The Prehistoric Era |
700BC - 15th Century
Ages | The
First inhabitants |
18th and 19th Century
growth of the village and the new Parish |
living in the old days
World War |
Modern Times |
Today and Tomorrow
As the visitor approaches Gozo from the sea his
attention is drawn first to the high flat hills of the island. Beneath these hills lies an
extensive spread of land divided in the middle by a valley which meanders its way down the
Malta and Gozo
rose from beneath the seas around fifteen million years ago.
At this time, this land was a southern extension of the
Euro-Asian continental mass. The land bridge subsided
some fifteen thousand years ago leaving Malta and Gozo as
mid-Mediterranean islands. But the Maltese archipelago was
left inhabited for thousands of years. Around 7000 years
ago, a group of people from Sicily succeeded in crossing
over on some pretty reliable sea-craft and colonized the
The people who
first colonized Gozo probably lived in the caves known as
Il-Mixta on Ghajn Ghabdun plateau to the north west of Gozo.
Shreds unearthed on this site, reached through the village
of Santa Lucija, are of purer pedigree than any other
pottery found elsewhere in the Maltese Islands. This group
soon spread in search of agricultural land and the present
area of Ghajnsielem, with its bountiful springs, must have
been inhabited since early times.
prehistoric era of Malta and Gozo is dived into three
periods. The earliest is known as the Neolithic Period (5000
- 4100 BC), the second is the Temple Period (4100 - 2500 BC)
and the third is the Bronze Age (2500 - 700 BC). The
greatest undertaking of these earliy times are the Ggantija
Temples (3600 - 3000 BC) in Xaghra - a temple that
represents an important turning point in the cultural
evolution of the prehistoric man in both Malta and Gozo.
important temple complex must have stood within the limits
of present day Ghajnsielem at the site known as
L-Imrejzbiet, a site now
disjoined and truncated by the modern Victoria - Xewkija -
Qala road. This prehistoric buildings has been left to rot.
Malta and Gozo were colonized by the Phoenicians and around
550, by the Carthaginians, who remained masters until 218BC.
A Punic inscription indicated that the Carthaginians had a
temple on the present Citadel Hill, that was partly
fortified. No activity seems to have been carried out at
Ghajnsielem at the time.
took over in 218BC at the beginning of the second Punic War,
creating Gozo a municipium independent of Malta with a
republican sort of Government that minted its own coins The
Romans turned the Citadel into their acropolis and a town
developed beneath its walls. The acropolis and its town were
known simply as Gaulos Oppidum - the town of Gozo. Under the
Romans , Christianity reached the shores of the island. In
60AD, Saint Paul the Apostle, while journeying to Rome was
Shipwrecked on Malta.
the islands were occupied by the Vandals, and from 476 by
the Ostrogoths. In 535m they passed under the domination of
the East Roman Empire that is under the Byzantines.
In 870, the
Aghlabid Arabs besieged Malta, killed most of the
inhabitants, and left the archipelago in ruins. Around 1045,
a group of Saracens came over from Sicily and recolonized
the island. The roots of the Maltese language were laid down
by these Arab-speaking Muslims, who gave the name of
Ghawdex to the island of Gozo and that of Mdina
to the Gozo Citadel. The toponym of Ghajnsielem must have
also originated at that time.
In 1091, Count
Roger the Norman established a nominal suzerainty over
Malta, but the Saracens remained masters paying an annual
tribute. The population - concentrated within the Citadel
and Rabat - began rising steadily. The rule of lords came to
an end around 1397. During these times, a local government
was formed to defend local interested. It was headed by the
Hakem. This government had to do its best to maintain
the freedom and privileges of the Gozitans, to provide them
with necessary wheat and barley for bread, and to supervise
the defenses of the island.
of commerce between the island must have led to the
foundation of a settlement close to
Mgarr Harbour. However,
during the summer months, living in the area was dangerous.
