Written by Juan Dingli
We’re back to Malta after last week’s Gozo special, this time we’ll be exploring the seaside village of Kalkara (kal-ka-raa). Located in the Grand Harbour area and very close to Cottonera, Kalkara has its own special charm and reasons to attract visitors to this village. Kalkara is actually quite a small town having an area of just 1.7km2 and a population of just over 3,200 residents. This fishing village consists mainly of a long stretch of shoreline, various fortifications from by-gone eras, ample agricultural areas and a good number of houses located close to the seafront known as Kalkara creek. Apart from this, Kalkara also features numerous attractions for all the family, which can be enjoyed all year long. This lovely village even has a beautiful sandy bay called Rinella Bay beneath the shadow of Fort Ricasoli. Definitely a boon in summer.
Before stepping any further though, we’d have to go back through history to learn more about the roots of Kalkara as we always do in Island Explorer. Sadly not much is known when it comes to this village’s first settlers but one can imagine that this area was populated since it offered ample shelter for seafarers during their voyages in the Mediterranean. Interestingly enough, a collection of hypogea were found in the outskirts of Kalkara in the area known as Xagħra ta’ Santa Duminka (Xaa-ra ta San-ta Dum-In-Ka). Evidence shows that this site dates back to the Paleochristian times meaning around the 5th century AD. This site consisted of a small number of underground chambers and tombs. An interesting scallop-shell motif was also found in this site.
Throughout the years, various fortifications were built in the areas around Kalkara. Apart from the Cottonera lines built to defend the three cities, other forts were constructed. These are Fort Ricasoli at the tip of the Kalkara peninsula, Fort San Salvatore on the border of both Birgu and Kalkara, Fort Rinella and Fort Saint Rocco. The first fort to be built in the area was Fort Ricasoli, strategically built to defend the whole entrance to the Grand Harbour in conjunction with Fort St Elmo in Valletta. Fort San Salvatore was also built by Knights of St John but its construction took much longer than expected. This fort served mainly as a war prison seeing inmates ranging from Turkish POWs to German soldiers during World War 1 and even supporters of the Italian regime during World War 2. Fort Rinella and Fort Saint Rocco were both built by the British during the late 19th century as a means of defence against attacks from the sea. Fort Rinella is now a museum housing one of the two remaining original Armstrong 100 Ton guns. This particular gun is the biggest muzzle loading gun in the world, quite a sight to behold. Fort St Rocco on the other hand was used up until the 1950s. The last use for this fort was as an amusement park during the early 2000s, sadly this site lays in ruins till this day.
Located in between the belt of forts on the shoreline of Kalkara are the offices of the Malta Film Commission. Various props can be noticed from old movies but the main highlights have to be the water tanks located close by. These water tanks are used for the filming of movies to recreate harsh weather conditions and an illusion of being far out at sea thanks to their proximity to the sea. Apart from being amongst the biggest water tanks of their type in the world, many famous blockbuster movies have been filmed in these tanks. Quite an achievement for Malta. This also means that Kalkara gets to be visited by quite a few famous movie stars every year. Also one can book a game of paintball in the area next to the filming site using old movie props as cover, quite the unique setting. Further up the road is Smart City, Malta’s own Dubai-like mini village housing various offices, bars and restaurants. In the middle of Smart City is an impressive fountain that puts on a synchronized music show every thirty minutes which is mainly the reason why people head down to this place. The atmosphere here is quite a pleasant one especially during summer evenings.
Getting back to the actual village core of Kalkara, this village’s main square is always buzzing with activity. People usually congregate here for a quick chat, a beer and a fresh pastizz from the local pastizzi shop. The architecture is also worth noting as many interesting styles can be seen in this part of Kalkara. The church that can be seen from the square is not the original one due to the first one being destroyed as a result of the Second World War. The current church was built shortly after and is dedicated to St Joseph. Kalkara celebrates the feast of St Joseph on the second Sunday of July, more specifically on the 15th of July this year. I personally like how this whole area is set up. All the basic amenities are located just a stone’s throw away. The playground and garden also help to really brighten up the area and the trees are always a welcome sight. Whenever I go to Kalkara, I usually end up walking all along the promenade up a narrow and charming stairway leading to another small garden. Here one can enjoy a nice evening breeze with the view of Kalkara creek, the marina and Birgu in the distance.
Kalkara is quite full of attractions and this one is guaranteed to be entertaining for all the family. Just up the hill facing the church, one can find the imposing Villa Bighi (Biy-Ghiy) on the promontory overlooking the Grand Harbour. This Villa which dates back to 1675 during the period of the Knights of St John is flanked by the former British Royal Navy Hospital built during the 19th century. The architecture of this whole area is simply intriguing; the columns always remind me of a Roman or Greek temple. What is truly interesting though is the new interactive science centre located in the west wing of the former hospital. This building has been recently restored and was opened to the public in 2016. Shows are put on daily to help visitors learn about the applications of science in our daily lives and showing the fun side of science using hands-on workshops and interactive experiments. Truly a fun day out full of fun and activates for all the family. The east wing on the other hand is being used as an art restoration centre having seen many famous pieces of work restored in this building.
I really like this village as it does not feel congested at all and it is always a breath of fresh air to spend some time next to the sea in the village square, on one of the benches. What makes Kalkara even less hectic than other villages is the fact that this village is not a thoroughfare meaning you won’t see any unnecessary traffic.
What more do you need? Kalkara has everything, a football ground, bocci ground, various amenities, a nice beach and excellent restaurants. If you haven’t been to Kalkara yet I expect you to do so. Here’s a challenge for you, hidden somewhere in Kalkara is a large scale model of Malta, Gozo and Comino. If you do find it, leave a message below. I hope you enjoyed reading this Kalkara edition of Island Explorer. Till next time.