Written and Photographed by Juan Dingli
After last article’s Saturday evening in Paceville, Island Explorer decided to go to Malta’s southernmost village, Marsaxlokk (Mar-Sash-lokk). What better way to spend a sunny Sunday than running around this traditional fishing village which has really stuck to its roots? The name Marsaxlokk is made up from two words Marsa meaning port and Xlokk meaning south which together translates to Southport. The name really stood the test of time as this village has been used as a port as far back as the Phoenicians during the 9th Century BC and possible even before. Marsaxlokk is spread out on a sizeable area of 4.7km2 and is home to around 4,000 residents. In the past, most of the residents were mainly fishermen with a smaller percentage being farmers since the area is quite rural. Fishing is still quite a prominent aspect of this lovely village as can be seen by the hundreds of colourful fishing boats that line the sheltered port of Marsaxlokk.
Before we proceed any further, I’ll have to take you back in time to explain a bit what lead to the Marsaxlokk we know today. The area features a lot of megalithic and Bronze Age remnants such as the Tas-Silġ (Tas-Silldch) site which was used for many periods. It was found that this site was constructed sometime around 3000 BC and was still in use till the 4th Century AD. This is quite common as most ancient civilizations reused the same sites throughout the years. During the Phoenician times, the port of Marsaxlokk was highly important due to the fact that it served as a major trading post for most of the Mediterranean. During the time of the Knights, the Ottomans had used Marsxlokk as their main point of entry since the area was quite undefended and eventually anchored their fleet just outside the port. This shortcoming was addressed with the construction of various towers in the area, such us the St. Lucian tower and the Delimara tower, which sadly was demolished. The gargantuan St. Lucian tower or San Luċjan (Loo- chan) as it is known in Maltese is quite a formidable tower which saw action in the 17th century during the Żejtun (Zey- toon) raid. In time, various additions were added to this tower to further bolster the defence of this southern port, especially during the British rule over Malta. After the British left Malta, the fort was then given to the government and today houses the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre, very fitting. Various other forts and batteries remain from the British period such as Fort Delimara and Fort Tas-Silġ.
Marsaxlokk itself continued to grow by time and the economy of the fishing industry was thriving so much that it started attracting hundreds of tourists and locals to the promenade weekly to purchase freshly caught fish and other sea creatures. This prompted the creation of various excellent sea-food restaurants in the area which are usually quite packed, especially on Sundays. No other Maltese fishing village has managed to retain true to their traditional roots as much as Marsaxlokk did. It goes without saying that Marsaxlokk is the best place to go to if you’re looking for good fish to take home or eat then and there at one of the restaurants. The whole scene at Marsaxlokk seems to be a happy one every time. The sun is usually always shining, the sky always blue and the sea always calm, the vibrant colours of the many small fishing boats and the luzzu ((lut-tsu) traditional Maltese fishing boat) help transform the whole scene into a postcard; all reasons why this place continues to attract visitors week after week.
During my last visit to Marsaxlokk I was accompanied by three Polish friends of mine, two of which had never been to this village before. After having found parking very quickly next to the football ground, we head off into the Sunday street market. The first thing that hit us was the smell of fish, but we didn’t mind this as it added more value to the amazing atmosphere. Hundreds of shoppers and tourists alike were making their way through the narrow passage between the two parallel lines of stalls set up all along the promenade. We had started from the very first part of the market and slowly made our way through the entire market. It got a bit packed at certain points and we got separated a couple of times but this is to be expected at such a busy market. What was interesting was the transition between random house-wares to foods and the fish section exactly in the middle, just across the main village church dedicated to Our Lady of Pompeii. Here the smell of fish highly intensified, definitely not for those with highly sensitive noses or easily upset stomachs. The market is definitely a feast for the senses; all of your senses become hyper charged absorbing all the different and even new tastes, scents and noises around you. I really fell in love with the atmosphere and so did all the tourists around us, snapping photos of the different stalls that populated that sunny Sunday morning at Marsaxlokk. I got so much into the moment that I let out a couple of shouts myself, pretending to be one of the hawkers. After finishing the market run, we stopped at one of the packed restaurants for a quick take away and a good break in the sun. My Polish friends were quite amused with the experience as they had never seen anything like it, another successful day at the Marsaxlokk Sunday market.
Apart from fish, there are other things to do in Marsaxlokk. For starters, I invite you to attend the second day of the Malta International festival which will be held at Marsaxlokk on the 27th of April. A local church band will also be playing to complement the whole event. Come summertime, one can have a swim at the various swimming zones around the area. Rocky beaches, sandy beaches, Marsaxlokk has it all. I would recommend swimming at Kalanka Bay or St. Peter’s pool which are both located in the Delimara area of Marsaxlokk. The sandy beach next to the Water polo club is also quite nice and easily accessible. The village feast itself is also celebrated during summer, specifically on the 29th of July this year. During the cooler months of the year, I would suggest going for a hike around the coast or even around the Xrobb l-Għaġin (shrobb-laa-djiynn) peninsula. Delimara is also perfect for trekking and in the mean time you might chance upon a fort or two, or maybe even the interesting Delimara lighthouse. The green hues of nature highly complement Marsaxlokk and its blue seas and don’t miss out exploring the area in wintertime. I hope this article gave you a good idea of what Marsaxlokk has to offer and hopefully even enticed you enough to visit the Sunday market, next Sunday.
Before I conclude, I’d like you leave you with an easy challenge. See if you can find the whimsically decorated house on the front and pose for a picture with it, you can’t miss it. Till next time my culturally aware readers.