January visitors to Budapest commented that the city was sooooo different to the Budapest they’d visited in the summer. And yes, it is. Completely different. No less interesting or beautiful though, just different. The same goes for Birgu (Città Vittoriosa) in Malta, home to some fabulous examples of niches.
The last time I was there, it was night time. We’d taken a boat across to enjoy the Festival of Lights, when people prop open their front doors, light up their hallways and front rooms with candles, and give the world a peek inside. It’s a fascinating idea, one which the cynic in me screamed ‘reconnaissance’ figuring that it had to be equivalent to Christmas for art thieves. Although, presumably, all the good pieces would have been removed from sight. That said, some people’s egos may have decreed otherwise.
This time though, putting the couple of free hours I had this trip to good use, I was there early morning – in sunlight. And what a difference the daylight made. The niches, a tradition that dates back to Roman times, are plentiful. [I read somewhere recently that religion gave Malta the statues and the streets provided the Maltese with the space to put them up.] But in Birgu, the niches give way to the paintings and the pottery (all holy, of course). Walking through the streets is a joy because you simply never know what you might happen upon.
And the secular equivalent of these holy curiosities has to be the door-knockers. Some were obviously new, but others had a polished patina that could only have been achieved by decades, if not centuries, of elbow grease. Everything about Malta screams of antiquity. If you want to immerse yourself in times gone by, the back streets of any one of its cities will offer everything you could hope for. There’s so much to see, to take note of, and very often, the most interesting stuff is often the most mundane.
And then, of course, there’s the oddity. That thing that no one can explain. But it wouldn’t be Malta if the quirkiness could be explained. This particular sight on a back street in Birgu brings a whole new appreciation for the concept of bathing in public.