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Fuq il-Bank

‘Dejjem hawn dawn, jieħdu t-te u l-pastizzi! Ara jgħidux li qed ibatu!’ qal bejnu u bejn ruħu s-Sur Benjamin, hu u ħiereġ mill-karozza pinna u tleqq bid-dawl tax-xemx fuqha li kien għadu kemm xtara xi ftit xhur ilu. ‘Naħseb ħaqqni karozza ġdida. Mhux il-ħin kollu naħdem jien, u nistinka? Ingawdi ftit jien għal darba, nista’! Mhux dejjem taraw x’ħa tivvintaw tal-ispejjeż int u t-tfal!’ kien jgħid lil martu waqt xi argument jaħraq wara ġurnata xogħol, minħabba li martu kienet toqgħod tilmenta miegħu li la hi u lanqas it-tfal ma kienu qed igawduh.
 
‘Dejjem tara x’ser taqbad dik,’ kien jaħseb hu u sejjer għall-uffiċini tal-kumpanija, li kien għadu kif espanda peress li beda jagħmel suċċess dan l-aħħar. Għadda sal-pjazza, kif kien jagħmel bħas-soltu f’nofsinhar, u bħal dejjem kien hemm Pietru u Fredu bilqiegħda fuq il-bank ta’ faċċata tal-ħanut tax-xorb. Sakemm kien ikun għall-kenn ta’ xi siġra waqt il-brejk biex jiekol dak li tkun ippreparatlu martu għax-xogħol, kien jedha jarahom iqumu wieħed imbagħad l-ieħor, u jaqsmu jixtru xi ħaġa oħra mill-ħanut ta’ faċċata biex jimlew żaqqhom, għalkemm bla dubju ta’ xejn it-tobba kienu kontra li dawn iż-żewġ pensjonanti jagħmlu minn kollox biex ikomplu jkabbru dik iż-żaqq qisha tanbur li kellhom! Fuq fommu kienet titqanqal tbissima meta jimmaġina kif id-Dottor Pace tal-pressjoni, b’għajnejh iżebbġu ’l hawn u ’l hinn sakemm isib fejn jipparkja qrib kemm jista’ jkun tal-ispiżerija u b’wiċċu dejjem ruxxan bin-nervi li kienu jqabbduh il-pazjenti li ma jisimgħux minnu, jibda jbiddel il-kuluri jekk jaqbadhom iqarmċu pastizz wara l-ieħor u xi qassata meta jkollhom aptit ibiddlu t-togħma.
 
Kiel il-ftira mħawra biż-żebbuġ u l-kappar u qabdu l-għatx, iżda l-flixkun tal-ilma kien nesieh warajh l-uffiċini. Qabad il-bagalja tal-ġilda li qala’ bħala rigal f’għeluq sninu mingħand oħtu u għamel triqtu għall-ħanut biex jixtri flixkun luminata. Lanqas laħqu rawh Pietru u Fredu li m’għamlulux sinjal għal ħdejhom, u hu, wara li ħares lejn il-ħin u ra li kien għad fadallu sew qabel imur ikompli bil-laqgħat li kellu ppjanati għal waranofsinhar, mar għal ħdejhom.
 
“Haw’! Kif int, Sur Tanti? Orrajt, sieħbi?” laqgħu Fredu, b’ħalqu mimli frak tal-qassata tal-irkotta.
 
Qabeż Pietru u qallu, “Dejjem orrajt narah lill-ħabib tagħna; hux hekk, Ben? U x’karozza faqqajtilna, eh! Kemm ħadtha? Kif kien jgħid missieri, Alla jaħfirlu: flus ma’ flus u qamel ma’ qamel.”
 
“Mhux ħażin, Piet. Ħeqq, u l-karozza ħdimt għaliha jien!” kompla Benjamin, bħallikieku biex jaċċertahom li l-flus iġibhom b’mod onest u jurihom li kien ħaqqu jinvesti f’karozza bħal dik.
 
“U sewwa tagħmel, Ben. La għandek, gawdi; mhux hekk, Piet?”
 
“U hekk ngħid jien, iżda xejn ma ngħid, il-flus mhux kollox!” U ħares lejn in-negozjant ta’ skola liebes pulit b’bagalja f’idu. ‘Dan xi jrid jgħid biha?’ issuppervja Ben.
 
