Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been impressed by the descriptions of Għar Dalam (Birżebbuġa, Malta) given at school and by the media. Its historical importance, its preciousness as a local landmark, as well as its uniqueness, always highlighted it as a place to visit… someday.
Sadly, I seem to have missed the school trip – if there actually was one – to this Maltese treasure when I was younger, and throughout the meandering course of my life, my interest in the cave of Għar Dalam, frankly, was forgotten. This state of affairs was finally rectified this May, when I read on a local newspaper that there was going to be a special event whereby history buffs could visit and enjoy our most well-known cave by night.
The event was organised by Heritage Malta, and this was the second time that viewers were invited to admire Għar Dalam and its surroundings in the evening under the full moon. My romantic and culturally-oriented interest soared and I immediately asked my other half if he wanted to join me on a ‘date night with a difference’. He didn’t need much wheedling on my part to accept.
When we arrived at the site, we were greeted by no less than the senior curator, Mr John J. Borg himself, who invited us to take a look at the exceptional exhibition on display at the Għar Dalam museum while we waited for all the other visitors to arrive. The soiree in fact was, understandably, limited to a first-come-first-served basis when it came to booking. The exhibition was very informative, enlightening the non-archaeologically indoctrinated layman about the various ages that created the landmass, which became the island of Malta. It gave information about the way the Ice Age affected the lay of the land, as well as portraying – through models, charts and photographs – how Għar Dalam itself was formed, discovered and excavated. The different skeletons found within were explained – and even at times displayed – bones of wolves, deer, dwarf elephants and other mammals which today, sadly, no longer form part of our ecosystem.
Image from flickr.com
After a few minutes, everyone had apparently arrived and the senior curator gave us a very good talk explaining the various parts of the exhibition and a lot more. The historic landscape of our planet and Malta itself took shape out of his words, opening up a vista of vast possibilities and describing events which happened millions of years ago, while linking these to the way we live our lives today. The talk was continued by the site executive in another part of the museum, where, surrounded by skeletons of huge deer, fossilized bones and other impressive excavated material, we were told about the different layers of deposits found within the cave itself.
There were around 50 interested visitors in our group, ranging from children to young couples, middle aged tourists and Maltese senior citizens; very much a mixed bag. I was also very glad to hear that there are plans for Heritage Malta to modernise both the museum and the walkway leading to the cave in future. Having been to similar sites abroad, I’m well aware that the local historical sites in Malta need to be valued and cherished all the more as they’re truly unique and deserve to be displayed better.
Image from flickr.com
Moving on, we went into the garden outside, where there were some nibbles and refreshments, and where we spent some pleasant minutes socialising under the full moon. Finally, we proceeded to the cave itself. The name ‘Għar Dalam’ literally means ‘cave of darkness’ or ‘dark cave’ in Maltese, however the senior curator also explained that it’s also believed that ‘Dalam’ could have been a surname at the time of its discovery. The cave is 144 metres deep, but only the first 70 metres or so are open to the public for safety reasons. The cave is one of our oldest historical landmarks, dating back to the Ice Age, and it was recorded to have been first discovered in 1647 by the Maltese historian Gio Francesco Abela.
The two-hour event left me feeling richer and more appreciative, not only of the beauty around us, but also of the awe-inspiring force of Mother Earth, which through millennia of evolutionary development, created the caves, underground streams, valleys and landscapes we know today.
The Għar Dalam cave and museum are open daily from 9am to 5pm, and I truly urge everyone to visit.