A constant flow of corsairs entered the harbour to replenish
their cisterns with water and to plunder. In 1418, the local
government petitioned the Aragonese rulers to help them
build a tower on the Island
of Comino as the passage between the islands was wrought
with danger due to the many corsairs seeking refuge in the
caves and coves on the island. The project did not
materialize due to lack of funds
On the 23rd of
March 1530, Emperor Charles V donated Malta and Gozo to the
chivalrous religious order of the Knights of Saint John.
Initially the Knights made no improvement to Gozo and in
1551, the island suffered its worst siege in history. The
entire population of about 5000 were taken into slavery.
Grandmaster Juan d' Homedes and his Council initially
entertained the idea of abandoning Gozo. Yet sweet home soon
attracted back the few hundreds who had escaped from slavery
and the fewer who were redeemed. The Citadel was slowly
rebuilt and and it flourished once again. Until 1637,
Gozitans were bound by law to spend the night within. As the
population had by then increased to just under 3000,
many families must have shared a single room. But when laws
were repealed, residents began to abandon the Citadel to
more spacious houses in Rabat. The area between Rabat and
Ghajnsielem was also starting to gain popularity. It was
during this period that the
Sistine Chapel was
Here it is
interesting to note that
the name of our village is first
recorded as 'Hain Selem' in a notarial act drawn by Joannes
Domenico Formosa on 17th February 1587 (National Archives,
Malta MS836, 76R).
The name of the village is a
composite of 'Ghajn' (spring of) and 'Is-sliem'
(peace). This name probably
refers to a natural spring which used to supply water.
This sprint is connected with a
legend about Nardu, a man from Xewkija, who returned to Gozo
from slavery on the Barbary Coast. On his return he looked
for his wife and daughter, Ursula. The latter being the sole
survivor, he found her, by now a married woman, near this
spring. Since then, the spring started to be called Ghajn
is-Sliem, because Nardu found piece when he met his
daughter. Another version is 'Ghajn Salem', a corrupt
name for Selim, a Turkish naval commander, who
compelled his crew to disembark at Mgarr and replenish their
water supply from this spring every time he happened to be
sailing by the Maltese Islands.
was the last one to develop on the island, if the Mgarr area
is excluded. It is in fact not mentioned in a detailed
census of Gozo taken in the first half of 1667. The site was
dangerously close to a landing place at a time when the
Mediterranean was invested with pirates.
It was still the time of the
Knights, when fierce corsairs from Barbary ruled the waves
and people were loath to live near the coast. Worst, the
fresh water springs close to the port were known to friend
It was one only
from the middle of the seventeenth century, when
Grazes Tower (a tower
constructed on the promontory overlooking Mgarr harbour)
and, later, Fort Chambray
rendered the place safe and sound, that the first farmhouses
were built close to the spring that gave name to the
channel was also rendered safer in 1618 when Grand Master
Alof de Wignacourt financed the construction of
Santa Marija Tower on
the mid-channel island of Comino.
Gradually the fear began to erode as the
threat from the Berber pirates declined and peace resigned over the seas. People
descending to the fertile land near the coast.
In 1667, there
were 57 persons living in fourteen households in the Mgarr
area. This small community was still part of the Citadel
Parish until 1688, when it passed under the newly founded
parish of Nadur. It was around this time that the first
houses were raised in Ghajnsielem close to the fountain at
the end of Wied Simirat. With corsairs and pirates a thing
of the past and a steadily rising commerce between the two
islands, the population of Ghajnsielem continued growing
simply means Salem's spring. Salem is a very popular Arab
name, extinct in Maltese. It is possible that the names goes
back to the Arab rule and refers to its owner. The spring
referred to in the toponym was situated at the end of Wied
Simirat - the valley that terminates in the present
Pjazza Tad-Dehra in
the very centre of the village.