“Imma jien ma naħdimx għall-flus biss; ix-xogħol itini sodisfazzjon,” irribatta, biex jerġa’ jqum mit-tisbita li tah dak il-biċċa ta’ xiħ mixħut fuq il-bank.
 
“Jien m’għedtlekx li x-xogħol u l-flus mhumiex sbieħ. Anzi, mingħajr flus la tgħannaq u lanqas tbus; imma ridt infiehmek… Insomma, naqilbu s-suġġett, għax mhux qed niftiehmu. Kif inhi ommok? Ilek xejn ma tmur taraha mal-familja tiegħek? Taf kemm tieħu pjaċir kieku, miskina!” kompla Pietru, bl-intenzjoni profonda li jġiegħel lil dak iż-żagħżugħ ta’ quddiemu, dritt dritt u li tiegħu kollox tajjeb, jirrifletti ftit.
 
“Naħseb mhux ħażin…”
 
“Taħseb? Ukoll! U fuq ommok qed nitkellmu!”
 
“Isma’, Piet, jien ikolli x’nagħmel ta! Ejja prova qatta’ ġurnata f’xogħli ħa tara xi stress u impenji għandi! Jien mhux bħal dawk ta’ daqsi li dejjem bilqiegħda hemm ġew jixorbu l-birra lejl u nhar ta!”
 
“Titmasħanx, ejja, żagħżugħ! Ikkalma, ħi, għax tinqata’ xi vina minn rasek… Kelma qallek,” qabeż Fredu, li induna li d-diskussjoni ta’ bejn dawk it-tnejn kienet ħadet bixra differenti, bil-botti jingħadu b’mod sottili.
 
“Ara, sarli l-ħin,” qata’ l-konverżazzjoni bil-pulit, wara li ta ħarsa ħafifa lejn l-arloġġ jiswa fuq il-ħames mitt ewro li kellu f’idu Benjamin.
 
“Mur, u kun imbierek!” qalu t-tnejn ta’ bilqiegħda b’mod sinkronizzat, daqslikieku kienu jispiċċaw kull konverżazzjoni ma’ xi ħadd bl-istess mod. Benjamin b’pass mgħaġġel mar għall-karozza u rikeb biex jitlaq. Fit-triq waqt li qed isuq baqa’ jaħseb fi kliem Pietru, u l-kuxjenza ħassha tippreżentalu quddiem għajnejh minn xiex beda jonqos dan l-aħħar: kull tilwima ma’ martu, kull wiċċ imbikki li kienu jtuh uliedu meta jmorru jiġru jgħidulu li l-iskola kienet se torganizza xi ħarġa li fiha jistgħu jattendu l-ġenituri, jew reċta għall-jum tal-għoti tal-premjijiet, u jgħidilhom li għandu x’jagħmel, u kull darba li martu tiġi bit-telefown ħdejh fil-kamra tal-istudju li kellu d-dar, b’infermiera fuq il-linja mid-dar tax-xjuħ tgħidlu li ommu xtaqet tisma’ kemm kemm leħnu, u jkeċċiha għax ikollu ħafna xogħol.
 
Tefa’ l-karozza f’ġenb tat-triq u ċempel lil Mariana, is-segretarja. “Tanti Negotiates. How may I help you? Eh, int, Sur Tanti? Għidli… eħe… Orrajt, kollox sew… Le, le, għadhom ma waslux; għadu l-ħin… Iva, iva, issa stess ħa nċemplilhom… Orrajt… Ċaw u l-kumplament tal-ġurnata t-tajba.”
 
Dawwar il-karozza u biddel ir-rotta. Ftit minuti wara pparkja fil-parking tad-dar tax-xjuħ u għadda jixtri pasta tal-krema minn ħanut qrib, ta’ dak it-tip li kienet tħobb ommu.

Il-Ħadd – Jum il-Mistrieħ

Il-Ħadd hu jum il-mistrieħ,
Lill-Mulej dejjem offrih!
Għall-quddies tajjeb li tmur
Ħalli lill-Ħallieq iżżur.
Dakinhar tivvintax xogħol!
Tajjeb li nistrieħu lkoll
Mir-rutina ta’ kuljum,
Mistenni wisq hu dal-jum.
Xħin idoqqu nofsinhar
U kulħadd ikun id-dar
Nieklu dejjem ikel bnin
Aħna f’ġurnata bħal din.
Wara nistrieħu xi ftit
Għax il-Ħadd hekk biss tkun trid.
Jew xi dawra fejn ix-xatt,
Hemm, għall-kwiet, imur kulħadd.
Jeħtieġ illi l-Ħadd ngħożżuh
U li ma xejn ma nbiddluh.
Mill-għada, imbagħad, nikkargaw
U għax-xogħol nirritornaw.
Viva viva l-mistrieħ
Jgħid iż-żgħir u jgħid ix-xiħ.
Il-Ħadd hu jum il-Mulej,
Qatt m’għandna nbiddluh ma’ xej’!

