I’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to visit some of the world’s forgotten corners.
But sometimes you discover secret places right there in your own neighbourhood…
That’s what happened to me — again — when I took a walk through the streets around my house on a Sunday excursion with the local historical society: Wirt iz-Zejtun.
The town of Zejtun takes its name from the Sicilian Arabic word for “olive”. You don’t see many olive trees in this area anymore, but it was once a very important industry on the island.
During Medieval times the entire district, including many places that are distinct villages today, fell into the Parish of Zejtun.
Zejtun was raised to the status of town by the Grandmaster of the Knights of Malta Ferdinand von Hompesch in 1797. Its recorded history goes back 800 years.
The town played an important role in the Great Siege of 1565. The Ottoman forces landed nearby in the area of Marsaxlokk and were quickly engaged by the local Zejtun militia. It continued to be attacked by Turkish pirates up until 1614.
These days it’s a peaceful place, surrounded by fields, with narrow winding alleys and some beautiful old buildings, chapels and palazzo.
Our walk took us through the oldest parts of the village, the “upper town” zones called Hal-Bizbud and Hal-Gwann. We were also able to visit a private chapel attached to an old palazzo, and another small church that was once a children’s burial place.
The streets in these districts are built in the Medieval style, with narrow winding alleys and arched arcades leading to hidden houses and quiet gardens.
I’ve driven down some of those streets many times, but I never noticed the small details, like Arabic-influenced latticed peep hole windows above doorways, and the graceful curves of Baroque balconies. This area is also rich in corner shrines, statues of saints in niches on the facade of houses. There’s one right outside my office window, on the house across the street.
One of my favourite parts of the tour was the chance to walk through several winding alleys that I had no idea even existed. I assumed they just led to someone’s front door. I never suspected an invisible 90 degree turn at the end…
Just before the conclusion of the walk, we passed through my street and stopped in front of my house. As a few of the participants started taking photos of the carved stone balcony that leads off my roof deck, the organizer said, “This is one of the most beautiful examples of architecture in the village, from the late 16th or early 17th century.”
My wife let out a yell of surprise and quickly covered it up. I just winked. I knew the place was special the moment I saw it. We didn’t say anything to the rest of the group.
Here are a few photos from the walk. I thought you might enjoy taking a stroll through the neighbourhood with me. It’s an interesting place. Especially when you stop to notice the details.