Malta Diary Fancy a loaf of bread that’s 2,120 years old? It may be a trifle hard – but it’s not stale!
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Malta must stand as the longest most colonised country in the world – if not the most, certainly one of the most. The Phoenicians are recorded to have arrived and colonised it in 1,500 BC and since then its colonial status wore through to 1964 and Independence and finally to 1979 and total freedom from foreign domination.
A long list of dominating colonisers stretches in between including Romans, the Ottoman Arabs, Normans, Byzantines, the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, the French under Napoleon and finally the British.
This pot pourri finally produced the Maltese people of today and it’s laughable to claim that nowadays something or someone is “purely Maltese” as far as developments and blood streaming are concerned.
The attraction of course was always its Central Mediterranean locality and therefore a focal nerve-centre for the whole of the Mediterranean region. Its smallness was always easy to conquer and retain – by taking the necessary precautions naturally.
Imperative to defence were a string of watch towers in high and prominent places, with an uninterrupted view stretching out to the horizon. This made the approach of threatening vessels and war galleons immediately discernible and hence to raise the alarm inland to prevent the invaders from landing in the first instance.
With the Romans in their era commanding the largest empire in the known world at the time, Malta was a natural magnet to North African incursion – as well as to keep an eye on the annoying Carthaginians.
With the North of Malta facing Southern Sicily, not much surveillance was necessary. However, the South of Malta faced the North African coast and thus a vulnerable source of danger.
It is estimated that in the First Century BC, the Punic Romans constructed at least five stone watch towers to form a defence system around the zones today known as Żurrieq, Mqabba and Safi – all in the Southern part of Malta. One of these, at Żurrieq, is known as “Torri ta’ Ġawhar” (the Tower of Jewels).
In 1960, the Tower ta’ Ġawhar was excavated by the famed archaeologist David Trump. In his notes he maintained the tower had been originally built from large and square stone blocks.
The few remains excavated indicate that people inhabited the tower and included two small bronze buckets stacked together, a metal axe, bronze coins and fragments of plates.
The tower is now private land between Safi and Ħal Far. Sharon Sultana, the Curator of Malta’s National Archaeological Museum said that among the remains found during excavations was a carbonised loaf of bread!
She said the tower burnt down at some stage and the loaf was carbonised enabling tests to be carried out to establish the date when the fire took place.
So, fancy a loaf of bread that is maybe in the region of 2,120 years old? It may be a trifle hard – but it’s certainly not stale!
The discoveries from excavations in the tower are currently being exhibited at the National Archaeology Museum in Valletta.
However, those five Roman towers were a mere beginning. With the arrival of the Knights of St John in the early 14th Century, a 24/7 surveillance of the entire coastlines of Malta and Gozo had to assiduously be maintained. Under the command of the Knights, Maltese stone masons and labourers constructed a string of magnificent stone watch towers to maintain constant watch for the invading and marauding Turkish Ottoman invaders. The Ottomans made it their priority to take Malta at all possible cost but this eventually led to their humiliating defeat in 1565 when their Siege of Malta dramatically collapsed in great confusion and disarray.
Many of the towers still stand today, magnificent buildings that have stood the passage of time but are of course being constantly renovated and maintained as a major part of Malta’s heritage.
“Time will give its advice”
A cautious warning not to rush into making a decision because the passage of time will give its advice as to the proper decision that has to be taken, or should have been taken.