In 1710, the Grand Master Raymond Perellos after getting the approval of his Council General, ordered
the construction of an arcade around the spring. Beneath the arcade, six stone washing
basins were constructed, into which water from the spring was channeled. These facilities
proved to be a boon to the increasing population of the late 18th and 19th century. The
woman found them especially suitable for washing laundry. For over two centuries, from
dawn onwards the area around the spring was throngs
with chattering woman. The woman-folk congregated there in the mornings
washing the laundry in the troughs while the man lazing off their
the canopy of the mulberry trees. Rare where the
occasions where the spring remained idle. According to old people,
even at night one
could hear the sound of splashing water and constant vigorous scrubbing.
photo was taken during the beginning of 20th century and
shows the Wash-House
But to maintain hygiene in such a place was a
problem. Less and less care was taken to the washing area and in the latter years of its
existent, the arcade was left in a state of reckless abandon, the whole place stinking
with filth until its removal in the early fifties to make way for a new square.
Pjazza tad-Dehra began to take shape in 1865 when a bridge
was built over the end of Wied Simirat. In 1911, Triq
Simirat was joined to Triq fuq il-Ghajn by the building of a
new street. Before long, this became known as the Apparition
Square. In 1954, so as to further enlarge the piazza, it was
decided, unbelievably but true, to demolish the historic
wash-house and entomb the spring that gave its name to the
Ghajnsielem valley in Wied il-kbir
offers an enchanting viewed from the Apparition Square.
Terraced fields and sprawling dark green carob trees hug its sides in its upper reaches.
Then the valley dips down into a sea of swaying reeds, all the way down to Mgarr.
September 1800, the British took the Maltese islands under
their protection. Malta and Gozo became a British Crown
Colony in 1813. Fort
Chambray was put to very good use by the British and
this generated trade and jobs for many Ghajnsilmizi.
population had by then increased considerably and Ghajnsielem
was in the process of becoming a Parish on its own. All
started when Anglu Grech, who lived in the vicinity, used to
take his sheep and goats to the spring every day. While the
flock quenched its thirst, he sought shade under a carob tree
(Harruba) and often knelt down in prayer. One day, he beheld a
vision just across the spring. A beautiful lady dressed
immaculately white invited him to raise a statue in her
honour on a lip of land close by. He understood. A shrine
would enhance his prayers and encourage fellow farmers to
raise their minds to God. Anglu recounted his experience to
the few families which at the time lived in Ghajnsielem and
told them the mysterious lady's wish.The people immediately
collected money to commission a stone statue of Our Lady of
Loreto and built a nice to house it. After the statue was
placed in niche, people used to gather around it to recite
the Rosary. A small nearby chapel was built in 1810 and
blessed in 1820. Although Ghajnsielem was part of the Nadur
Parish, the inhabitants were finding it difficult to to go
up to the Nadur parish church to hear mass and carry out
their spiritual needs.
The first vicar
in charge was Dun Guzepp Xerri, who was succeeded by Dun
Frangisk Xkembri and in 1842 by Dun Anton Cauchi from Rabat.
He succeeded to convince Archbishop Publios Sant to erect a new
parish church. On 1st January 1854, the region became vice
parish and the procedure for the establishment of a parish was
set in motion. Ghajnsielem was officially established as
parish in the 26th of January 1855
The status of the settlement was
elevated from that of a hara (area) to a rahal
(village). The British had an indirect part in this
development and they also played their part in the
establishment of the diocese of Gozo in 1864.
In 1861, the
people of Ghajnsielem made up 6.09% or 942 of the 15,459
Gozitans. The population reached its peak of 1,333 in 1901
but then, with the beginning of organized emigration to
Australia and America, the growth comes to a halt. The
situated changed again after the second World War with the
so called baby-boom. There were many marriages and naturally
more births in the immediate post-war years.