Ir-Randan Imqaddes

Ir-Randan żmien ta’ penitenza
Għall-kuntrarju ta’ żmien il-Milied.
Fih nagħmlu s-sawm u l-astinenza
Meta ġo darna nkunu għall-kwiet.
 
Għax matulu nfakkru t-tbatija
Li għadda minna Sidna Ġesu`
Meta miet għalik u għalija
Biex isalva `l kulħadd hu min hu.
 
Il-mixja tar-Randan hi twila,
Dana għaliex fiha erbgħin jum.
Iżda jekk tagħmel ftit tal-ħila
Żgur tagħmlu sagrifiċċju kuljum.
 
Tajjeb li nidħlu fina nfusna
Matul daż-żmien solenni, qaddis
Ħalli jekk forsi kibru rjusna
Insiru umli mill-aktar fis.
 
F’daż-żmien tajjeb nagħmlu ħilitna
Biex nimitaw iżjed lill-Feddej.
Nagħmlu kuraġġ ħalli b’talbitna
Insiru aħjar fiż-żmien li ġej.
 
Jeħtieġ li llestu għalenija
Rwieħna lkoll f’daż-żmien għall-Għid il-Kbir
U nġeddu ta’ Ġesu` t-tbatija
Għaliex hekk kien hemm miktub li jsir.
 

Bats at the museum

As the sun began to set, the sky darkened with the legion of bats which came out of the Rabat catacombs, noted G. Gulia in 1890 in his book Elenco dei Mammiferi Maltesi. Certainly, the tendency of these nightly creatures to live in such dreaded underground areas didn’t help them much in order not to be associated with evil and darkness. Likewise, their strange semblance, their mythical association with Dracula, and images of Satan bearing their wings, hindered even more their reputation. In Aztec and Mayan cultures, bats were deities connected to death. Yet nothing could be far from the truth since bats have a beneficial role in the earth’s ecosystem.
 
altThe importance of these unique flying mammals was highlighted during a recent activity which was organized by MEPA’s Environment Division in collaboration with Heritage Malta, at the National Museum of Natural History in Mdina. This annual event, recognized as Malta Bat Night, included a discussion about bats and listening to their sounds through an electronic device.
 
“Malta Bat Night forms part of a partnership which we have with the European Union for the Research and Conservation of Bats,” explained John Joseph Borg, Senior Curator at the National Museum of Natural History.
 
“Such events are aimed to inform the public about bats in the hope of removing the negative impression that people have about them. Along the years, bats have decreased considerably in Malta, both because their habitat has often been disturbed, and also due to direct acts of vandalism which were carried out upon them.”
 
altIndeed, Borg explained that colonies of bats have been repeatedly put on fire whilst they were resting in their caves. Others were smothered when vandals threw mud and other things at them, even though they were clearly being protected behind a gate, such as in the case of Ħasan Cave. Bats of a small colony which lived in a site that had access to a particular school, were burnt alive by school children after they captured them and drenched them in hot candle wax.
 
Well, after hearing these stories, it becomes very clear who the evil ones are.
 
 “Unfortunately our culture has taught us to fear and hate these creatures. In actual fact, their presence could be very advantageous to humans,” revealed Borg.
 
“Many of the bats eat insects and studies have shown that they tend to feed on species that are harmful to humans and to agriculture. Other small bats which have an elongated snout and a long tongue, act as pollinators when they enter into flower tubes to lick the pollen inside and then move onto different plants. Larger bats, which may look spooky and scary, nurture themselves on decaying fruit and therefore, they keep the fruit trees healthy.”
 
What about the so called vampire bats. Were they real? And do we have them in Malta?
 
alt“In contrast to peoples’ impression that all bats can suck blood, most of them thrive on insects, fruit, fish and frogs. The only vampire bats which feed on blood are found in South America and they are pretty small. They are nothing similar to the fictional bats that we see in films. In fact, they do not suck blood but they lick it, thanks to their anticogulant saliva which prevents the blood from clotting. They do not normally attack human beings and neither animals. However, they will feed on any animal available if it is reachable to them, including humans.”
 
