Malta, a tiny country replete with mysterious temples, ancient buildings, a rich history and beautiful natural sites.
Taking into account the Maltese people’s romantic, emotional and frequently quirky temperament, it’s no wonder that Malta is also a treasure trove full of legends, myths, and folk tales.
The inspiring atmosphere of our beautiful country serves as the perfect muse for these stories. However, we must also remember that there’s generally a kernel of truth in every tale, so who knows which of this lore is fiction, and which actually stems from facts? As Shakespeare had written, “There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of.”
Let’s take a look at some of the most well-known Maltese myths and legends:
The Lost City of Atlantis
It’s always been a mystery how the islands of Malta and Gozo, covering just over 316Km² of land, could house seven of the oldest known Megalithic Temples in the world, the oldest one being Ġgantija in Gozo, which is actually the second oldest known man made temple in the world (the first one being the recently discovered Gobekli Tepe complex in Turkey). Small wonder that so many writers and theorists have speculated that Malta is in fact the only remaining remnant of a much older civilisation, perhaps in fact that of the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Legend in fact states that when this city was destroyed due to its own evolved experimentations with the natural forces of the earth, the landmass which comprised Atlantis was split asunder and sunk into the sea, apart from a small fragment, which drifted on the earth’s crust until a huge Tsunami blew it from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Kind of staggers belief right?
The legend of Tal-Maqluba
Have you ever been to Tal-Maqluba, just south of the village of Qrendi? If you have, you must’ve noticed the strange 50m round crater exactly in front of the Chapel of Saint Matthew. The story goes that on that exact spot there used to be an evil village, full of corrupt and depraved people. God in fact was so angry at them that he punished the whole village by sinking it into the earth, which swallowed it whole. Others maintain that the hole was formed during an earthquake which took place in 1343, when a natural sink-hole was formed. Truth be told, I rather prefer the first story – it’s rather more exciting, right?
During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a popular superstition stating that it was bad luck to be born on Christmas Eve. When pressed to say exactly why this was so, people would tell you that this was because those born on this date were cursed to transform into a monster called il-Gawgaw on their birthday, right after they fell asleep. Angry and deranged, they would roam the streets kidnapping children who had been naughty and disobedient. When they woke up in the morning however, they’d have transformed back from a monster into a human, without ever remembering what they had done, or where they’d stowed the naughty children.
The Underground City in Valletta
It’s well known that there are a number of underground rooms and passages beneath the eight Auberges in Valletta, as well as underneath a number of other important buildings pertaining to the era of the Knights of the Order of St John. However, the extent of these tunnels is a mystery. Folklore, as well as a number of historians and writers, tell us that in fact these tunnels used to link all the Auberges, making up a sort of underground city which also linked one to rooms and storage spaces found underneath St John’s Co-Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Grandmaster’s Palace and Square, the granaries at St Elmo, as well as underneath most of the city itself. Some say that today these are blocked off. Others say they are full of angry spirits and ghosts, while others still maintain that they’re used for smuggling stolen goods, or used by secret semi-sacred groups to meet and confabulate during long winter nights.
Calypso Cave in Gozo
In a medium-sized open cave hidden inside the high cliffs overlooking Ramla Bay on the Western side lies what is known as the Cave of Calypso. According to Homer’s Odyssey, Calypso was a water nymph who could not leave her abode – the island of Ogygia. After losing his ship and his comrades, the King of Ithaca and great hero Ulysses was blown on the shores of the island and found by Calypso, who fell in love with him. Ulysses remained in Calypso’s cave for seven years, before being allowed to sail back home to his wife.
However, Calypso was still in love with him, and legend says that she’s still waiting for him on her island. The way Homer describes the location of Ogygia within the Mediterranean Sea – as well as a number of other ancient writings on the subject – have led popular theory to state that Gozo is Ogygia, and that the cave was the one in Ramla Bay. If you want to take a look at it, all you have to do is visit this amazing beach, set between the villages of Xagħra and Nadur. Who knows, maybe you’ll even hear the sound of Calypso, moaning and crying for her Ulysses, in the sound of the crashing of the waves below.
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