Written by Juan Dingli
Right beneath the shadow of Mdina lies a very central village that goes by the name of Mosta (Moss-Ta). There’s a big chance you’ve already been here or have seen Mosta from the distance. The massive Rotunda in the square of Mosta can be seen from almost everywhere and is surely a sight to behold. Mosta’s main road is one of the busiest in this part of the island but this is due to most of the traffic passing through Mosta to reach the North of Malta. Up to some hundred years ago, only a handful of buildings could be found scattered around this village, mostly being farmhouses and rural buildings. Throughout the years, Mosta has seen a big surge of construction that continues to stretch the building footprint of this village. In fact the current population stands at around 20,500. Even though this town is quite busy, one can still find peace and quiet in the narrow side streets and the surrounding valleys. This 6.8km2 village is also divided into various zones, such as Santa Margherita, Ta’ Żokkrija (Ta Żokk-Ree-Ya) amongst others as well as a smaller suburb known as Bidnija (Bid-Nee-Ya). The latter is a smaller rural village that is surrounded entirely by countryside and yet is still part of Mosta, having a population of around 350 or so residents.
The first settlers in Mosta can be traced back to thousands of years ago. Neolithic remains can be found close to the luscious Honey Valley or “Wied il-Għasel” (wee-d il-aa-sel) as it is known in Maltese. Specifically the two Dolmens, that are estimated to be around 7000 years old. Unfortunately, not much is known about why these were constructed and by whom, though theories suggest that these were used as tombs or burial chambers. These particular Dolmens are in a considerably good condition. Catacombs from the 4th century AD have also been found in Mosta. These are called the “Ta’ Bistra” catacombs. Fortunately, this site has been recently restored and a lot of effort has been put in for the conservation of these catacombs. In recent history, a 12km stretch of British fortifications called the Victoria Lines were built along the edge of Mosta. The best place to admire this long fortified wall has to be from the Mosta Bride garden which is known locally as “Il-Ġnien l-Għarusa tal-Mosta” (il-jne-een laa-roo-sa tal-Mos-ta) close to the MCAST art school. Another remnant from this period is Fort Mosta which is still in use today by the Armed Forces of Malta as an ammunition depot. A small World War 2 shelter can also be found in the village square but this is only opened to the public during special events.
The highlight of Mosta though has to be the Rotunda, a monument to Christianity, community effort and architecture. Designed by the French architect Giorgio Grognet de Vassé, the Rotunda took around 27 years to complete and was finished during the early 1860s. It is said that Grognet was inspired by the Roman pantheon in Rome and in fact one can easily see the similarities. The Mosta Rotunda is quite synonymous with Mosta itself and I usually joke that you can never get lost in Mosta as the Rotunda will always show you the way to the main square. Seeing the Rotunda lit up at night is quite the sight and it is definitely something that the locals should be proud of considering that their ancestors had helped with the construction of this church. During the Second World War, the Rotunda was hit by a half ton bomb which fell through the dome and landed in the middle of a congregation of around 300 people. Luckily, the bomb didn’t exploded and as you can imagine, this was seen as a miracle by the locals. It’s certainly a good thing that the bomb didn’t go off. Today one can see a replica of this bomb in a special room in the sacristy of the Rotunda dedicated to this faithful day. This is also quite an attraction with tourists visiting Mosta. Nowadays, the Rotunda stands tall in the centre of Mosta with its doors open for mass goers and tourists alike. The church is dedicated to assumption of St Mary and a massive village feast is celebrated on the 15th of August. I also bet you didn’t know that the Rotunda is classified as the third largest unsupported dome in the entire world.
Mosta’s village square is quite a hectic little place. Cars rushing by, shoppers out on their retail crawl, people waiting for the next bus, tourists posing with the Rotunda and dozens of people waiting in queue for fresh pastizzi. It might seem like a lot going on at the same time but somehow it all blends together nicely to create a good atmosphere. Last Sunday I decided to have a coffee and a croissant whilst seated outside at one of the handful of bars that surround the square and I can truly say that it was a lovely experience. I felt lucky to be part of such a wonderful scene which in our minds seem to just happen outside of Malta. Alas, we Maltese don’t really appreciate what we have right under our noses at times. Visitors to Mosta are also spoilt for choice when it comes to food. Countless numbers of bars, każini (Band Clubhouses), restaurants, takeaways and coffee shops can be found all throughout the village square and the main road of Mosta. What I noticed is that the two main roads, Constitution Street and Eucharistic Congress Road, are packed with shops of all kind. Technology, home decor, high end fashion outlets, car showrooms are amongst the many types of shops that you’ll find here. This is probably the reason why Mosta attracts so many people on a daily basis. It is also important to mention that the Mosta street market takes place on Monday from early morning till around noon.
When it comes to recreational and leisure activates in Mosta, one can always go for a hike in one of the various valleys that cut across this town. The two valleys of Wied il-Għasel and Wied Speranza (wee-d sper-an-tsa) are ideal places for a hike in nature. These valleys are actually the same valley and are even connected with Chadwick Lakes. My favourite part has to be the Wied il-Għasel section of this long valley. A couple of years ago, my friends and I used to spend entire days running around in the valley. We’d stop for a break under the shade of a tree during summer or end up running from one cave to another during the rainy days of winter. We’d always end the day with a small campfire and head off to one of the tea shops in the village square before we parted ways. Here one can truly feel disconnected from the fast paced hum-drum of life located just outside the valleys. Apart from this, one can explore the Għadira tal-Wej (aa-dee-ra tal-weyy) located in the Santa Margherita area. This site is both an archaeological site due cart ruts having been found in the area as well as an ecological site. The pond which forms at l-Għadira tal-Wej is host to various species of local flora and fauna. If you’re feeling cultural, check out the Marquis Mallia Tabone Farmhouse which usually has art displays or exhibitions running throughout the week; definitely worth visiting just for the architecture itself.
Mosta is a definite all-rounder, it has history, amazing views, picturesque valleys, restaurants of all types, a shopping village on the border next to the football ground and even plenty of art shops. Let’s not forget the polyclinic located in the village square, next to the public playground and boċċi field. What more could one want? The bonus perk is that Mosta is a very central town, easily reachable by the public transport system as well. You now have found a good way to spend your next weekend, in Mosta where else? Here’s a challenge for you guys, try to hike the whole length of the Mosta valley and count how many bridges you pass under. Till next time, have fun exploring.