Borg informed me that we have seven resident species of bats which are: Lesser Horse-shoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), Maghrebian Bat (Myotis punicus), Grey Long-eared Bat (Plecotus austriacus), Savi`s Pipistrelle (Hypsugo savii), Kuhl`s Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii), Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), and Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus).
 
alt“We have bats from all these resident species living in this museum,” smiled Borg who has an avid passion about bats. “In the underground tunnels there are the Lesser Horse-shoe and the Maghrebian Bats, whereas in the rooms of the underlying level, one finds the Grey Long-eared and the Lesser Horse-shoe Bats. Moreover, all the four Pipistrelle species have managed to make a home in some cracks of the facade and on the high beams.”
 
From the remains of moth wings which Borg collects from the museum floor early in the morning for his studies, he is able to identify more information about his resident bats, such as what they prey on. Interestingly, each small Pipistrelle is able to eat around 20,000 moth each night, thereby being more effective than the insect sprays which we use. Nonetheless, most people have no idea about this and when they realize that they are co-habitating with bats, hell breaks lose.
 
“We do receive calls from people who request us to remove bats from their properties. It is very rare that these creatures enter into homes. Usually they live in cracks in external windows or in narrow openings in facades. Some of the bats are minute in size and in fact, five of them can be placed in a matchstick box. Generally, once these people realize that these animals will be doing no harm to them or to their family, they will agree to allow them to stay. Yet there were cases when the individuals concerned were adamant that they wanted them removed.”
 
altIn such cases, Borg or other responsible officials will need to go and survey the bats before taking action. This involves counting them daily for a whole week in order to confirm the exact amount of bats that are roosting in this place. Once, this amount is identified, they will wait until all the bats are out at night and then they will block the nest in order not to let them in again. Eventually, when the bats will return home and realize what happenned, they will automatically move away to a second area which they tend to keep as a form of protection.
 
“This procedure to count bats is very important because they do not always leave the nest in the same number. Usually, a scout bat will fly out first in order to check whether it is windy and whether there are enough insects available in the area. If he returns, the others will stay inside but if he does not, they will understand that the situation is favourable and they will fly out too.”
 
I couldn’t help feeling impressed by these creatures. Yet more was still to come.
 
alt“The courting and copulation of bats takes place in autumn, between October and November. Then, as soon as the temperature drops and insects are more rare, they will fall in a state of torpidity which is a short period of sleep. During this time, the sperm with which the female has been fertilized will remain stored inside her, waiting for the right moment to come. Once the tempertaure gets warmer and insects become available, these bats will wake up and the real preganancy will start. In this way, both the mother and the offspring will have a better chance to survive.”
 
Although there are some who associate bats with flying mice, Borg informed me that there is nothing common between the two. While mice come from the order Rodentia, bats form part of the order of Chiroptera (meaning hand-wing).
 
alt“The oldest bat fossils date back to 55 million years ago where this mammal had already the shape which we know today. On the other hand, the oldest fossils which were found in Malta go back to the Ice Age at around 200,000 and 10,000 years ago. These were found during excavations at Għar Dalam and so we can say that these ancient bats remember the dwarf elephants and hippopotami roaming around. At this museum, we do hold a sample of these fossils. However, the majority of them were taken by the foreign researchers who were doing the excavations, and these passed on their discoveries to their relative museums.”
 
In the Mdina museum, one can also find some current bat specimens. Borg insisted that it is not the policy of the museum to capture and kill creatures in order to preserve them. So, one won’t find a specimen for each species which live in Malta. Nevertheless, the museum will do his best to assist whoever will request information about bats.
 
altBorg’s own interest in bats goes back to the 1980s. Originally fearful of them, he came face to face with these bats whilst he was doing bird studies and these nightly creatures were being captured accidentally in nets. At first nervous, he asked others to remove them for him, until one day, he decided to do the job himself.
 
From then on, he was completely captivated by them and has been studying them ever since, eager to share his knowledge in the hope of fostering more interest from the public.
 
It is safe to say that Malta Bat Night has certainly gone a long way towards achieving this.

