MALTA DIARY: Malta’s beautiful beaches and bays – Gnejna Bay and Fomm ir-Rih Bay
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In Malta you will certainly NOT find a beach or a bay the size of Australia’s 99-Mile Beach, nor California’s Long Beach and nor for that matter Rio’s Copacabana Beach.
Malta’s beaches and bays are small, compact but generally have a sweeping beauty that is replete with natural heritage and rich history but in the past made Malta highly prone to Ottoman invasions and in more recent history, Axis invasions during World War II.
The Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem were perceptive and astute enough during the 15th and 16th Centuries to construct a number of watch towers around the major bays and inlets to safeguard and raise the alarm in case of invasion. Distances are short in Malta and the sight of a galley invasion far out at sea would have ensured a vast troop assemblage by the time they actually landed.
Any kind of D-Day landings would have been met with mass slaughter!
Two of the smallest but most picturesque inlets are to be found at the northern western tips of Malta – Gnejna Bay and Fomm ir-Rih Bay.
The bay at Gnejna (in Maltese this means small garden) is famed for its sheer clay slopes surrounding a small but sandy bay. It is a favoured tourist haunt because of its seclusion and a bay of some notoriety because it is favoured by nude bathers, highly frowned on by former conservative and religious sectors whose constant complaints fell on deaf authoritative ears taking the line that discretion was the better form of valour! It is still popular for nude bathing nowadays.
It is approached land-wise from the small village of Mgarr, a road that leads past the equally notorious Castello Zamitello which has its own legend and notoriety. This fortified “little” castle was built in 1637 when corsair pirate invasions were still a threat. Legend has it that about 300 years ago the only daughter of the residing Baron Bernardo Zammit, Lucia, was due to wed a wealthy Sicilian count but on the morning of her wedding disappeared and was believed to have been abducted by corsair pirates.
Intensive area searches proved futile but a year later, the bells of a nearby little chapel began to toll unexpectedly and when people went to investigate they saw a vision of Lucia clad in a nun’s habit who explained she had run away to avoid marrying because it was to be a forced wedding and she did not love the Sicilian count.
Sadly, as a nun Lucia chose to attend and tend to wounded soldiers during combat but she confided she had been struck by a stray arrow on a battlefield and had passed away.
However, a more realistic tragedy took place at the Castello in October 1988 when the resident Baron Francis Sant Cassia was shot dead and murdered on his front doorstep when he answered the door, a murder that today has remained unsolved and shrouded in mystery.
Overlooking Gnejna Bay is the majestic Lippia Tower, built by the Knights in 1637 to keep watch over the area for Ottoman invasions. The alarm signals were by means of flags by day and huge bonfires at night which would be seen from the nearby city of Mdina.
In World War II a pillbox designed as a farmhouse kept watch over the bay for Axis invasions and would by then of course have communicated the alarm by telephone.
Fomm ir-Rih Bay means Mouth of the Wind Bay because of its total exposure to north-westerly winds. It is characterised by fault lines, vertical cliffs and a rough pebble beach. From the bay headlands can be seen stunning scenic views and the highly varied geology of the environment.
Access to the bay is somewhat restricted and a narrow path descends and ends in a hot climb down to the beach. It is a breeding ground for the freshwater crab which is now highly protected and has just been declared as one of Malta’s National Species. The crab lives high above the bay and breeds in nooks and crannies.
As with all similar bays, this bay has a tower that was constructed in the 17th Century known as Blat Moghza Tower (the Flat Rock Goat Tower) and this later became part of the extensive Victoria Lines stretch of defence.
One curiosity here are prehistoric Stone-age cart ruts that lead off the cliff top at Ras il-Pellegrin (the Headland for Pilgrims). These ruts – of which there is an abundance in the area – remain as one of Malta’s most prolonged mysteries. Who built them – and with what purpose? How were the ruts carved into the rocks? Why are the gauges running in parallel lines like railway lines? What was the purpose? Where did they lead to – perhaps towards Sicily before Malta became isolated from the Sicilian island? Above all, where did the name Headland of Pilgrims emanate from? In recorded history it has no story of departing or embarking pilgrims.
The mystery remains, as does the beauty of the area and the two beautiful bays.
Malta may be small but it has wonderful scenic beauties away from the vastly over-populated towns and villages.
“Do not pollute the water that you have to drink from”
Don’t pollute or corrupt a source of life’s benefits that you depend on because this may be to your detrimental cost.