As the population
increased, the village spread in all directions
simultaneously: to the north along Wied Simirat, in the area
know as Il-Gnien, and also Fuq il-Ghajn; to the east towards
Il-Hamri; and to the West towards il-Fawwara and ta' San
Mikiel next to the new Parish Church.
The majority of
the villagers were engaged in sailing and farming. Sailors on the Gozo boat would be leaving
the port as early as three o' clock in the morning arriving at the Grand Harbour in the evening. The
return journey used to start the following morning and the arrival to Mgarr at sunset the
same day. The farmers on the other hand would already be at work early in the morning doing
the hard work before the scorching sun at its highest. At about nine o' clock the house
housewives used to go to the bakery where the bread had to be molded
- it was done by the
housewives themselves. After mid-day meal, the woman folk used to turn their
lace-making. Nearly every member of the female population learned when still young the
intricate art of Lace-Making.
The church occupied special importance,
especially on Sundays. the sailors of the 'Gozo boats' unable to attend mass during
their weekdays made good for their absence on Sunday. After mass a good number of man used
to travel to Victoria where the market was in full swing. In the afternoons
woman devoted their free time to tombola while the man organized some lawn bowling. At
around three o' clock the whole village found its way to the church for the Sunday
Vespers. After the church back to tombola and bowling till the arrival of sundown made
their play impossible. But the church's influence at those time can be described as
overwhelming. The Sunday cermon
used to be delivered to a full church with the congration
overflowing into the square.
slowly transformed the islands into a fortress colony. Their
resistance to the Axis bombardments during the second World
War became a legend. Between 1940 and 1942, eleven shelters
were dug throughout the village of Ghajnsielem and another
four within Fort Chambray.
suffered a direct hit on the 29th of January 1942 just after
seven in the morning. Several houses were severally damaged
in Hamri Street and five members of the family of Wenzu
Grech, the village head teacher, lost their lives. At the
time he was hearing mass and he was unhurt.
merchandise boats plying between Mgarr and the Grand Harbour
as well as the Gozo-Malta ferry boat Royal Lady were
attacked several times by the Luftwaffe. On May 6th 1942 at
3.30pm several bombers and fighters flew low over Mgarr and
one of them released six bombs splitting the Royal Lady into
two. The New Royal Lady was delivered in 1938 to replace the
Royal Lady. She came from the same builders, Thomas Crown &
Sons, Sunderland, but was larger and faster.
the old coffee and rest-house, was also blown. However
people had sought shelter and no one lost life or limp that
day. In all twenty Ghajnsilmizi died as a result of enemy
action during the World War II, many of them on duty on
merchandise boats and ships.
and Development of the Village
The war brought a profound change in the
village. Emigration started to take place due to the lack of job opportunities in our
island. But the development of Mgarr harbour in the late sixties helped Gozo to unleash a
new lease of life and a new era of prosperity for Ghajnsielem.
Development began at Ta' Gliex, along the Mgarr - Nadur
Road. After the second World War, development also exploded
behind St Joseph Home, and at Ta' Cordina, the area
overlooking ix-Xatt l-Ahmar
where there were already several farmhouses. In 1970s,
development began at Ta' Passi, behind the village school,
as well as at tal-Gudja. It proceeded along il-Wied ta'
Martin, the area between il-Gudja and
Saint Anthony Church,
followed by the building of the area of l-Imrejzbiet in
1980s, and tal-Kaxxa, the area between Simirat Street and
the Xewkija - Qala road in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Ghajnsielem has had two
administrations partly responsible for the village in modern
The first was the Gozo Civic
Council, a statutory local government body having a distinct
legal personality, established on 14 April 1961. Elections
for the first district committees took place on 4 June 1961
and Ghajnsielem, like all other villages, was to return six
candidates. Seven candidates contested the election.
Domenic Scicluna, obtained the highest number of votes, in
descending order, by Joseph Cauchi, Anthony Grech, Publius
Scicluna, Amabile Xuereb, Carmel Agius, and Mariano Xuereb.
