The Lost Villages of Malta

John Cilia La Corte 2007

When consulting historical books or documents on Malta, it is not unusual to come across the unfamiliar names of villages which no longer exist. The list is a long one, probably in excess of 80 villages or hamlets but, apart from the occasional chapel and the odd building still standing, most have disappeared with, at best, only a few cisterns and limestone blocks to mark the spot where a community once lived and thrived.

The reasons for the disappearance of so many villages may be surmised partly from the geographical position of the Maltese Islands in centre of the Mediterranean, which  up to the end of the 16th century was a prey to Barbary corsairs and Islamic invaders, and partly from demographic movements brought about by economic and social changes.

Until the establishment of the Order of St John in Malta and the decisive defeat of the Ottoman invasion of 1565, Malta* was subjected to regular military and piratical forays in which coastal villages were often sacked  and most of the inhabitants carried into slavery. It was the exposure to such raids which must have persuaded the survivors to move to the comparative safety of  the larger villages on the higher ground of the island, not to mention the fortified towns of Birgu and Mdina.

The movements occurring after the 17th century are more likely explained by social progress in the larger villages, reflected by the improvement and expansion of churches, shops, taverns and medical facilities. These would undoubtedly have served as a magnet to young families seeking to escape the sparse or non-existing services within their tiny community

A few villages did not quite disappear but expanded instead and merged with others to form a larger village. Among these are Ħal Dwin, Ħal Mula and Ħal  Muxi which form part of present day Żebbuġ. Others, though depopulated, are still accessible and bear physical evidence of their former existence. Ħal Millieri is best known with its two intact chapels of the Annunciation, famous for its mediaeval murals, and St John the Evangelist. Ħal Xluq, besides a functioning chapel, also boasts a farmhouse and a two-storied building, together with several wells marking the sites of former habitations. However, the vast majority of villages, particularly those deserted before 1419, have disappeared so completely that even their location is unknown.

Documentary evidence of many villages exists in the form of notarial documents and parish registers. The latter, if they existed locally, would have been transferred to the nearest parish when the village was abandoned. Siġġiewi, for instance, holds the records of Ħal Xluq in which it is still possible to trace the inhabitants of the village through their baptismal and marriage records.

Archaeological excavation is bound to throw more light on the nature and location of