Spotlight On: Mellieħa
Mellieha was once an isolated 15th century hamlet perched on the ridge overlooking Ghadira Bay. While the town has developed into a hub of tourism, it has managed to retain some of its rural character.
Mellieħa, a large village in the northern region of the country has a population of over 10,000. The village was first inhabited around 3000BC, during the Neolithic period and several megalithic remains have been found since. These include the temple of Għajn Żejtuna, as well as several caves and tombs.
According to the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul was shipwrecked in Malta, around 60AD, in the nearby village of St. Paul’s Bay. According to local tradition, St. Luke, who was accompanying St. Paul, came across one of Mellieħa’s caves. He proceeded to paint the figure of Our Lady on the rock face.
In 409AD, the cave was consecrated as a church and today, is known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieħa. During the early years of Hospitaller rule in Malta, Mellieħa remained largely abandoned.
Malta’s northern coast was fortified during the early 17th century. In fact, the first fortification to be built in Mellieħa was St. Agatha’s Tower, completed in 1649. Built on Marfa Ridge and overlooking Mellieħa bay, the tower also offers views of Comino and Gozo. The smaller Għajn Ħadid Tower and Armier Tower were built in 1658.
Several coastal batteries, redoubts and entrenchments were built in the village during the 18th century. Several of these are still standing today, including Mistra Battery and the Wied Musa Battery.
The village of Mellieħa, as we know it today, developed while under British rule. It became a parish once again in 1844, and the British encouraged people to settle in the area, by giving out leases. The parish church was built in stages, between 1883 and 1930 and it is said that locals helped in its construction.
Just before World War I, Fort Campbell was built in Selmun, while Mellieħa Fort was built on top of a hill as a lookout post. The British proceeded to build a number of pillboxes around the coastline, for defensive purposes.
In addition to its long and fruitful history, Mellieħa also features several bays and beaches, such as Għadira and Golden Bay.
SOME SPOTS IN MELLIEĦA WORTH VISITING
THE RED TOWER
Located on the crest of St Marfa’s Ridge is St. Agatha’s Tower, also known as the Red Tower. The watchtower was built in 1649, under the rule of Grand Master Jean Paul Lascaris Castellar and was one of the main defensive positions during the time of the Knights of St. John. It was equipped with a cannon, a garrison of 30 men and enough food and ammunition to withstand a siege 40-day siege. It continued its military function following the British period, as it was used as a radar station by the Armed Forces of Malta. By the close of the 20th century, the tower was in poor repair and was gradually restored by Din l-Art Ħelwa.
Popeye village is a purpose-built film set village, which has been converted into an attraction fun park, complete with a collection of rustic, ramshackle wooden buildings, restaurants, rides and entertainment. It was built as a film set for the production of Popeye, which was released in 1980. The live action musical feature film was produced by Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions and starred Robbie Williams. Construction began in 1979 with a crew of 165, who worked for over seven months to build the village, which consists of 19 wooden buildings. A 70m breakwater was also built around Anchor Bay’s mouth, to protect the set from high seas during filming. Today, it’s open to the public as a seaside resort and open-air museum.
THE PARISH CHURCH
The Parish Church of Mellieħa is dedicated to the Birth of Our Lady and was built between 1881 and 1898. Prior to this, however, Mellieħa ceased to be a parish when the locality was no longer inhabited, for fear of corsair raids. By 1844, the Mellieħa became a parish again and Reverand Francis Maria Magri blessed the first stone of the new church in September 1883. Between 1920 and 1940, the belfries and dome were built and the church alters were decorated with paintings by renowned Maltese artists, including Giuseppe Cali and Lazzru Pisani.
THE CORAL LAGOON
Not to be confused with the Blue Lagoon is the beautiful Coral Lagoon. Also known as Dragonara Cave, the lagoon is a naturally formed cave near Armier Bay in Mellieħa. A dream for divers, swimmer and snorkelers alike, the space is open to daylight, which keeps the water temperature inside the grotto a few degrees warmer than outside. This allows for increased marine growth, thus giving divers the opportunity to enjoy an abundance of marine life. It’s a little off the beaten track, but we would recommend parking near the Aħrax campsite and walking uphill for around five minutes. Just a tip: avoid jumping into the lagoon, especially on windy days.