of us in very impressive costumes. Between the groups were life-size statues depicting the different stages of the Passion of Christ on big wooden boards carried by 8 men in white robes.

Roman officer in Haz-Zebbug
Old wise men?
The biggest statue of this procession
2009-04-10 Good Friday 011
Kids and parents at the procession
Colorful costumes
Jesus getting wiped
Hooded penitent people

The costumes where very detailed and it was fascinating to see them. For some reason I thought it would be over quick but because the statues they carry through the processions were so heavy they would walk some 20 meters and then take a break, so it took some hours for the whole procession to walk through the town.

On Easter Sunday there was another procession. This time to celebrate the Risen Christ so gone were the solemn face and now there was a band with the procession. The procession we went to had one statue and it was one of Jesus rising from his grave.

Risen Christ Procession
Risen Christ
The carriers of the big statue

The statue itself was very impressive but the most impressive by this event was when they ran with it, several times. This video shows them running with the statue and lifting it up at the end as paper confetti is thrown from the surrounding houses, the band playing in the background and people cheering:

I’m not a particular religious person and I find these displays a bit overwhelming in their expression compared to how private religion is practiced in Denmark. But the Easter celebrations in Malta are really impressive shows of devotion and I’m glad I finally got around to see it for myself. I had some great guides into the Maltese traditions by Bernard, Cecelia and Ann 🙂

Look out for the next blog post about our trip to Malta.

Enjoying Malta

Valletta Upper Barracca

My extended weekend to Malta was fantastic! It was great to see Ann again and it was very interesting to see were she was from – in so many ways we are from the opposite ends of Europe and discovering more about our various background is an interesting journey.

3 months ago my knowledge on Malta was very limited – all I really knew was that it was in the Mediterranean, that they had English as a semi-official language, that there was something about the Maltese cross and knights and that they usually did pretty good in Eurovision Song Contests – “Malta 10 points” – but that was about all.

Since then Ann has told me a lot about the country and I’ve been reading up on the country on the internet. Malta is a couple of rocky islands about half the size of Bornholm or twice the size of Washington DC. With a population of 400,000 it’s one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Knowing this fact I was actually surprised that the place didn’t feel cramped and that they seemed not to have many high rising buildings – but instead a lot of 2-4 floored limestone buildings.

Valletta cityscape

It depends a bit on the family but mostly people I came across speak Maltese but everyone knows and uses English as well. The language reflects the fact that the country has had a number of rulers over time and is a mix of Arabic, Sicilian, Italian and English. To me it just sound Arabic and I can’t make heads and tails of any of it. Have a listen here.

I went with Ann to catholic mass (in English) for the second time in my life but the acoustics made it very difficult to hear what the priest was saying. The catholic religion still plays a big rule in Malta and there are churches and chapels everywhere as well as niches with religious figures. This impact is also reflected in the society were abortion and gay marriage are illegal and you can’t get a divorce. As a Dane I take those liberties for granted so it’s surprising to see a society were they are not.

I wasn’t there during season but every village or every church (or band club?) has a huge celebration when it’s the day of their respective saints during the summer.

Here’s a niche from Mdina.

Niche in Mdina

The first thing I realized when moving around Malta was that there is literally layers upon layers of history. As a sucker for history I had more than enough sites and museums to check out. So yet another reason to come back another time :) Here are the places we checked out this time around:

View Larger Map

Not very far from Ann’s house are the ancient temples of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim unfortunately both of them were closed for the winter for renovation so we couldn’t get close.


Mnajdra (above) was started in the 4th millennium B.C. which makes it the oldest freestanding building in the world – more than a millennium older than Stonehenge. While we didn’t make it into those site we made it into the Hypogeum which is an equally fascinating structure.

Me infront of the Hypogeum

The Hypogeum is the only known, underground temple in the world and was a very interesting experience. The place is carved out of the underground over hundreds of years. In order to preserve the wall paintings only 10 people are allowed to visit per hour. We were not allowed to take pictures but this site has a lot of background info and good pictures.

Moving up in time the St. Paul Catacombs in Rabat are from the Roman era in the 3rd century.

Rabat Catacombs

The catacombs are next to the old capital of Mdina that was settled by the Romans, conquered by the Arabs, conquered again later by Normans and rebuild to it’s present state after an earthquake in 1697. Here is a view through a street of Mdina as the sun rises and before the hordes of tourists arrive. We had both early mornings and late nights in Mdina and then it’s a very quaint and quite place.

Sunrise over Mdina

When the Knights of St. John arrived to Malta they moved the capital to it’s current place of Valletta. After The Great Siege of 1565 were the knights managed to fight off the invading Ottoman forces they founded Valletta as an easily defensible city in the center of Grand Harbour. Here’s a painter overlooking the view of Grand Harbour from Upper Barracca.

Painter at Grand Harbour

The St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta is quite remarkable. It doesn’t seem like anything special from the outside (no reason to entice the Turkish attackers) but inside it is lavishing with ornaments, sculptures, paintings and gold.

One of the eight chapels in St John's Co-Cathedral

Malta has always had a strategical importance for the dominance of the Mediterranean which was also the case in WWII as well during the Battle of Malta. First it withheld massive assaults from Italian and German air forces with more than 3000 air raids over two years. And later it was the outset for the invasion of Sicily and subsequently Italy. The planning of the defence and attack took place in Lascaris War Rooms a cave under Valletta carved by the knights centuries earlier.

Lascaris War Rooms

Phew! That was a lots of history – and there is plenty more to see. But we did a lot of other things as well.

The food is a chapter in itself. It’s inspired by Italian but with a twist of it’s own. I didn’t get pictures of much of it but I covered about 10 of the things on this list and all of it was good :) I did manage get a picture of a Pastizzi before it disappeared. A delicious snack bought at a pretty obscure local spot.

Pastizzi yumy!

I was really surprised to discover that the family had orange trees in their backyard. Apparently not a big thing for the Maltese but for a Scandinavian it was fantastic to have fresh picked and squeezed orange juice for breakfast.

Oranges and ... Ann

Before I took off we got the a big meal – yet again really good food :) They rarely use the big dinning room table so getting visit from Denmark is good for something.

Dinner at Fenech's House

I was lucky with the weather which can vary a bit in November but Saturday we had 23 degrees and clear sky :) One of my top things to do in Malta – since I started planning the trip – was to go for a swim in the Mediterranean. Under much objection Ann finally agreed to take me to a beach so I could get my swim.

With above 20 temperatures people in Denmark would flock to the beach but apart from a handful of other pale, pale tourists we were the only ones at the beach. The water was probably around 20 degrees so it was quite refreshing but not too bad. Here we are at Golden Bay after the swim.

After a swim in Golden Bay

What a long blog post – but I had a lot to tell about this island.

Malta is called The Jewel of the Mediterranean and I totally agree – and I got a special gem there.