“Unforgettable Summer Delight: Witnessing Mesmerizing Aerial Displays Across Malta’s Skies This Summer”
Painters generally use canvas to visualise their perceptions, creations and fantasies in oils, water colours or mixtures of various materials. Some prefer to splash tableaus on street walls or the sides of buildings. Others may paint on cloth, church ceilings or wood; tattoo artists etch panoramas on skin.
In Malta, the skies are painted too!
Introduction to Mediterranean Skies in Summer
Fireworks in Malta have a long tradition stretching back to the arrival of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem from Rhodes in the late 15th century. Besides its invaluable and essential use in the art of war, gunpowder also had its joyful and entertainment uses such as the “feu de joie” for gun salutes, the “musketterija” in the form of simultaneously firing of muskets and the “solfarelli d’aria” in the form of St Catherine’s Wheels known in Maltese as “irdieden”.
These and other forms of fireworks were used on special occasions such as the election of a new Grandmaster of the Order, the election of a new Pope or to celebrate or commemorate victories over the invading Ottomans. With the arrival of the British in the early 19th century, these traditions were maintained but became oriented to British events and these in turn were the catalyst for massive fireworks displays in all village and town festas mainly during the summer period.
Those living in large towns and cities like Sydney, New York and London do not see these as innovations because they have similar displays, but all those in other areas are of course restricted to mini-fireworks displays and not these spectacle splendours.
The Situation Today
Although weather forecasts will have the ultimate say in the matter, the usual rota of town and village festas has been published. Localities must have fireworks to be considered a festa. Obviously the larger localities have the largest displays.
The June calendar includes:
Our Lady of Lily, Mqabba
St. Catherine, Zejtun
Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu, Gharb, Gozo
St.John the Baptist, Xewkija, Gozo
San Gwann Battista
St George, Hal Qormi
St. Nicholas, Siggiewi
St. Peter and St. Paul, Nadur Gozo
San Pietru u San Pawl
These are just the mere beginnings because the brunt of displays is scheduled for July and August
Types of Fireworks
These are manufactured by unpaid Maltese and Gozitan volunteers mainly motivated by the pique to entertain and get one over on neighbouring villages. Most localities have their own “fireworks factory”, some of which have grown to attract sub-contracts from the smaller parishes who find it more economically expedient to outsource.
Their manufacture has not fallen short of modern technology because nowadays displays are also synchronised to music and narrative commentary.
Displays fall into two categories. The “giochi di fuochi” (corrupted into “gigifogo” in Maltese) are terrestrial displays of circular shapes revolving on poles and aerial displays fired into the skies from numerous imitation cannons firing petards skywards. These open in spectacular colourful fashion with a bang and can be individual petards or a rapid succession that provides an unbroken display that can stretch to over 15 minutes.
Thus, in line with technical and communications advances, many displays are now synchronised to classical and light music and water fountains.
Controversy is never far away. Malta and Gozo are small islands and factories are normally near housing and inhabitants. Manufacturing accidents are frequent, sometimes indirectly caused by weather conditions of high humidity and heat and sometimes by oversight. Enormous eruptions result in mangled deaths, life threatening injuries and loss of various limbs to the victim manufacturers. For every fallen soldier, two young and fresh recruits willingly step into the breach – that is the extent of the craze to participate under constant danger.
The exploding petards are also a source of controversy, insensitive as they are to the elderly, the sick and most household pets. The use of powerful gelignite has now been banned and a National Board regulates strict safety standards, but … men will be men.
Admittedly, the end result is heavenly as night skies are painted with a wonderful panorama of colours, shooting stars and rapidly opening concentric circles. Despite the dangers, many have to admit the upside of beauty and pleasure eclipses the downside of dying and being maimed.
Nowadays, the Ministry for Tourism and the Malta Tourism Authority organise an International Fireworks Festival, which has become the piece de resistance for competing manufacturers, including foreign international participants from France, Italy, Austria, UK and many other countries. This is overseen by an international judging board of recognised pyrotechnical experts who award the final prizes.
Music Synchronised – What Next?
Many, many thousands of spectators are attracted and competition and pique are frantic, the enthralled “ooohs” and “aaahs” being the real prize for the manufacturers, as well as that of smugly lording it over rival manufacturers.
BeSeeingYou In: Malta
Good to Know: The Maltese love their patron saints and village festas (festi), primarily religious celebrations, are held in their honour
WOW! Factor: More than 100 festas (festi) are held in Malta and Gozo each year, most of which happen between May and September
Tip: Be prepared to hear firework booms as early as 8 a.m. if you’re staying in or near a village celebrating a festa
“The ingredients of a soup are only known to those who concocted it”
The intrigues of a situation are only known to those who have meddled in it.
Author BIO: Albert Fenech