A few metres away from the hustle and bustle of the airport is a long tunnel leading to what is known as the area ‘Ta’ wara l-Mina’. Kirkop, Qrendi, Safi, Mqabba, Żurrieq; most will frown and scratch their heads when they see these words, but these are the villages that fall within the ‘Ta’ Wara l-Mina’ area, an area that isn’t known for its shopping centres, or luxurious hotels, but that holds within it a treasure trove of fascinating places.
One of these alluring places is il-Maqluba, found at the outskirts of the small village of Qrendi. Il-Maqluba, literally translated to ‘overturned’ or ‘upside down’, is a large depression which was formed when water dissolved the underlying rock leading to the ground to collapse. It is one of the best examples of this phenomenon on the Maltese islands, and the largest depression that is completely disconnected from the sea. Not being from the area myself, and determined to fully explore this interesting site, I enlist the help of a Koppija (a person from Kirkop), and a sunny Saturday morning sees us both in my car on our way down a long, straight road to Qrendi.
We soon reach our destination, where I park at the side of the small, peaceful square. The first thing to notice is the chapel that dominates the square, dedicated to Saint Matthew. It is closed for the day, and there are no opening times written next to its door, but my Koppija friend, Chiara, assures me that it is still in use, sometimes even holding wedding ceremonies.
An old plaque next to the door catches my eye. The engraved Latin inscription ‘Non Gode L’Immunita Ecclesias’ on it betrays the chapel’s old age. This refers back to when many churches had the right to protect criminals from the civil authorities; a right that was then abolished by the British in 1828. The churches that did not hold this privilege put up the plaque as a warning to malefactors. The main chapel was built in the 17th century, but then Chiara beckons me to come to the side of the chapel. Here one finds a small, ancient door that Chiara explains opens up into the original chapel built before the 15th century; one of the oldest chapels in Malta that is still standing.
Once we finish admiring the chapels, we start our descent down a steep flight of stairs. As we forged a path through the brown leaves that litter the ground, and bend over to avoid the overhanging tree branches, Chiara recounts the fascinating legends surrounding il-Maqluba.
Legend has it that in this location there was once a hamlet, full of sinners. There was only one virtuous woman, and God sent an angel from the sky to ask her to warn her fellow villagers. The good woman pleaded with the villagers to change their sinful ways, but they didn’t heed her advice. God, angry with the villagers for their disobedience, punished them by ordering the angels to destroy the village, leaving just the good woman praying in the chapel. According to the legend, this is how Filfa, the miniscule island in the South West of Malta was formed because the angels disposed of the hamlet by taking the land and dropping it in the middle of the sea. Chiara smiles when recounting this legend. ‘Clearly, it isn’t true’, she says with a laugh. ‘I mean look at how small this crater is when compared to Filfa’, she says jokingly. I was so engrossed by her storytelling that I had barely realised that we reached the crater, and I stop and survey the scene in front of me with awe. The crater is not as large as Filfa, but it IS massive, with around 300 metres perimeter and 15 metres of depth, covered in dense undergrowth and thick vegetation.
A high, aluminium railing keeps us from getting too close to the edge of the crater, but at the side are some stone steps leading down to a dark archway. Chiara explains that the stairs lead you closer to the crater. I eye the steps with some trepidation as they are steep, uneven, and covered with slippery green moss. My curiousity overcoming my fear, I hesitantly try to go down a couple, but quickly give up, contenting myself by just viewing the crater from afar.
I ask what caused such a huge section of the land to collapse. Chiara tells me that many historians believe this happened on the 23rd of November 1343 ‚ when a severe winter storm hit our islands, probably followed by an earthquake. The name of the street leading up to Il-Maqluba is testament to that: ‘Triq it-Tempesta 23 ta’ Novembru 1343’.
‘What remains a bit of a mystery’, Chiara continues, ‘is how this land, which is not near to the coast, managed to degrade in such a manner that would allow for a large depression to be formed. Such a depression is a lot more likely to happen near the coast, due to the sea water’.
‘So maybe the legends were right all along’, says Chiara with half a smile. We trail off into silence as we process this startling piece of information, and for a few minutes, only bird calls and the rustling of huge trees punctured the peace and quiet of il-Maqluba.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Amy Webb