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.

Niches

Niches

 

Niches

Niches

Niches

Niches

Niches

Niches

And the secular equivalent of these holy curiosities has to be the doorknockers. 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.

Malta doorknocker

Malta doorknocker

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.

6 replies
  1. clive75mercer
    clive75mercer says:

    Do all the Statues in their niches, truly reflect the beliefs of the people, if they do, are they a truly Christian people ? Do they think about the values that Jesus lived, and try to follow those values; or are the niches merely a reflection of past faith in Church authority/teaching.
    By comparison, here (in Brittany) there are road side Calvaries; some well maintained, others less so, Some extremely elaborate, others no more than a simple wooden cross. But I’m not sure that their continued presence is a reflection of the current religious state of the people. And even less so I suspect, of the relevance / authority of the Catholic Church.
    That they remain, and are maintained is important historically, and perhaps as a gently, but unavoidable hint, that there are other values than those that a purely secular world would embrace.

    Reply
    • Mary Murphy
      Mary Murphy says:

      It seemed like a well-established city – the people I saw were elderly. So perhaps yes, they do. Malta is very Catholic, even still. High attendance at mass and for rosary.

      Reply
      • Steven Micallef
        Steven Micallef says:

        Hello Mary!!!! This is Maltese Steve calling. Thought I`d shed some light regarding some of the niches we have around the island which as you know very well are plentiful. There are various reasons to why there are so many. Some have been well preserved whilst others have been lost. Well, lets start with a little bit of info. As you can imagine some of these statues have been there for centuries. As you also know some are to be found in street corners. Most of these had candles or some outher source of light such as oil. So, apart from just stopping under a niche and said a prayer these where also used as landmarks. In the time of no electricity people would see a light and know where the end of a street or the begining of another was. With some people not being able to read the street names, they would use the name of a Saint or other Higher Powers to indicate places. This was very helpful to them. In some other streets you can find a niche in it`s middle. This also was a sign or would have been made there by someone who was devoted to his namesake. In every town or village you go to you get to see some niches which have to do with the local parish. Say, for example Msida, where the Parish Church is dedicated to St. Joseph, so you would find a number of niches dedicated to St. Joseph amongst others. Some where put where they are, to get protections from various Saints. Another example, a niche dedicated to St. Roque would have been placed there as a procetion against the plague as he is one of thesaints you would pray to in that case. There are of course other reasons, but for today I guess these are enough. There are some beautiful niches around Malta and Gozo. And some have some interesting stories combined with them. But about that maybe we can talk another time.
        Greetings from Malta,
        Steve

        Reply
          • Steven Micallef
            Steven Micallef says:

            You`re very welcome. Yes, I still take photos of Chapels and Niches amongst other things. Still in love with History and Culture. I`m only doing personal traveling now. Might be going to Austria in December. Love the Christmas Markets that time of year. Was in Amsterdam just before the end of the year. My nephew and his girlfriend are thinking of maybe traveling to Budapest later on this year. As always, take care and stay safe. Enjoy!!!

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  1. […] I was busy checking out the decal on the bonnet of a parked car, my friends had spotted another niche with part of a procession display sitting on the ground beside it. Two chaps walked up. We got […]

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