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Birgu

Travelling the network

Birgu

BACKGROUND

Birgu is a small locality in Malta with a population of almost 3,000 and a surface area of 5 km². The historic core consist of a time honoured and walled maritime city planted on the cenral promontory along the southern flank of the Grand Harbour, opposite the capital city of Valletta.

Over the centuries, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Aroganese, Knights of Saint John and British all contributed to Birgu’s development.

After being driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire, the Order of Saint John were granted Malta as their new home. The comission of eight knights sent by the Order in 1526 described Birgu as a small defenceless town with old houses in poor condition.

Eventually when the Order set root in 1530, they turned Birgu into their convent since Mdina, the then capital, was too inland and did not suit their naval requirements.

The city was fortified in the 1530s and strengthened in the 1550s in preparation for an attack by the Ottoman Empire. This included the construction of the Castle of St Angelo, a large fortification separated from the city by a moat. The castle was connected to the city by means of a drawbridge.

The Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet established its base in Birgu, and British forces remained stationed in Birgu until 1979. In 1806, Birgu’s gunpowder magazine exploded, killing over 200 people.

Birgu was heavily bombed during World War II. A number of historic buildings were destroyed, including the Birgu Clock Tower and the Auberge d’Allemagne.

HOLY WEEK AND EASTER

The Holy Week is commemorated with great zeal. Lent is marked by weekly pious manifestations. These intensify during the Holy Week when two sober processions with life-size effigies of the mysteries are held.

Nowadays, you can still find a cycle of eight statuary groups, dressed in velvet and fine silk, together with halos and other silver objects. These eight displays include: the five sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, together with the Veronica mentioned in one of the stations of the Via Crucis (aka the Way of the Cross), the Monument of the dead Christ in a decorated sepulchre, and Our Lady of Sorrows.

Good Friday procession, since 1975, has taken the form of a pageant with traditional carved statues and locals dressed in robes representing biblical characters. It was only very recently, in 1999, that women also started participating in the procession. Some of the sculptures that feature in Birgu´s Holy Week processions were brought from Spain by Maltese seamen.

Along with these characters, the members of the confraternity of the crucifix, founded in the early 18th century, also participated. Children carrying symbols of the passion took part, together with the collegiate chapter. The St Lawrence band of Vittoriosa, playing funeral marches by both foreign and local composers, adds to the melancholic mood.

On Easter Sunday, the tone morphs into jubilation, in particular during the traditional run withe the statue of the Risen Christ. Year after year, these religious manifestations attract thousands of believers and tourists.

LUGARES EN LA RED

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