Żurrieq offers an abundance of treasures. When it comes to the 'A' to 'Z' of travel, chances are you’ll be able to rattle off plenty of places for 'A' to 'Y', but when it comes to 'Z', then the brain cogs might start to whirr a little more.
Words by David Baker | Extract taken from June's 2022 Il-Bizzilla Magazine | Read more here
When visiting Malta, the task becomes a little easier, where the South of the island lays claim to three towns beginning with the last letter of the alphabet – Żabbar, Żejtun and Żurrieq.
With all due respect to the first two, it is the latter that offers an abundance of treasures for visitors all within a couple of kilometres radius.
So, what makes Żurrieq so interesting?
For starters, it is one of the oldest towns in Malta - inhabited since the Bronze Age. Żurrieq began unearthing the past as early back as 1885, when a Phoenician tomb containing pottery and human remains was discovered in an area known as Ta’ Danieri. Other findings include the cart ruts of Tal-Bakkari, several Punic-Roman towers and Paleo-Christian tombs.
The first documentation shows that in 1436 the town already had a parish church dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria. This is one of the most beautifully decorated churches in Malta, containing various paintings, many created by the Italian painter, Mattia Preti. The most spectacular of these is undoubtedly the titular piece. There are also two impressive statues, one of St Catherine and the other Our Lady of Mount Carmel, both created by Maltese sculptors.
The town is also renowned for its windmills of which there are several. Most notable among these are ‘tal-Qaret’ in the Nigret area, built in 1674 by the Grandmaster Nicolo Cottoner and ta’ Marmara built in 1724. However, the most famous windmill is tax-Xarolla, built by Grandmaster Manoel de Vilhena in 1724. In 1992, the windmill was refurbished to its original working condition, and it is now the only functioning windmill in Malta. It still has parts of the original machinery and can still grain wheat.
There are also various chapels to be discovered, such as the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception that has a quasi-rotunda plan. It was built during the time of the Knights, by Fra Togores who owned the adjacent palace, and it was inaugurated in 1739. The Chapel of St James was built between 1725 and 1731 and has an exceptional antique painting of St John the Baptist. The Lunzjata chapel in Ħal Millieri is a Sicolo-Norman chapel that was inaugurated in 1809. It was built on a site that hosted a former Roman Temple. In 1968, Din l-Art Ħelwa restored this chapel that is decorated with 14th century paintings and murals that are unique in Malta.
Żurrieq’s name supposedly derives from the colour blue, which translates to żoroq in Maltese. There is an argument as to whether this is in reference to the blue seas or to the colour of the eyes of the town’s inhabitants, don’t stare too hard at the residents when trying to confirm this fact.
Truth be told, it is more likely to be the former as the town’s motto is “Sic a Cyaneo Aequore Vocor”, meaning “From the blue sea I took my name”.
The sea couldn’t be any bluer than at Żurrieq’s most famous tourist attraction, the Blue Grotto.
Located in the picturesque, tiny harbour of Wied iż-Żurrieq, at the end of a rugged valley, the Blue Grotto is a series of seven natural, sea-level caves, including the Honeymoon Cave, Reflection Cave and Cat's Cave. The caves are famous for their scintillating colour and particularly, for an optical illusion that makes your hands appear to be a bright blue in the water in the mid-morning light.
The area also enjoys fantastic views of the islet of Filfla, home to the endemic and legendary ‘two-tailed’ filfola lizard. Just a short walk away you will find Wied Babu, one of the lushest valleys in Malta. Its landscape changes with the seasons, while the steep rocky sides inspire awe in anyone (especially those who love to climb them) and you might even take a dip in the sea once you’ve walked along Babu valley to its mouth.
A short walk from the Blue Grotto are the Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra Temples, two amazing megalithic sites that date back to circa 3,600-3,200 BC. Older than the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge, they still accurately mark the equinoxes and solstices every year!
To round your trip off, nearby Għar Lapsi is a favourite local swimming haunt complete with boat houses and a humble restaurant. The semi-protected natural sea-pool is perfect for snorkelling while the towering cliffs above are favoured by rock-climbers.
Old blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, may have famously sung about New York being ‘his kind of place’, but perhaps the tune would have been different, if he’d first visited Żurrieq, home of some other blue-eyed boys?