Events held in 2014

Symposium 2014 Logo_EngWirt iż-Żejtun will be holding its second national symposium on Saturday the 5th July 2014 between 08:30 and 13:30.  This symposium will mark the 400th year anniversary from the Turkish Razzia on iż-Żejtun and il-Mellieħa which occurred on the 6th July 1614.

The symposium includes the presentation of the following eight papers:


by Giulia Privitelli

The principal aim of this paper is to provide a historical and socio-political context for the Ottoman incursion of 1614 in the southern region of Malta, together with a detailed account of this considerably undervalued episode of Maltese and Hospitaller history. The study, although largely dependent on seventeenth and eighteenth-century reports and chronicles of the Order of St. John, is not merely a historically-based narrative of the events induced by the invasion, but it, furthermore, seeks to explore the political and strategic implications prior and subsequent to the attack, and to determine the immediate and eventual impact the attack had on both the locals and the Order of St. John in Malta.

The Ottoman Empire was increasingly perceived as a weakening naval and military threat throughout the centuries ensuing the decisive Battle of Lepanto in the second half of the sixteenth century (1570-1571). Indeed, several of its corsairing activities and raids resulted in a series of failed military attempts, of which the 1614 attack may be seen to form part of. However, the significance of this final raid on Malta, has been severely undermined in secondary literature on the subject, and is only given some attention by few chroniclers of the Order, whose reliability is often a matter of concern. The contribution of this paper, thus, lies in bringing to light a number of over-looked aspects of the invasion of 1614, and perhaps, serves as an amplified, conclusive chapter on the military expeditions of the Ottoman Turks in Malta.

Giulia PrivitelliGiulia Privitelli, a student aged 21, has recently graduated with a first class honours degree in History of Art, with the University of Malta, and is currently reading for a Master’s degree on the iconographic programme of Filippo Paladini’s wall paintings in Verdala Palace, Buskett. Although not from Żejtun, her connection to the village primarily lies with her dissertation study on the architecture of the Parish Church of St. Catherine in Żejtun, the results of which have been presented to the public in November 2013. She is also, one of the contributors to a forthcoming Wirt iż-Żejtun publication on architect Michele Cachia.  She is also, employed with St. James Cavalier, Centre for Creativity on a part-time basis. She considers travelling as her main passion, but also, enjoys drawing portraits in her spare time.


by Charles Debono

After being defeated at iż-Żejtun, the Turks retired to St Thomas Bay and sailed along the coast towards the northern side of the island.  They tried to land at St Paul’s Bay, but cannon shots from St. Paul’s Bay Tower (known also as Wignacourt Tower) kept them out from the bay.  They then sailed to Mellieħa Bay, where they landed without any difficulty on the sandy beach of l-Għadira. From the Saline Vecchie, today’s nature reserve, they filled up water to supply their voyage.  A group from those who landed walked up the hill towards the village of Mellieha and along the way they set on fire a number of farmhouses and the crops.  Finally they gained access to the Sanctuary of Our Lady and ransacked this sacred site.

Charles DebonoCharles Debono is a graduate on history with a Masters in Art.  He is currently a curator at Heritage Malta responsible for the National War Museum found at Fort St. Elmo and is deeply involved in the transfer and incorporation of this museum into a larger interpretation facility about Malta’s Military History, which will be housed in Upper St. Elmo and planned to be opened for visitors by the end of 2014.  Mr Debono is author of a number of papers and articles about the military history of Mellieħa and on Malta’s role in World War II, the latter published on a local Sunday newspaper. His undergraduate thesis about Mellieħa during World War II was puplished by the Mellieħa Local Council in a book under the title Wartime Mellieha: The Role of the village in the Second World War 1940-43.    His thesis for the MA was about The Maltese Militia from the Late Medieval to the Hospitallers’ Period.


by Sandro Debono

In 1614 the then small rural community of Zejtun suffered a heavy Ottoman incursion which was nonetheless successfully repelled thanks to military intervention by the Order of St John. Measures of redress included works of art commissioned or presented by key personalities who experienced or were directly involved in repelling the incursion.