Lill-Arċisqof il-Ġdid (Frar 2015)

Fil-pajjiż ilbieraħ ġriet l-aħbar
Li Scicluna l-arċisqof kien sar.
Il-Mulej kien, fl-aħħar, sema’ t-talb
Tal-Maltin kollha ħiereġ mill-qalb.
 
Konna ilna nistennew ix-xhur,
U ħadd minna ma kien jaf fiż-żgur
Min ser ikun tal-Knisja l-mexxej,
Wara Cremona tgħid min kien ġej?
 
Intgħażel minn fostna saċerdot,
Isqof diġa`, fil-valuri sod.
Ta’ Missierna San Pawl suċċessur,
Il-mexxej tal-Knisja tal-futur.
 
Dana għandu biss ħamsa u ħamsin,
Bniedem ħabrieki, ma jitlifx ħin.
Ċerta li se jkun bil-wisq maħbub
U li tan-nies se jisraq il-qlub.
 
Ċerta li se jagħmel ħafna ġid
U l-fidi fost il-poplu se jżid.
Mela, ejjew nitolbu għalih
Biex il-Mulej l-għajnuna jagħtih!
 
Lil Scicluna, l-arċisqof il-ġdid,
Ħerqana biex jekk Alla jrid
Narah jinħatar fi ftit ġimgħat,
Nawgura lilu l-isbaħ xewqat.
 

Ġuża Mifsud

Mir-raħal tas-Siġġiewi,
Mara minn fost it-twajbin
Li kien jisimha Ġuża
Twieldet ilu bosta snin.
 
L-iżgħar fost seba’ aħwa,
Mara xempju tal-Maltin.
Kellha dix-xebba Ġuża
Ħajja bħal tal-qaddisin.
 
Ma’ familtha l-Girgenti
Kuljum kienet taħdem l-art.
Kienet dejjem tmur l-għalqa
Kemm fis-sħana u fil-bard.
 
Hemmhekk stess fil-Girgenti,
Kienet tħobb tmur ftit sal-wied
U toqgħod tgħid xi talba
Meta fl-għalqa tkun għejjiet.
 
Fuq is-siġra tan-naspli
Darba waħda rat dawl kbir.
Din kienet il-Madonna
Bi lbies fuqha tassew fqir.
 
Riedet minnha Marija
Ħafna talb għall-midinbin.
Ġuża pinġiet did-dehra,
Obdietha bla telf ta’ ħin.
 
Reġgħet dehret Marija
Meta għadda iżjed żmien.
U talbitha tpinġiha,
Dan fil-Ħamsinijiet kien.
Qaltilha wkoll Marija
Li Alla riedha għaliH
Minn eta` tassew żgħira,
Hi pinġietha minnufih.
 
Dan tal-Konsagrazzjoni
It-titlu ma kellha qatt.
U b’hekk xerrditu Ġuża
Għax ma kien tahulha ħadd.
 
Minn qaddisin, `rwieħ twajba,
Minn Ġesu` kellha d-dehriet.
Fil-laqgħat fil-Girgenti
Il-kelma tagħhom fis ġriet.
 
Meta għalqet għajnejha
Kellha aktar minn sebgħin.
Indifnet is-Siġġiewi
Hi fis-Sitta u Disgħin.
 

Taqbiliet Oħra

Tumas l-iskola mar,
Lela baqgħet id-dar.
Meta għamel il-ħin 
Marru xtraw maqrut bnin.
 
Wenzu mar il-bandli
U nesa jilbes is-sandli
Għax ħallieh fil-kamra
Ta’ kuġintu s-samra.
 
Niggustah il-ġelat
Wisq iżjed mill-awrat.
Inħobb ukoll l-għaġin,
Anki xi biskuttin.
 
Il-ħanut tal-pjazza
Jbigħ il-karamelli,
Il-ġuġu` u t-tofi
U ftit ġugarelli.
 

