8th September is a public holiday in the island of Malta. On this day the Maltese people celebrate the end of the Great Seige of Malta in 1565. Being a religious country we also celebrate the Nativity of Mary. A public holiday in Malta means that many people are off from work. Therefore, many flock to the beach while others gather in Naxxar or Mellieha to celebrate the Nativity of Mary during their village feast. Others travel to Isla and Valletta to watch the traditional Regatta.
What is the Regatta?
The Regatta is a traditional rowing race in the Grand Harbour which takes place twice a year: on Freedom’s Day (31st March) and on Victory Day. 7 villages and towns compete against each other under two different categories to take home the shield. The villages and towns competing in this race are Birzebbuga, Birgu, Isla, Bormla, Kalkara, Marsa, Marsamxett (Valletta).
There are several races taking place after 1pm till late in the afternoon. In each category, each race allocates various points and the team with most points wins.
Generally, the Regatta can be viewed from Isla, Birgu and Valletta. However, this year the Government decided to open the newly restored Fort St Angelo, a gem overlooking the Grand Harbour. This opening hit two birds with one stone: it offered the public a chance to visit one of the most important fortifications throughout the Maltese history as well as a chance to get a bird’s eye view of the Regatta.
Starting the day in Birgu
As soon as it was announced that Fort St Angelo was going to be open to the public both me and my boyfriend wanted to visit this historical fortification which played an important part during the 1565 Great Siege of Malta between the Cavaliers of St John and the Turks. It stood the test of time despite all the bombings and damage it had suffered during the World War II.
We started off our day quite late with a lunch at one of the restaurants situated along the Birgu Waterfront. This area houses several great restaurants serving great cuisine. Fish dishes are defintely recommendable!
Having more free time in the morning would have been ideal as that would have allowed us a walk around the narrow streets of Birgu as well as a visit to the Maritime Museum or the Inquisitor’s Palace.
Visiting Fort St Angelo
After a nice meal we continued our walk along the waterfront until we arrived at Fort St Angelo looming over us. The walk to the main entrance is a bit steep so I suggest you wear a pair of comfy shoes.
The weather was relatively pleasant: sunny which turned cloudy at times. On the whole it was a lovely day with the wind blowing, easing some of the Summer’s heat for which Malta is known. This made the steep walk bearable.
For this special event the entrance fee was a mere two euro granting access to even the Magisterial Palace which will not be usually open.
Fort St Angelo was already in the 13th Century as it is referred to in certain documents as Castrum Maris (Castle by the Sea). Besides being used as a fortification, there was also a period where it was used as a prison.
Unfortunately, it is not yet open regularly and it is only through special events like this that people get a chance to visit this beautiful piece of fortification. I’m sure that as soon as it becomes open regularly it will be very popular with tourists and Maltese alike. It offers great views and is well-decorated with informative pieces to understand better the history of Fort St Angelo as well as that of the Maltese Islands.
We started off with the incredible view over the Grand Harbour where we also got a chance to see one of the Regatta races. Although it was not my first time to watch the Regatta, I have to admit that it was the best view I ever had of the race, making the races more enjoyable. In fact, this location offers a great point to view nearly the whole racing area. Just get a pair of binoculars and enjoy the races with Valletta as a beautiful backdrop to these traditional races.
The higher up we went the better the views of the Grand Harbour, forgetting all about the Regatta and just breathing in the views. For all photography lovers, a camera is a must to capture the panoramic views. I’ll just leave the pictures to speaking for themselves.
Although the views are breathtaking, one should not forget to read the informative placards placed at various points providing the visitors with valuable infor
mation about the fortification. Everything is well-labelled and very helpful.
On this special event there were also people dressed with traditional costumes walking around the fortification as if it had gone back in time during the Knights’ reign. Some of these were placed at certain points providing information on the life in those times. For example, in a certain area they were explaining to the public the tools used by doctors during the period when the technology we have today was not even imaginable.
For this special event, the Magisterial Palace was open allowing visitors to have a look at the lovely gardens and a chapel which pertain to the Order of the Knights of St John.
Highlight of the Musuem
The highlight of he Musuem are undoubtedly the three interactive rooms. Bearing three different names they offer a chance for the visitors to get better acquainted with the history of the Fort and that of Malta. What I love most about these rooms is that the way they are adorned provides an interactive way for the visitors to learn the history in a fun way. In all three rooms there are videos and models providing historical information. My favourite was the Phoenician boat and the video on the empires who reigned in Malta being shown on the sails of this boat.
Malta has a long history and was reigned by several empires: Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of the Order of St John, French and British. Therefore, it can be difficult to learn the history of Malta. However, the way it is portrayed in this Museum will surely make it easier for the Maltese to learn the history in a fun way.
We spent quite some time walking around the Fortification reading about its history, taking photos and enjoying the Regatta Races. It was a really fun day. I recommend you all to visit this fortification if you’re lucky enough to have it open during your stay in Malta. And don’t forget about the Regatta!
As for the Maltese and Gozitans who have not yet visited it I suggest that next time it is open you should pay a visit. It is really a case of being a tourist in one’s own country. Sometimes we might take it for granted that to visit a new place you have to travel to a foreign country overlooking the gems we have in our own Islands.
Have you visited Fort St Angelo and seen the Regatta races? Let me know all about your experience in the comments below!