These paintings have been studied individually within the repertoire of stylistic attributions and the town’s history. They have as yet to be studied as a group commissioned by powerful patrons in response to a historic event and their significance as altar paintings.

This paper shall review the significance of this group of altar paintings and rethink their purpose, interpret details and propose new readings. It shall also articulate and underpin the significance of this cluster of commissions which can rightly be recognised as atypical paintings in Maltese art history.

Dandro DebonoSandro Debono is Heritage Malta’s Senior Curator at the National Museum of Fine Arts and Project lead for MUZA, the new National Museum of Fine Arts project for Valletta’s European Capital of Culture title 2018.   Lectured at the Institute for Conservation studies (Malta), Galleria Interdisciplinare Palazzo Abatellis (Palermo), Scuola di Specializzazione – Beni Culturali (University of Genoa), Uppsala University (Sweden) and sporadically at the University of Malta. Held heritage management posts in Maltese cultural heritage agencies and institutions, sits on the scientific committee of the Museo Civico di Taverna (Catanzaro, Calabria) and formed part of the recently appointed experts group for the creative economy forum spearheaded by Malta’s Ministry of Finance.


by Dr Anton Bugeja

Clemente Tabone is known for his connections with Żejtun, particularly for his role in the attack of 1614 on the village and for the construction of the chapel of St Clement. After reviewing the available literature on Clemente, a search for primary documentary sources follows, focusing on his family, the main events in his life and his belongings. Much of our knowledge on Tabone has been confirmed and is now supported by new evidence. Some details, however, have been challenged while others present problems in interpretation necessitating further research.

Anton BugejaDr Anton Bugeja MDis a family doctor by profession working as Senior General Practitioner with the Primary Health Care Department, Malta. He also has a keen interest in Maltese archaeology and is a committee member of the Archaeological Society (Malta).The present study developed from documents found during research on land-ownership of the archaeological site of Tas-Silġ.


by Fiona Vella

The objective of this study is to analyze the folklore which is related to the Ottoman attack that took place in Żejtun and its surrounding areas on the 6th July 1614. This will include an examination of the traditional knowledge, customs, oral and artistic traditions which have evolved along the years and were passed on from generation to generation. The essence of folklore is its spontaneous or organic nature which develops through a particular experience or an interpretation of an experience as it is told and retold, until it eventually becomes part of the narrative of village folk. Yet by time, this will often result in an inherent conflict between what has actually happened and what is perceived to have taken place. Thus this investigation aims to collect the various anecdotes which have accumulated through the years in relation to this 17th century event in order to attempt to delve among the various impressions and to explore whether it is possible to reach in to the outset of the original source.

Fiona VellaFiona Vella Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology and Anthropology. She is a freelance writer with a particular interest in archaeology, history, culture, public memory and oral tradition. Her features are published in several local media. In 2009 and in 2010, she was awarded the Prix D’Honneur for two of her articles by Din L-Art Ħelwa. Currently she is also engaged with the Civil Society Committee within MCESD, in the sector relating to Environmental Protection and Improvement including the Protection of Animals, Culture, Arts and National Heritage. For the last two years, she has the role of Public Relations Officer of Wirt iż-Żejtun.


by Godwin Vella

The razzia of July 1614 marks the apex of almost two and a half centuries of repeated hostile incursions that impinged dramatically on daily life in the Maltese Islands and the greater part of the central Mediterranean. By the late fourteenth century, the Algerian port city of Béjaïa grew into a terrifying corsairing hub and most hamlets within easy reach of the coast in Malta and beyond got deserted. This demographic shift pushed the fairly inland casal of Żejtun to the forefront of the corsairing brunt. Besides the adoption of a number of passive and, to a lesser extent offensive security measures in theconfiguration of the urbanized clusters and the construction of the respective abodes, this perennial threat imparted a non negligible bearing on the communal pious devotions.

