Some places are fascinating. And even more fascinating are the stories attributed to them.
1. The legend of Ggantija Temples
Until the discovery of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, the Ggantija Temples in Gozo were long considered the oldest freestanding structures in the world. What may be even more awesome is that they were reputedly constructed by a female giant, as implied even by the name. Indeed, the UNESCO World Heritage site was built with megaliths over five metres high and weighing over 50 tonnes.
Ggantija dates back to between 3,600 and 3,200 BC and references to giants have existed even since biblical times. They also feature in several ‘legends’ around the world - could such a legend be merely a piece of indigestible history for our times?
2. The legend of il-Maqluba
Another story that makes some reference to giants, as well as angels, a pious lady and evil men, is the legend of il-Maqluba. There are many stories that attempt to explain the provenance of what is scientifically established as a 6,000m² sinkhole situated in the village of Qrendi. All of them unanimously point to a village of evil people once inhabiting the area. The variations lie with the way they were, um, disposed of.
The most famous legend is that God caused the entire village to be swallowed up by the earth, leaving only the house of a pious lady surviving on the edge of the village - on the spot a chapel is now built. Sweet! The other variations also explain the provenance of the islet of Filfla, which lies nearby.
3. The legend of Filfla
Lying just five kilometres south-west of Wied iz-Zurrieq, the islet of Filfla is said to be born of the earth of il-Maqluba. One version claims that angels were sent down by God (in response to the pious lady’s prayers) and flung the village of evil people into the sea. Another version claims that it was a giant (of course!) who scooped up the entire village in one hand and threw it into the sea, sparing the sweet lady.
The bottom line? It pays to be pious and sweet, lest angels or giants come to act as hit men on behalf of God.
4. The legend of Calypso's Cave
The root of the legend of Calypso’s Cave in Gozo is Homer’s Greek epic poem The Odyssey, whereby Gozo is reputed to be the island of Ogygia. It tells the story of how the heroic Greek warrior Ulysses was kept a prisoner of love by the beautiful nymph Calypso in a cave in the cliffs, high above the red sands of Ramla Bay.
Ulysses was returning home from the siege of Troy when disaster struck, but while his shipmates perished, he battled a storm single-handed for nine days and nights, until he washed ashore on an unknown but utterly beautiful destination. Drawn by the song of the nymph Calypso, he ventured to the cave in which she dwelled. Now this is where we’re not sure whether to believe Ulysses’ rendition of the story or not. Calypso, daughter of Jupiter, the God of War, and the Queen of Ogygia, was beautiful indeed, and she offered him all the food, wine, love and power any man could desire. Nonetheless, Ulysses’ own desire was to return to Ithaca, his homeland, Penelope, his wife, and Telamon, his son. However, it was seven years later and only after Jove and Hermes intervened that Calypso allowed him to set sail towards home. It could sound like a sweet excuse he gave his wife, no?
5. The legend of Ghar Hasan
Ghar Hasan is named after Saracen Hasan who inhabited this beautiful large cave in Birzebbugia. Legend has it that he lusted after a girl from a nearby village and kidnapped her. Keeping her captive in his cave, he must have been hoping she would develop Stockholm Syndrome and eventually fall in love with him too!
From here, the legend goes two ways. Local farmers hunted down the girl, found Hasan’s hiding place and tried to rescue the girl. In a panic, he flung the girl over the cliff (true love!) and jumped after her, probably hoping to run away with her into the sunset once reaching the bottom. Erm. The other version claims the desperate girl threw herself over the cliff and, in despair, Hasan soon followed. Okay, now you almost feel sorry for the guy.
6. The legend of Wied Speranza
Flickr/Voyageur du Monde
The legend of Wied Speranza offers hope to the faithful, hence the name by which the valley is now known. A young girl and her sisters were in the fields watching the family’s sheep when the invading Turks came upon them. The girls ran but the youngest, who was limp, could not keep up. She saw a cave and went into hiding.
Afraid, she prayed to Our Lady for protection. That’s when a spider came along and wove a thick web over the entrance to the cave, such that when the Turks showed up, they couldn’t imagine anybody had been in there for a very long time. And thus the girl was saved from what could have been an awful plight, thanks to a good-willed spider working on behalf of Our Lady.
7. The legends of the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
The oldest underground temple and necropolis in the world, the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, is the king of legends, with several attributed to it. So what’s all the mystery about?
One ‘legend’ is that of the lost children that was reported as actual fact in the National Geographic Magazine in 1940. The story goes that a group of children and their teacher mysteriously disappeared in the underground tunnels of the Hypogeum. A certain Ms Lois Jessup also reported strange underworlds leading from the Hypogeum. To make the story even more intriguing, elongated skulls were found in the Hypogeum among thousands of skeletons; skulls which were mysteriously removed from public view in the mid-eighties. Some say legend, others conspiracy theory.
Truth or fiction?
Not a bad lot of legends, is it? And that’s not counting other legends and mysteries associated with many buildings on the island. In fact, the whole island is shrouded in mystery, even being attributed the legend of Atlantis.
Truth or fiction? Your guess is as good as mine.