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Towns and areas in Malta

Is-Siġġiewi (Siġġiewi)

Siġġiewi (or Cittΰ Ferdinand) is a city and a local council in the southwestern part of Malta. It is the third council in Malta (Surface area), after Rabat and Mellieha respectively. It is situated on a plateau, a few kilometres away from Mdina, the ancient capital city of Malta, and 10 kilometres (6 miles) away from Valletta, the contemporary capital. It is the home of 8274 inhabitants as of March 2011.

Until several decades ago, most of the population was employed in the fields which surround the village. Until 2001, the motto of Siġġiewi was "Labore et Virtute" (Work and Virtue)

In its demographic and topographical formation, Siġġiewi followed a pattern common to other villages in Malta. Before the arrival of the Order of St John in 1530, there were other thriving hamlets in the area. Little by little Ħal Xluq, Ħal Kbir, Ħal Niklusi and Ħal Qdieri were absorbed in Siġġiewi and today, only their secluded chapels remind us of their former existence.

The origins of the name Siggiewi are unknown. The name is unique and bears no resemblance to well-known words. "Siggiewi" may be a corruption of an old name. The areas around Siggiewi were inhabited since the Maltese islands were occupied by the first farmers during the Neolithic period. The Neolithic sites of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra (3600-2500 BC) are within walking distance of the village. Also within easy reach of the village are the Bronze Age settlement of Wardija ta’ San Gorg, almost at the southern tail end of Dingli Cliffs, and the Bronze Age cart-ruts at ix-Xaghra ta’ Ghar il-Kbir (1500-750/800 BC).

An early Phoenician tomb was located in the area, but small Phoenician/Punic cemeteries are known on the hill top of tal-Gholja and at ix-Xaghra ta’ Ghar il-kbir. In numerous places, Roman pottery scatters are often encountered, suggesting that the environs of Siggiewi were also occupied during the Roman occupation of Malta and Gozo.

A series of early Christian catacombs are located close to Maghlaq valley. One of these, published in a number of sources, has been intentionally buried under a field.

Siggiewi's patron saint, Saint Nicholas, is perhaps one of the most popular saints in Byzantine hagiography. The survival of the saint's veneration may suggest that following the end of the catacomb era, some of Malta's villages may have retained old traditions that would very comfortably fall within western and eastern Christian domains. Hundreds of place names are known from various fields and locations around Siggiewi. These names are of Semitic character, but are of an unknown age having been recorded in notarial deeds only in the Late Middle Ages. Some of these places developed into hamlets. Others may have supported small communities that were never recorded. These hamlets would later dwindle in importance. The depopulation of the Maltese rural areas during the Great Siege of 1565 hastened the end of small hamlets around Malta and Gozo. The arrival of the Order of St John in Malta in 1530, also ushered in new economic dynamics which made the new urban areas and especially the new city of Valletta more attractive than isolated villages.

Siggiewi itself reflects these new concerns. Its growth may have been at the expense of neighbouring hamlets. But market agglomeration around Siggiewi, a promontory which stands between two important valleys and is therefore defensible, also encouraged geo-demographic changes.

On December 30, 1797, after a formal request by Don Salvatore Curso, on behalf of his parishioners, Grand Master Ferdinand Von Hompesch instituted the village as a city calling it after his name, "Cittΰ Ferdinand".

The ruins of the former parish church, dedicated to St Nicholas of Bari are still visible today. Lately, great restoration works have been carried out and retrieved its old glory. The baroque parish church, dedicated to the same saint, was erected by the villagers who raised the necessary funds between the years 1676 to 1693. It was designed by the Maltese architect, Lorenzo Gafΰ but underwent some changes throughout the years. The portico and naves were added by Professor Nicola Żammit in the latter half of the 19th century.

The titular painting in the church is by the artist Mattia Preti, 'Il calabrese', who was also responsible for the painting on the vault of St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta. The wooden statue which is carried in procession in the city feast day (the last Sunday of June) was sculptured by Pietro Felici in 1736. Fours years earlier, in 1732, the same sculptor had produced the stone statue which still stands in the centre of the square. On its pedestal there is a prayer in Latin which implores the saint to bless the fields which the faithful laboriously till.

From Siġġiewi, you can look upon the Inquisitor's summer palace, built by inquisitor Onorato Visconti in 1625 and renovated by inquisitor Angelo Dorini in 1763. Today it is the Maltese Prime Minister's official residence. The palace of Grand Master Verdalle is one of the residences of the Presidents of the Republic, called Verdala Palace. Adjoining this palace one finds the famous Buskett, a small semi-wild woodland which Grand Masters such as La Vallette used as hunting grounds.

Within the local council of Siġġiewi lies Għar Lapsi, Fawwarra, Girgenti, Ta' Kandja and the Hill of Laferla Cross. From there the islet of Filfla can be seen on the horizon. The village stands on a flat plateau flanked by two relatively deep valleys (Wied il-Hesri and Wied Xkora).

There are several niches in the old part of the city. Some date back to the middle of the 17th century and are a sign of devotion as well as an architectural decoration.

Siġġiewi also celebrates its Feast in the last week of June, in honour of Saint Nicholas, with band marches around the streets, aerial fireworks and catherine wheels, street decorations and celebrations in the main church.

Malta Falconry Centre lies just outside the city. (Wiki)
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