It’s that time of year for festivals. Last weekend was Valletta’s show with its Notte Bianca; this weekend we cross Grand Harbour for the Birgu Festival (Vittoriosa) which runs 7-9 October. Autumn is for festivals what summer is for festas. Yes, there’s a difference – in brief, festas are religious in origin; festivals are more about pageantry and celebrating a locality’s uniqueness, be it in history, crafts, food, traditions or whatever.
The BirguFest isn’t something just dreamed up. It’s a fixed event now, having been around on and off since 1990. For those interested in a blow-by-blow account of how it became one of Malta’s best loved, most attended and colourful festivals, there’s a full history of it on the Birgu Local Council website. So, we’ll keep the background short…
Why the BirguFest?
To quote the local council, “BirguFest is an extravaganza highlighting Birgu’s glorious past and celebrating Malta’s oldest maritime city”. Today, people have a far better understanding of the importance of Birgu in Malta’s history – its landmark, Fort St Angelo, saw off the Saracen’s Great Siege of Malta in 1565. But, until the early ’90s, most of the Three Cities area, including Birgu, was somewhat in the doldrums; run-down, neglected, off the tourist trail and associated with industrial Malta (dockyards). The Birgu festival was born in part from the need to focus attention on the area’s amazing wealth of heritage and to heighten awareness of what the city has to offer locals and visitors. And it has done just that, most successfully; thanks also to an energetic Birgu mayor.
Highlights of BirguFest 2011
The programme is extensive with open-air events, historical reenactments, street theatre, concerts (everything from choral to traditional and one of the hottest upcoming bands – Red Electrick – one that’s just spent summer touring in London), state museums and palaces open to the public beyond regular hours, and historical street scenes replete with hawkers of traditional Maltese foods.
Each day’s programme starts between 09.00 – 09.30 and runs till the early hours. Given the expected crowds, official parking is being organised (so follow the signs – see the Birgu Council website for info). There is lot to entertain families, with kids no doubt appreciating the reenactment scenes from the time of the Knights.
‘Birgu by Candlelight’, on Saturday 8th, 18.30 onwards, promises to be a magical and atmospheric event. Streets are lit as they would have been before electric lights, thanks to Vittoriosa residents doing their bit and positioning candles and lanterns everywhere they can.
Red Electrick – 20.30 on 7th Oct. Free concert.
Info: Full programme and background, click here.
Photo: Andrew Galea Debono
Postscript: Birgu or Vittoriosa? Birgu is the local name for the city which the knights named Citta’ Vittoriosa after its role in the victorious defeat of the Saracens at the 1565 Great Siege.