One of the overseas organisations that has a reciprocal agreement with the National Trust is Malta. Although known in English as the Malta National Trust, its true name is Din L'art Helwa, Maltese for "This Fair Land". The name is in fact taken from the first line of the Maltese National Anthem. My wife I spent a very pleasant three weeks there in April/May of this year (2006), when we visited many of the Malta National Trust properties.
Most of the properties are small chapels and towers, plus a couple of colonial cemeteries. Being small, however, does not mean that there was little work involved. Many of the sites had been neglected for years, even decades. At Msida Bastion cemetery there is a letter dated 1930 deploring the "terrible condition" of the site.
Malta is a small island and the Malta National Trust similarly so. Like England there are other charitable organisations such as the Malta Heritage Trust. The government also has care of many of the ancient sites. Nevertheless, there are currently fifteen properties under the guardianship of the Malta National Trust and another ten proposed. We visited many of them but for a full list see their web site at - www.dinlarthelwa.org. When in Malta you can visit their office at 133, Melita Street, Valletta. (Turn left a short way down the main street of Valletta (Republic Street) and it is about 100 yards on the right hand side).
In Floriana take the road to the left of the Phoenicia Hotel and then follow the signs. This was a Protestant burial ground for the first half of the nineteenth century. It then fell into disrepair and with neglect, WW2 bombs and then vandalism; it was in a dreadful state. Work started in 1988 and continued on and off. In 2002 the Malta National Trust were awarded a silver medal for their work by Europa Nostra.
Although it is a cemetery and the old inscriptions are interesting, the main attraction for us was the peaceful setting with colourful flower-beds, all overlooking the harbour towards Sliema. There is also a small museum with artifacts relating to Maltese burial practices. Guides to this and Ta'Braxia cemetery are available.Picture of garden
This is on the left hand side as you go down from Floriana towards Pieta Creek. Like Msida, this was very neglected and there is on-going reclamation here by the "Friends of Ta'Braxia". The headstones commemorate not just military personnel, but also ordinary people who lived in Malta. Many are in other languages. I saw Danish, Greek and Russian and a restored Jewish section. The Russian graves include those of four princesses who fled the 1917 revolution. Some of the inscriptions are poignant, such as the one for Grace McDowall who died in 1886 from diphtheria aged 10. There are also reminders of half-forgotten battles such as Edward Boyle who fell at Onderman.Picture of cemetery
The Malta National Trust has charge of three small chapels, but their opening times are very limited, generally the first Sunday morning of each month.
The easiest to find is Santa Marija or Bir Miftuh. It is near the airport and signposted. There is a nice altar painting and remnants of 16th century frescoes of the last judgement with sinners being cast into the flames!Picture of Santa Marija Altar Picture of Frescos at Santa Marija
Another chapel with ancient frescoes is Hal Millieri near Zurrieq. This is difficult to find. Take the Mqabba road out of Qrendi and turn right at the roundabout at the outskirts (signposted). This is a very narrow road. Turn left at the crossroads (unsigned) and it is a short distance on the right.Picture of Hal Millieri Picture of Altar at Hal Millieri
The third chapel, St Roque is in Zebbug and I didn't get to see it.
There are five Malta National Trust towers on Malta, one on Gozo and one on Comino. The one on Comino is visible for miles but involves a boat ride, plus an hour's walk to reach it. I did get there, but not when it was open. However a trip to Comino on a nice calm day is a delight, but only take the walk if it is not too hot.Picture of The Tower on Comino
Of the Malta towers, the Red Tower is easy to visit as it is on the way to the Gozo ferry and is regularly open. The view from the top is stunning.Picture of The Red Tower
Nor far away, in St Paul's is another tower with fine views. This is the Wignancourt Tower, situated on the front. Claimed to be the oldest coastal defence tower, it has a small museum of military artifacts. On top is a view across the bay to St Paul's Island. This is where St Paul is supposed to have been shipwrecked on his way to Rome. Whilst in Malta he converted the island to Christianity. The island has a statue of St Paul, also restored by the Malta National Trust.Picture of The Wignancourt Tower Picture of View of St Pauls from Wignancourt Tower
Two smaller towers, rarely open, can be seen on the coast road back towards Sliema from St Paul's. These are the Ghallis and Qalet Marku towers.
The final tower, Mamo, is not really a tower at all but a fortified house. It is signposted on the Zejtun to Marsascala road. The interior has been partly restored as it used to be. On top are the fixings for a WW2 anti aircraft gun as well as views towards St Thomas' bay.Picture Inside Mamo Tower Picture of St Thomas' Bay from Mamo showing gun mountings
It is worth noting that three of the towers (Mamo, Red and Comino) may be hired for holidays. Contact the Malta national Trust for details.
For the future, the Malta National Trust has a number of ongoing projects including the lighthouse at Delimara Point.
So, next time that you go to Malta, take the trouble to search out these small gems of Maltese history. You may not save much money but you will be amply rewarded with a history that cannot be found in the main tourist attractions.