The first six were elected and on 19 June they in turn
elected Joseph Cauchi to represent Ghajnsielem on the Gozo
Civic Council. Cauchi was elected by lot as in the second
count he got the same number of votes as Amabile Xuereb.
The Council was made up of fourteen members; they
represented the town and the thirteen villages of Gozo. It
held its first meeting on 4 July 1961. The Council and the
district Committees functioned until 4 December 1973, when
the then Prime Minister Dom Mintoff suppressed the
institution through an Act of Parliament.
The second administration was
the Local Council. Like the other councils of Malta and
Gozo, it was established in 1993 following the Maltese
Parliament’s approval, on 30th June 1993, of the Local
Councils Act, 1993 (Act No. XV of 1993). The Local Councils
Act was modeled on the European Charter of Local
Self-Government, which the Maltese Government had signed and
ratified. According to this Act, "The Council shall be a
statutory local government authority having a distinct legal
personality and capable of entering into contracts, of suing
and being sued, and of doing all such things and entering
into such transactions as are incidental or conducive to the
exercise and performance of its functions as are allowed
under the Act." The first election for the Ghajnsielem Local
Council took place on Saturday, 19 March 1994. Francis
Cauchi was elected as the first mayor of Ghajnsielem.
need for a new Parish Church
population of the village increased the need to build a new
larger church was felt. The new
church was to be built on a Gothic-Lombard style on the
basis of a latin cross.
Work on the building of the
Sanctuary was halted on several
longest of which was undoubtedly that between 1939 and 1946
- during the war years. Parish Priest Espedito Tabone gave a
new impetus to the project and the building was finally
completed with the blessing of the bell tower in June 1979.
The church itself had been blessed a year earlier, on 29th
During the early years of the 20th century, schooling was
given in three separate locations, namely in a part leased
from the Friars College in St. Anthony Street, in a house in
Hamri Street as well as in a large building known as the old
school in the same street, now occupied by foreign
residents. The present school was inaugurated in September
1965 and is visible by all visitors to Gozo proceeding up
the road from Mgarr Harbour. The present school was built on
a wide open area and in subsequent years, parts of it were
taken over by the then Posts Department, now Maltapost, the
Art School and the Works Department.
New Premises for the
period, the St Joseph Band Club was also in the process of
building a new premises.
At first the Band occupied part of
the Institute’s building and as space was no problem the Band could
organize cultural and social activities, besides the basic musical
ones. But after some time, it was felt by many members that the
musical society should cut off its connection with the institute.
This problem was tackled
and (with hindsight) overcome by the then Committee, with the
contract for a piece of land centrally located near Ghajnsielem’s
New Parish Church of Our Lady of Loreto. By 1976 the new
headquarters was functioning and immediately became not only the
musical center of the community but also a social and cultural club.
early 1990s, Ghajnsielem Football Club started the
construction of the new club premises right next to the
Club’s training ground got under way. This impressive
structure was built and equipped thanks to the efforts of
all the people of Ghajnsielem living here and abroad. The
new clubhouse was officially inaugurated on Saturday, August
Other major projects included the construction of a new Parish Center and a new
premises for the Boys' Museum Society. All these
premises including the Ghajnsielem Primary School, Ta' Passi
Recreational Area and the Football Ground are located in the
same area (i.e. between Chambray Street and the main Parish
Square). A number of private bars and restaurants have also
decided to open their business in the vicinity. All this
proudly makes the Ghajnsielem Center one of the most
beautiful squares in Malta and Gozo.
The village that
built itself around that spring
derives its name from it, the spring of 'Hain Salem' which means 'Spring of Peace'.
The village grew around this spring which for many years was the meeting par excellence of
Today this veritable 'Spring of life' is no
longer in existence, buried deep under what is now a modern
Square. Gone the spring may be,
but it lives on in the name of the thriving community which proudly bears its name.