Flying to Malta? If you’re keen on exploring, look for Malta’s wayside chapels. Chapels are all over the island but often hide in plain sight. See more.
Malta is a charming maze. Much of its charm is derived from the way things fit every which way—from intriguing houses of character and creative parking spaces to jumbled stone walls and corbelled huts. Likewise, the island is enigmatic; behind its many layers lay countless treasures waiting for those who seek them. If you’re keen on exploring, look for Malta’s wayside chapels. These quaint and holy places are strewn over the island but often hide in plain sight. Flying to Malta? Seek and you shall find.
Intrigue accounts considerably for Malta’s wayside chapels. Most “cappelle” are austere and unadorned, but their styles and locations pique the imagination. In fact, the oldest ones date from the late twelfth or early thirteenth century. Many are located away from coastal areas, where pillaging invaders first arrived. For this reason, concentrations of chapels are found in sheltered places like Rabat and Naxxar. Some even hide underground. St. Paul the Hermit in Mosta and Mellieha’s Sanctuary of the Nativity of Our Lady are just two examples of rock-hewn cappelle. Dark and close, their atmospheric interiors easily conjure images of ages past.
Other Maltese chapels blend into buildings. When visiting Fort St. Elmo in Valletta, keep a sharp lookout for St. Anne; this 15th-century cappella merges into the younger bastion that grew around it. At one point, the chapel witnessed the bloody Great Siege of 1565 rather dramatically, when storming Ottomans slew knights and priests trying to defend the altar. St. Cajetan is another surprise. Located in the famous Casa Rocca Piccola—a five-hundred-year-old mansion—this little jewel befits the titled owners who have resided there over the centuries. Take a tour; it’s well worth your time.
Some wayside chapels in Malta are simply waiting for the next visitor. The Chapel of the Annunciation in Zurrieq doesn’t hide from invaders but sits modestly in a village. Pay a visit; 15th-century frescoes—a fragile rarity in such a humid country—decorate the interior with colourful populations of saints. Other chapels are considerably fancier and more ostentatious. When devout patrons entered the picture, they gradually bestowed their riches on design and upkeep. Hence, St. John the Baptist (located inside the Grandmaster’s Palace) boasts wonderful frescoes by Filippo Paladini. Our Lady of LIesse, built by French knights, isn’t too far. Anyone looking down from the Upper Barraka Gardens will easily see its ample red dome.
Ready? Head out and enjoy the patronage of Malta’s historic inhabitants!