Lil Frenċ tal-Għarb

Fi żmien il-ħakma Ingliża,
Fl-Għarb għand familja bidwija
Twieled Frenċ fost tnax-il aħwa
Minn missier u omm Għawdxija.
Dejjem kien jaħdem fir-raba’,
Beda tard l-edukazzjoni.
Kien jixbah ħafna lil ommu,
Rawmitu fid-devozzjoni.
Baqa’ għażeb meta kiber,
Kien devot wisq lejn Ta’ Pinu.
L-għalqa, l-Azzjoni Kattolka
Kien jgħaddi ħafna minn ħinu.
Kuljum hekk kif mix-xogħol jerfa’,
Kien isib lin-nies tistenna
Quddiem il-bieb tad-dar tiegħu,
Xħin tarah kienet tithenna.
In-nies kienet tfittxu ħafna
Għal kull bżonn li kien ikollha
Min għat-talb, min għall-pariri,
Kbira kienet tkun il-folla.
Kulma kellu l-għerf ta’ bidwi,
Uża l-ħxejjex naturali
Kif ukoll it-talb u l-fidi,
Fejjaq nies bħalek u bħali.
Frenċ ma damx wisq ma ħa l-fama
Mal-Maltin u l-Għawdxin ħutna.
F’qasir żmien il-fama xterdet,
Sar magħruf barra minn xtutna.
Kull donazzjoni li qala’
Qatt huwa għalih ma żammha.
Kien jerfagħha għas-Santwarju,
Għal hemm biss hu kien iġamma’.
Malta, Frenċ, qajla kien jiġi,
Imma meta għamel dana
Kien imur ma’ San Ġorġ Preca
Biex iżur lill-morda tagħna.
Huwa miet fix-xahar ta’ Mejju,
Ilu ’l fuq minn erbgħin sena.
Żgur qiegħed igawdi l-ġenna,
U hemmhekk jinsab fil-hena.
In-nies baqgħet tmur ġo daru,
Il-qima lejh għadha turi.
Għax, issa, f’mużew inbidlet
U kull Għawdxi bih hu kburi.

Wild Flowers of the Maltese Islands – Launch Friday 9 October 2015

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in the successful launch held on Friday 9 October 2015 for Edwin Lanfranco and Guido Bonett’s publication Wild Flowers of the Maltese Islands and also share some photos taken.

This poem was recited during the launch by Guido Lanfranco, which we would also like to share.

ĦBIEB MIDFUNA
(Versi miktuba f’Wied Mejxu, San Ġiljan, 2-III-1997)

 

Abjad, ġdid, jidher il-bini
Nieżel dejjem mal-widien,
Iżda jien sad-dmugħ jaqbiżli
Meta maħseb f’dak li kien…

 

Taħt il-bini hemm midfuna
Ħbieb antiki li naf jien,
Kienu jħaddru l-blat tax-xagħri,
Juru fjuri kollha lwien…

 

Berwieq, sagħtar u ħobbejża,
Ferla, garni u peprin,
Il-fiġġiela u l-kaħwiela,
Il-busbies bil-weraq fin…

 

Għansal għoli u fidloqqom,
Fejġel, klin, narċis ifuħ,
Ħabb il-qamħ, bebuna ċkejkna,
Xatbet l-andar mar, qerduh…

 

Dawna kienu ftit minn ħbiebi
Mal-blat xagħri mifruxin,
Iżda l-wied sar ċimiterju
Fejn hawn ħbiebi midfunin…

 

Guido Lanfranco

Unlocking the Great Wall’s stories

He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man’ declares a Chinese saying.
 
After being confronted by the challenging steps of this legenday wall, I must admit that I understand fully the meaning behind this expression.
 
Constructing the Great Wall of China
 
altThe Great Wall consists of a massive series of fortifications which extend over five thousand kilometres from east to west in north China. Since it outstretches over a number of provinces, one can visit its diverse sections from various locations. Its construction took around two thousand years and it involved the input of several dynasties which were ruling the country during different period.
 
Since for many years, various Chinese states were at war against each other, by the 7th century BC, the locals had already mastered an excellent skill in the building of protective walls with which to defend their villages. It was from this period that construction of the Great Wall commenced.
 
In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang succeeded to win over all his opponents. He unified China for the first time, established the Qin Dynasty, and became the first Emperor. To impose a centralization of authority, he ordered the destruction of various defensive walls which had been built around the country by different feudal lords. Instead, he constructed new walls which connected a number of fortifications that were situated in the northern side of his empire. These were intended to shield his people and his country from the opponent nomadic tribe Xiongnu which resided in this area (today known as Mongolia).
 
It was no easy feat to construct these walls in the chosen locations which winded throughout valleys or climbed across mountains. At the time, no machinery was available to facilitate this grueling work. Yet, the Chinese managed to erect these walls by utilizing the material that was available in each particular zone and by working according to the contours of the terrain.
 