Godwin-VellaGodwin Vella read Archaeology and Business Administration at the University of Malta. He served on a number of government appointed boards and committees in the heritage sector, and, between 1992 and 2004, as secretary within the non-profit making organization Wirt Għawdex. Vella managed Heritage Malta’s Gozo Area Office from 2004 to 2008, and has been heading the Ethnography, Industrial Heritage and Fort St Angelo Curatorial Unit within Heritage Malta since 2007. In 2013, he has been appointed Head Curatorial Affairs at the same National Agency for Museums and Cultural Heritage. Vella authored several referred studies and edited a number of publications on the Maltese Islands cultural patrimony.


by Prof. Stanley Fiorini

The object of this presentation is to give an overview of how the south-east of Malta comprising the Cappella of St Catherine, that is the Parish of Zejtun, was geared for enemy attacks before 1530 and after the arrival of the Order of St John until the last invasion of 1614, whose fifth centenary is being commemmorated. It is shown how the coastal watch, the so-called Mahras, for this district, originally organized by the Mdina Universitas came to be dependent on St Angelo towards the mid- fifteenth century and how, at about the same time, fortification of the old Parish Church was undertaken to defend the villagers, in view of the distance of the parish from Mdina. The dependent hamlet of Zabbar was one of the identified Dejma (land force as opposed to the coastal Mahras) centres. It is suggested that one reason why the Port of Marsaxlokk appears to have been singled out by the Moorish corsairs for especial attention was retaliation for its use as the hub of Christian provocation, especially after 1530.

Stanley FioriniProf Stanley Fiorini B.Phil. (Heythrop), M.A. (Oxon), Ph.D. (Open), is Emeritus Professor and Research Fellow of the University of Malta and former Head of the Mathematics Department. He is currently engaged in Medieval Central Mediterranean (especially Maltese) historical research. In this area he has initiated the publication of the series Documentary Sources of Maltese History, to which he has contributed, solely or jointly, the first eleven volumes. Other sole- or joint-publications include Santo Spirito Hospital at Rabat, Malta (1989), The ‘Mandati’ documents at the Archives of the Mdina Cathedral, Malta: 1473-1539 (1993), The origin of Franciscanism in Late Medieval Malta (1995), the two-volume work Mdina. The Cathedral City of Malta (1996) and, most recently, Tristia ex Melitogaudo. Lament in Greek verse of a XIIth-century exile on Gozo (2010).


Dr Stephen C Spiteri

For most of the sixteenth century, the Knights of St John had focused all their resources and military planning on securing the safety of their convent and its naval facilities inside the Grand Harbour. This left little money and energy which could be spared for the protection of the islands’ shores and its rural areas. The renewed Turkish incursions into the Western Mediterranean towards the late 1500s, however, meant that the Order could no longer continue to ignore the problem posed by the islands’ defencless and exposed shores, and the vulnerability of the rural population to the threat of the predatory activities of Turkish and Barbary corsairs.

Under the leadership of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, however, the Knights began to address the problem by introducing a number of coastal defences designed to serve both as vigilant sentinels and physical barriers to invasion.  By the time of the Turkish razzia of 1614, three such coastal fortini had been built and one of these, Torre S. Luciano, played an active role in the fateful events of that summer. These coastal defences, and others that followed in their wake, stirred by the events of 1614, were instrumental in establishing the foundations for a new coastal defence strategy – one that would shape and dictate the islands’ fortification schemes and the Knights’ defensive posture throughout the remainder of the Order’s rule.

This paper discuss the nature, scope, and limitations of the early seventeenth-century Hospitaller coastal defences.

Dr Stephen SpiteriDr Stephen C Spiteri  Dipl. (Int. Des.) RI,  B.A. (Hons),  Ph.D,  was born in Malta, 15 September 1963.  Educated at St Aloysius College, B’kara and later at the University of Malta. Dr Spiteri is a historian of military architecture and the author of a number of published studies, books, and papers on the fortifications and military organization of the Knights of St John in Malta and Rhodes, as well as British colonial defences.  Dr Spiteri is also a part-time lecturer at the International Institute of Baroque Studies at the University of Malta, where he lectures on the art and science of fortification.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.