Birgu Fest is a celebration of a beautiful city, while at the same time it is a commemoration of what once was. For two evenings in October the candles burn and visitors are invited to view the architecture and the atmosphere of the city in a new light. The flickering glow of hundreds upon thousands of tiny flames transforms the city into how it might have looked many years ago.
The city is part of what is widely known as "The Three Cities," an area of land protected by fortifications built by the eminent Knights of Saint John. Due to the city's superior location, Birgu became the first home of the Knights in the sixteenth century. If you stand at the edge of the Upper Barrakka Gardens (Il-Barrakka ta' Fuq) in Valletta facing the sea, Birgu is the first of the three cities. Although I have viewed Birgu many times from this vantage point, I am ashamed to admit that I had not had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful city until the night of the festival.
The residents’s pride for their city is evident in each candle that is lit. Planning and preparations begin weeks in advance; candles are collected and various types of candle holders are improvised. Walking the narrow streets, lined with candles, was both magical and peaceful, and incredibly romantic. Despite the crowds and the rows of vendors trying to sell you their goods (two unavoidable truths common to any public event n Malta), the tone of the evening was silently dignified. Those that are mil-Birgu look forward to showing off the beauty and grandeur of their city.
The festival is indicative of just the type of geographical patriotism that is common in Malta and which I find fascinating. No matter what city you go to in Malta, if you speak to a local — an actual born and bred native — they will undoubtedly tell you that there is no better city than the one in which you stand. To have such pride and certainty of the importance and value of one’s homeland are qualities to be treasured. As an outsider — a foreigner looking in— I feel privileged to be invited in (if only for a few nights a year) to see what gems are beauty are hidden just behind the city gates.
For further history and information about next year ’s event, please visit the Birgu Local Council website.