Category Archives: Maltese History

Do you love Maltese History? The Story of Caravaggio in Malta

 

caravaggio

Chalk portrait of Caravaggio
by Ottavio Leoni , circa 1621

Michelangelo Merisi was born in the town of Caravaggio (about 30 kilometres from Milan) in 1571. Caravaggio was, in fact, the first great representative of the Baroque movement. He was the archetypal rebellious artist and led a turbulent life. His life, it is said, matched the high-drama of the chiaroscuro style that his paintings became famous for.

In 1606 whilst working in Rome, one of his many brawls resulted in Caravaggio killing a young man called Ranuccio Tomassoni. With a price on his head, Caravaggio fled and headed for Naples where he would be outside the Roman jurisdiction and under the protection of the Colonna family. After just a few months, despite a successful period in Naples where he was given a number of important church commissions, Caravaggio left for Malta, the headquarters of the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, arriving on the island in July 1607.

Portrait of Wignacourt

Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt, the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta. Caravaggio

Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt invested Caravaggio as a knight of magistral obedience so taken was he at having an artist of such calibre as official painter of the Order. It was during this time that Caravaggio was commissioned to paint ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’ and ‘St Jerome Writing’, both of which are on display in St John’s Co-Cathedral. This period of relative calm in his life was short lived, and by late August 1608, Caravaggio was arrested for causing trouble once again, this time badly wounding a high ranking Knight in another fight. Imprisoned at Fort St Angelo, disgraced and unable to paint, he used his inventive powers to plan his escape. Caravaggio’s incredible break-out took place in October 1608 and once again he was on the run. The Council, informed of his escape, immediately expelled him from the Order.

 

St._John's_Co_Cathedral

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1608)
St. John’s Co-Cathedral

After a nine month stay in Sicily, during which time he was trying to secure a pardon from Pope Paul V, Caravaggio returned to Naples and the protection of the Colonna family. His style and technique as an artist was still evolving and he enjoyed a productive time in his second spell in Naples. An attempt was made on his life, and an incorrect account of his death was reported in Rome. Although Caravaggio survived the attempt, his face was left seriously disfigured.

In an attempt to build bridges, Caravaggio painted ‘Salome with the Head of John the Baptist’. He depicted his own head on the platter and sent the work to de Wignacourt as a plea for forgiveness.
In 1610, Caravaggio took a boat north to receive a pardon, thanks to powerful allies in Rome. What happened then is shrouded in mystery. The artist was reported as dead in a private newsletter (an avviso) dated 28th July. Three days later, another newsletter declared that the artist had died of fever. His body, however, was never found.

The Grand Hotel Excelsior is located outside Valletta, the capital city of Malta and offers superior Accommodation in Malta with great harbour views. So if you would like to experience some of the rich history of Malta during your holidays, contact the Concierge Team at one of the top Luxury Malta Hotels and they will help you enjoy a memorable Malta Experience. 
 

Photos courtesy of www.viewingmalta.com

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Things to do In Malta – BIRGUFEST

Birgu, also known as Vittoriosa, is a town situated on a peninsula in Malta’s natural harbour. Throughout Maltese history, Birgu can easily claim to have been the Island’s former maritime capital. Birgu is located in the southern part of Malta forming part of the Three Cities which is a collective description of the three fortified cities of Birgu, Cospicua and Senglea.
Of the Three Cities, Birgu is the oldest and takes primacy over the others as it stands on one of the first inhabited sites in the Grand Harbour.
Birgu played a key role in Maltese history, and its importance peaked during the Order of the Knights’ period. It achieved resounding fame during the Great Siege, which marked the Order’s first significant land victory in its five hundred years of existence. It was on this occasion that Birgu earned its name Vittoriosa meaning victorious.
During the Second World War, Birgu, like the other places on the harbour, was submitted to unceasing air attacks. Destruction was widespread with more than 60% of its buildings were wiped out. Churches, palaces and houses lay in ruins after the devastating attacks.
Now Birgu is a tourist attraction with lots of history to discover and one of the most famous Yacht Marinas in Europe. The historic Vittoriosa Waterfront contains the former Palace of the General of the Galleys and the Order of St John’s treasury. The area was refurbished in the early 2000s, and both buildings are used for other activities: the former is now a casino, while the latter is home to the Malta Maritime Museum. A second museum, the Vittoriosa 1565 Museum, is also located in the own and is dedicated to the siege and the battle in 1565.
This year the Birgufest will once again host locals and visitors alike, for another edition of the candle lit magical evening, together with a variety of traditional music, choirs, local and foreign bands. For the young at heart, concerts by renowned local bands will rock the main square of Birgu on Friday and while on Saturday the people of all ages can relax to a concert of mixed music including jazz.
If you would like to immerse yourself into the rich history of Malta and learn more about old Maltese traditions and customs then the Birgu Festival is one that you would not want to miss! Join thousands of others and head to Vittoriosa for this fascinating festival which will be held on the 19th-20th of October 2012.
Should you wish to experience this event kindly contact our transport desk on transport@excelsior.com.mt and they will organise your transfers. And for more information on Things to do in Malta during your holidays kindly contact the concierge desk at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Malta.
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Feasts in Malta – The Santa Marija Convoy

The Feast of Santa Marija is celebrated on the 15th of August, and for the Maltese population this religious holiday bears a very deep, historical significance. Santa Marija is the perfect day for you if you love festas, food, colour and joyous noise all meshed up in a magnificent display of fireworks and revelry. Santa Marija is however also celebrated solemnly and with gusto in the following localities whose parishes honour her: Attard, Mosta, Mqabba, Qrendi, Gudja, Ghaxaq, and Victoria, Gozo.
Maltese History – the story of Santa Marija
During World War II, the Maltese population was saved from starvation and provided with enough supplies to sustain the islands thanks to a food convoy that arrived during the week of the feast day. This convoy’s arrival is seen by many to have been a big turning point of the war in the Mediterranean as otherwise the Maltese would have had no alternative but to surrender.
In August 1942, Operation Pedestal was mounted from the United Kingdom with the aim to relieve Malta. The convoy was intercepted by the Axis who deployed 20 submarines, 19 motor torpedo boats and over 850 aircraft. Hence they faced a gruelling five-day ordeal which saw nine out of fourteen merchant ships succumbing to the relentless round-the-clock attacks.
Four of the ships that survived reached Malta on the 13th and 14th of August. However there was no sign of the sturdy tanker Ohio, which was loaded with vital oil, fuel and kerosene supplies without which Malta could not hope to survive. The tanker had been singled out from the start and faced ferocious attacks and was lying crippled some kilometres off Malta. The ship had been torpedoed and holed, a series of fires were started and controlled, her boilers blew up and her engines failed; twice abandoned and twice rebounded- the tanker would not sink- as if aware that Malta’s survival depended on her!
On August 15th 1942 on the feast of Santa Marija, the Ohio – towed by two destroyers, Ledbury and Penn, and one minesweeper, Rye- entered the Grand Harbour. She discharged her cargo and no sooner were the 10,000 tons of precious fuel oil and kerosene extracted from her mangled hull, the Ohio sank and rested on the bottom. This epic convoy is recorded in Malta’s National War Museum where many items are on display, which include photographs of the fourteen ships; a graphic plan showing the route by the convoy and the locations of where the ships were sunk; the helm and nameboard of ‘Ohio’ amongst many other fascinating historical artefacts.
For more information on how to get to the National War Museum or about Malta Events during your holidays please speak to Our Transport Desk.
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