In the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, slightly below Sicily, rests Malta, the largest island in the Maltese archipelago. Valletta, the capital of Malta, is a fortified city built on Mount Sceberras between two harbors with defense in mind during the architectural planning.
Walking through the entrance is like being magically transported back in time and the steady flow of people through the gates is reminiscent of the Renaissance. An enchanted feeling descends as if you are in a fairy tale. A myriad of shops, vendors, and restaurants can be found by wandering the uneven streets or traversing the famous steps of Valletta, built for the Knights walking with heavy armor as these were pre-spandex times; the very steps bemoaned by Lord Byron for their non-conformity.
Malta is an island of limestone buildings and fortified cities complete with narrow, winding paths. It is an island of glorious harbors filled with brightly colored fishing boats called Luzzus, all painted with the eye of Osiris on their bows to ward off evil and protect the fishermen while out at sea. The people are hospitable, generous, kind, superstitious, strong, and extremely stubborn. The countryside is marked by winding rock walls fencing off farms and interspersed with prickly pear plants that seem to burst from the rock barriers, their fruit a sweet display of spiky, red fireworks.
The Mediterranean Sea surrounds the islands, lapping idly against swimming pool ladders bolted into the rocky coast and also happens to be a breeding ground for sharks. Shark infested waters may have a Princess Bride ring to it, but it is also a fitting analogy for the suitors of Malta; sharks circling and waiting patiently for an opportune moment to seize its prey.
Inhabited since early times, it hosts some of the world’s most ancient ruins. It has been invaded by many cultures over centuries; its strategic location long understood by many a predator shark. In recent times, Hitler was amongst the long list of those desiring Malta, resulting in it being bombed more heavily than anywhere else during World War II. Catacombs and churches became shelters during the massive and continual air raids. In 1942, air raids reached a high point and 282 were sounded in April alone.
During a family trip to Malta, we visited the Mosta Dome where this occurred. The exterior is graced with pillars and statues while the interior impresses with ornate details on every surface including the walls, floors, and ceiling. The dome itself is incredible, boasting as the world’s fourth largest unsupported dome. Heaven is exquisitely expressed in its material confines and one only need a sense of beauty to gaze up into divine infinity.
We were given a special tour by a family friend and made our way up one of the bell towers, which is where my grandfather was one day long ago. The air raid sirens had sounded and my grandfather, having a love for planes, ran up to the bell tower to get a good look at the war planes flying overhead. On April 9th, 1942, a bomb was dropped from a plane into the Mosta Dome. It did not explode and was hailed as The Bomb Miracle.
We walked along a broad ledge of the Mosta Dome and continued climbing to the top of the dome, which held sweeping views of the surrounding area. While a sermon was being given below, we stood on top and a painting of Jesus was pointed out to us where his head was discolored. It was explained in whispered hushes that the bomb had crashed through the dome, bounced off of the head of Jesus on the painting, and fell to the ground without exploding.
We made our way down and assembled inside the bell tower. At noon our guide rang the bells, hands pulling cords and feet pushing pedals in a symphony of movement and sound. Tears streamed down my face as the bells rang deafeningly loud.
Malta has been invaded by many throughout history. Independence was gained from Britain in 1964, but I often think about my grandfather, running up to the bell tower in 1942 to get a good look at the planes flying overhead and the miracle bomb that did not explode. If it had, I would not be here today. The miracle bomb is one of many events that have given me the freedom simply to exist, even despite a terrible war. In my memory’s landscape, freedom rings with the sweet sound of bells, and has the indelible glow of a fairy tale.
About the Author: Naomi Fino currently resides in California, loves to travel, write, sew and design, fire dance, and has a healthy appetite for a good “Adventura”. Visit her new blog, Naomi Fino Travel.