Rabat, and its quiet areas, have always been some of my favourite places on the island to get away from it all. Coming from a quiet part of town myself, I know what it’s like to live in peace. But the Tal-Virtu area, on the outskirts of the large northern town, takes that feeling to a whole other level.
I got to visit this part of Rabat and had a wondrous chat with Lily and Publius ‘Pullu’ Grech, who welcomed me into their home (or should I say, villa) to explain all they could about their quiet hometown. Both Lily and Pullu have been living in the Rabat area all their lives and actually lived a few streets away from each other when they were younger. “Tal-Virtu was once a huge green patch,” Lily says. “We used to sneak into the fields to smoke cigarettes back in the day.”
Isabella Mallia via Malta Weather / Facebook
Where it all began
Once land there was approved as a housing site, the area changed completely. The houses were originally built for the English, and were created in true English fashion. Each house had high ceilings, ample space, and most importantly, a chimney. “When we got married, none of the houses in the area were available, so we had to live in an apartment in Rabat. Thankfully, we had a stroke of luck in 1975, when we bought our current home from an English couple who had to leave the country due to an accident their son had in the UK. We got it for peanuts compared to what it’s worth today.” I know what you’re thinking, won’t they sell it? The answer is a flat out no (I ask them directly myself!). “We love this house too much, and although we’ve got a lot of space to ourselves since our kids and grandkids have grown, we wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Leisure Ventures / Facebook
Pullu managed to fish out their house contract before I arrived and found out that the land their house stands on was part of a larger tract actually owned by Count Roger back in 1090 while in Malta making plans to attack North Africa. The Count later donated the land to the Church before his departure. I couldn’t believe it, and neither could they!
After (countless) offers of cups of coffee, Pullu and Lily brought out the history books, both literally and figuratively, and delved into the interesting past of Tal-Virtu.
The Rotunda of Tal-Virtu
The round church was completed in 1723 after the previous church suffered extensive damage in the 1693 earthquake. Many years later in 1901, the Christ the Redeemer statue was installed on the topmost point of the dome and, consequently, an annual feast in honour of the Redeemer started to be held.
Chris Ta via Malta Vintage History / Facebook
Following yet another earthquake, this time in 1923, the church was declared unsafe and the statue was removed for fear of collapse. The church was abandoned and later became a place for satanic rituals. It was also vandalised a number of times. But, in 2009, the church was restored to its former glory and holy mass was celebrated there once again.
Honestly, it’s not surprising that there are a number of spooky legends linked to Tal-Virtu’s church. One legend claims that a farmer climbed the valley to attend the 4am mass a short time after a certain Dun Bernard’s death. The farmer claims that the priest invited him to celebrate mass after which the priest thanked him and vowed to pray for him as he would be going to heaven because of the farmer.
Alfred Coppola via MALTA / Facebook
But, get this - there’s a gorier version. The farmer was helping out with the mass celebration but froze in terror, realising that the priest had no flesh on his hands. And naturally, the farmer ran for dear life. But, at the door of the chapel, he looked back and saw that the priest had vanished.
The Palazzo Virtu
The palazzo is a unique castle set on a cliff edge, towering over the island and commanding some of the most magnificent 360 degree views. The impressive castle has been standing for over 100 years. It boasts four towers and is built in the form of a square. The palazzo is one of the architectural jewels of the area and is now a private residence, dotted with sculptures and it is one of the most unique hilltop residences on the island. Someone is a very lucky princess!
Palazzo Virtu / Facebook
Make sure you visit this peaceful place. It definitely won't disappoint!