No one knows how many people worked or died during the construction of this wall. Many insist that the total number could easily reach millions. Certainly, their effort led to the creation of a unique masterpiece which today is regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In 1987, the Great Wall of China became also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
 
A popular legend
 
altThis wall is imbued with many narratives and legends. Yet the most popular is surely that of Meng Jiang Nü; a young woman who is believed to have lived during the 3rd century BC, in the Qin Dynasty.
 
Her story recounts that one day, Fan Qi Liang, a young man who had been engaged to work on the Great Wall, succeeded to escape from this strenuous job. He ran with all his might along the way until at one point, he was so exhausted that he stopped to hide in the garden of Meng’s father.
 
The two fell in love immediately as soon as their eyes met, and some time after, they got married. Yet unfortunately, their happinness did not last long as the man was located by soldiers and he was taken back to work on the wall.
 
The woman waited and waited for her husband’s return. But when winter was close and he still did not come back, she sewed some warm clothes for him in order to protect him from the cold. She went in search of him at his work place but after she looked out for him wherever she could and inquired about him, she was finally informed that her husband had died and that he had been buried within the wall itself.
 
This tragic news shattered the woman’s spirit and she was so griefed that she spent a whole day and a whole night weeping beneath the wall. Her desperation ran so deep that suddenly, the wall in front of her crumbled and a number of corpses slid out of it.
 
Shocked at this gruesome scene, Meng Jiang Nü cut her finger and she allowed her blood to trickle on the corpses. At one point, she noticed that all her blood ran to a particular corpse and it was then that she recognized her husband’s body. She gathered him lovingly and gave him a decent burial. Then, she walked to a river and ended her life within.
 
Juyongguan Pass – Beijing
 
altI had read and heard so much about the greatness of this wall that when I arrived at one of its sections in Beijing, known as Juyongguan Pass, I simply stood in silence and in awe.
 
My eyes ran afar, up into the sky where a thick fog was hiding the highest part that was visible from the ground. Located at around fifty kilometres away from Beijing, this part of the wall is about 4000 metre long and is situated amongst the mountains of Changping District.
 
This pass has always been renowned for its strategic significance and its impenetrability. Notwithstanding this, in 1644, a group of rebellious farmers led by Li Zicheng, managed to enter into Beijing by overcoming this area. It is said that this happenned not because of any weakness in the wall but due the fact that the local people were too impoverished to resist.
 
Today, Juyongguan Pass is distinguished for its lovely scenic views of the surrounding forests, particularly since these change their colours according to season.
 
Experiencing the magic of the Great Wall
 
We arrived at nine in the morning in order to avoid the crowds but there were already many visitors climbing the wall. The weather was not very welcoming as it was drizzling and the fog made it difficult to take very good photos. Yet nothing could stop us from climbing that legendary wall which we had all dreamt so much about!
 
altUp we went the first steps but soon we realized that it was not going to be that easy to climb too far. For the Great Wall’s steps were constructed in differing heights in order to make it difficult for the enemy to run up and make a surprise attack. Whilst some of the steps were low, others were quite high and after a short time, if you’re not the sporty kind, you’ll definitely find yourself out of breath.
 
Step after step, we arrived at the first tower which consisted of a number of small rooms. I decided to check out a set of narrow stairs which led to the tower’s roof and from there, the overview of the open landscape was even more splendid. I looked around in a blending state of rapture, wonder and disbelief as I imagined that this could have been the same view that the legendary soldiers watched over. For a moment, time seemed to stop and the present melted into the past as I simply stood there holding on to the ancient stones.
 
I could have stayed there to absorb within me all the history of the place but the group needed to move on and so, we climbed further. Over all, the set up of the wall repeats itself as its length is divided into steps and a number of towers. Yet I can say that I would have continued to climb all day if we did not have planned to visit other sites.
 
Going down the steps was relatively easy but by then, the place had become quite crowded with people of all nationalities who came to visit.
 
A love bound to eternity
 
altAs I stole a last glance at this architectural and historic marvel, I noticed a quantity of lovelocks that were fastened to chains running along the Great Wall. On a closer look, I found out that these were decorated with heart designs and the names of couples were engraved on each of them. Our guide told us that those lovelocks formed part of an old Chinese tradition which stated that if a couple wrote their names on a lock and closed it on this chain, their love would be eternal, just like the destiny of this mythical wall.
 
(This article was published in the Travel Supplement of the Sunday Times of Malta dated 21st June 2015)