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Over the centuries the Maltese developed the knack of corrupting foreign place names in the Maltese Islands to suit their own Maltese tongues. The area of Sa Maison, named obviously by the French, became San Mizun (giving the impression that Mizun was some kind of saint!). The city of Vittoriosa named Borgo by the Knights of St John as the site of their first headquarters became Birgu over the years.
Much the same can be said for the Giardini del Boschetto which over the years became Buskett and hence today, Buskett Gardens.
Tucked below Rabat, Verdala and Dingli in the northern part of Malta, Buskett has its own romance to relate, the greatest being the annual folklore festival of Mnarja to mark the feast of St Peter and St Paul held on the eve of and on the day, 29th June.
Again, the word Mnarja is a corruption by the Maltese from the Italian word Luminaria – a festival of light such as the Jewish Hanukkah and the Hindu Diwali (in Maltese the word dawl means light).
The origins were probably a scheme by the Knights of St John to give the mainly poverty-stricken Maltese something to occupy their minds with, a procession of candles and lanterns and perhaps a little entertainment and food – to honour the religious aspect.
In time it grew and grew to become an enormous national folklore festival with Maltese folklore singing ‘ghana’, showing distinct Arabic and Spanish influences, dancing and an enormous food binge of Malta’s traditional dish, fried, baked or stewed rabbits, decorated with heaps of potatoes and washed down with jugs of wine.
So important did Mnarja feature in Maltese life that in days of yore on the marriage altar the groom would have to solemnly promise the bride he would ensure annually to take her to celebrate Mnarja – as the main treat of her year!
In later years, the actual feast day on the 29th became commemorated with a large agricultural exhibition of animal stocks such as cows, goats, sheep, rabbits, pigs and horses (horse races held elsewhere in Malta), fowls, domestic pets, plants and vegetable produce.
Buskett is Malta’s largest woodland area. It lies beneath Verdala Palace which today serves as the Malta President’s summer residence which hosts the annual August Moon charity ball. Originally the Palace was the summer residence of the Grandmaster and then the Buskett area was pronounced a hunting lodge and a hunting locality for the Order’s Grandmasters but continued to grow and become more embellished.
Under Grandmaster Lascaris a substantial amount of fruit and other decorative trees were planted and thus the Boschetto came into being, incorporating the oak and poplar woodlands in the locality. To sustain the Boschetto complex, irrigation works were installed and included culverts, water fountains and large fish tanks. The surrounding banks were protected and bolstered by traditional stone walls.
In time, Buskett grew to cover 47 hectares of fully engineered gardens and created an ecosystem for great numbers of different insects, birds and small animals living in the wild.
Today, it is a highly protected area under all sorts of legislation and is regarded as being of national and European importance for ecosystem habitats that are unmatched elsewhere in Malta.Fortunately, it was always accessible to the public and a favourite haunt for families and children enjoying the freedom of open spaces, play areas, the flora and fauna, a splendid cave and of course, enormous picnics – mainly in winter of course and not under blistering summer sun.
Most Maltese children grow up treasuring the nostalgia of the days when their parents took them for a day’s picnic outing at Buskett – including yours truly!
“Cut and cut – you never cut”
This is associated with St Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat where it is believed that St Paul spent some days during his sojourn in Malta in 60 AD. Legend has it the cave assumed miraculous powers because of St Paul in that no matter how much rock was cut, it would be naturally replenished!
During the early days of tourism, a Maltese “guide” who knew very limited English took a group of British visitors to view the cave and his way of explaining the phenomenon was to blurt “cut and cut – you never cut”.
The phrase has remained famous since then!