With its busy thoroughfare, unique spots and fantastic folklore, there’s more to this central town than the imposing dome
It was in August last year, right in the midst of the Santa Maria week festa celebrations, that my partner and I moved the last of our belongings to our new (old) house in Mosta. As we watched the fireworks light up the sky around the Rotunda from the terrace, and the raucous marching band paraded down the street (while I fought the urge to tell the neighbourhood kids to ‘get off my doorstep!’) we fell instantly in love with the place.
Mosta is a relatively large town (by Maltese standards anyway) in the northern part of Malta, but especially in its oldest areas, retains a traditional village feel – which is perhaps unsurprising, since it’s been inhabited since pre-history! As with most local towns and villages, the village core centres around the main church – which, in our case, is the impressive Rotunda, also known as the Mosta Dome or the Parish Church of the Assumption, if you want to get technical – with the buildings getting newer as you move further away from the centre.
viewingmalta.com / Gregory Iron
Mosta’s greatest claim to fame – and the main reason the town makes it into the guide books – is the Mosta Dome. With architecture based on the Pantheon in Rome, Mosta’s parish church is said to have the third largest unsupported dome in the world, and dominates the landscape for miles around. But apart from being a sight to behold, it’s also known for a ‘miracle’ during World War II. In 1942, the Luftwaffe dropped three bombs on the church, yet while two of them deflected without exploding, one 500kg bomb pierced the dome and entered the church, where a congregation of over 300 people were awaiting evening mass (yikes!) But, by some miracle, the bomb didn’t explode. Today, a similar bomb is displayed in the sacristy at the back of the church for all to see.
Mosta’s main square is a hive of activity. Apart from the town’s local council, health centre, post office and a host of shops, this is where locals and visitors congregate for a cup of coffee or a chilled drink in full view of the church. Personal favourite cafes here include La Tartine, which does a great healthy (or not so healthy) breakfast, and The Cake Box, especially if you’re after a sweet treat, but coffee aficionados should really head to artisan coffee spot Coffee Circus – it’s become a regular haunt, and is single-handedly responsible for converting me to the dark art (meaning coffee, of course).
Meanwhile, an enduring favourite at the square is Olympic Bar, also known by the family’s nickname Ix-Xufi. Here, you can get one of the island’s best hobza biz-zejt (traditional Maltese bread topped with tomato paste and an assortment of ingredients) among other homely staples. Popular among locals from across the island, I’ve been coming to this place since I was a child, when my parents would make a pit stop here, as many Maltese families do, en route to the beach.
Mosta has become a shopping destination in its own right over the years. Apart from recently opened Pama Shopping Village on the outskirts, you’ll also find numerous shops, including foreign brands and local outfits, particularly along main thoroughfare, Constitution Street. I also enjoy discovering unique independent stores run by individuals. I love wandering in to Handmade Concepts for gifts and handcrafted cards, and family-run My Melts, which works with local artisans to offer a range of handmade candles and beauty products. I’ve also been known to get lost in John C. Vella Creative World of Crafts – an old-school paradise established in 1930, which is a veritable rabbit hole for craft lovers. And while you’re there, look down for some of the prettiest traditional Maltese tiles you’ll see!
Dining & drinking
The Lord Nelson Restaurant / Facebook
While there may not be loads of restaurants in the area, there are a few standout gems that I’ve considered favourites long before moving here. For a casual dinner, Il Vecchio Forno Wine Bar on Eucharistic Congress Road makes a killer Neopolitan-style pizza in an authentic wood oven, and if it’s romance you’re after, nothing beats the famed Lord Nelson, just off the square. Housed within a converted townhouse, this is the ideal spot for a date night, though do book early to secure the balcony table for two – it has a fantastic view of the church. When it comes to bars, our local stalwart has got to be City Bar, or Is-City, as it is lovingly known by locals. Whether you pop in to watch the game, listen to live jazz or just wind down with a drink after a long day, don’t miss out on their signature ftira with Maltese sausage – it’s a staple, and for good reason too!
Myths & legends
Being an ancient place, it stands to reason that Mosta has a number of historic places such as the Victoria Lines, medieval chapels and several legends tied to them, such as that of the Mosta Bride (L-Gharusa tal-Mosta). This local legend is linked to the medieval Cumbo Tower at the corner of Triq it-Torri Cumbo and Triq Durumblat, and is one every Maltese child learns at primary school.
In short, the story goes that Marianna Cumbo, from the Cumbo family, was set to marry neighbour Toni Manduca. The family had a Turkish servant who became enamoured with Marianna, and upon hearing of her intentions, fled the house and left to Turkey. On the wedding day however, a pirate ship from Turkey arrived in Malta, and among the pirates was the disgruntled servant, who stormed Cumbo Tower, seized Marianna and took her on the ship as a slave. Disguised as a wool merchant, Toni sailed to Turkey and vowed to save Marianna, which he did, after recognising her voice as she sang a traditional Maltese folk song. Helping her escape, they made their way back to Malta (and Mosta!) where they were finally married.
Speranza Valley - Maltese old photos / Facebook
Another local legend is tied to another attraction: Speranza Chapel, situated at Mosta’s Speranza Valley. The legend goes that, during a Turkish invasion, a young girl and her sisters were at risk of being taken by the invaders while minding their family's sheep, and while her sisters managed to escape, the young girl couldn’t get away. She ducked into a cave, and prayed to Mary that should she not be found, she would build a chapel on that spot. When the Turks arrived, they didn't look inside the cave, because an intact spider web had formed at the entrance, which she would have broke, had she gone in!
Mosta is also home to one of Malta’s most iconic valleys, Wied il-Ghasel (translated as Honey Valley), which is celebrated in legendary song L-Ahhar Bidwi f’Wied il-Ghasel by Maltese singer Sammy Bartolo. That’s another wonderful (and sadly, uncommon) thing about the town – it’s got plenty of green lungs that carry on right into the centre, providing clean air and some truly picturesque walking routes.
This valley is home to another wayside chapel dating back to 1656, known as the chapel of St Paul the Hermit, situated in a natural cave. And yes of course, it’s got its own legend too! Here, it is said that the cave was once home to a pious hermit who would preach to the villagers to change their licentious way of life. Fed up of his rebukes, they pursued him to the seashore intent on stoning him, but he escaped by performing a miracle: spreading his mantle over the sea and walking on the water. Amazed and repentant, the villagers built a church dedicated to him in the cave where he lived.
Mosta celebrates its festa of Santa Marija on 15th August, and along with the town’s famed Good Friday processions in Easter time, is among the most popular and well attended religious activities on the island. Mosta has two band clubs (Nicolo' Isouard and Santa Marija), and two fireworks factories, which put on spectacular shows throughout feast week and really draw in the crowds – if you’re planning on visiting, I definitely recommend timing your visit with one of these events for a taste of the local furore!
Living in a converted property in an old part of town, Mosta’s quintessential village life is on full display. Despite its many attractions and places of interest, my favourite thing to do remains walking along the quieter streets, taking in the quaint houses, old-school corner shops and historic streetscapes. Oh, and that’s not to mention the Mostin (the Maltese name for the locals here). As I walk the dog, or take a stroll to our favourite coffee spot in the square, people nod, smile, and occasionally engage me in amicable conversation. It’s the way village life used to be in the past, retained in these precious pockets of the island – and for an outsider whose still familiarising themselves with the neighbourhood, it makes you feel instantly at home.