ST JULIAN’S MAY BE HOME TO MALTA’S PUMPING NIGHTLIFE MECCA, AWASH WITH BARS, RESTAURANTS, NIGHTCLUBS, HOTELS… AND HEDONISM. BUT IT ALSO HAS A RICH AND COLOURFUL HISTORY THAT SAW IT GROW FROM A SMALL FISHING VILLAGE TO THE THRIVING TOURISM HUB IT IS TODAY, WITH ITS FAIR SHARE OF PALACES AND CHURCHES IN CONTRAST TO THE MORE COMMERCIAL SCENE.
Words by Philip Farrugia-Randon | Extract taken from November 2023 Il-Bizzilla Magazine
History is an early riser in the story of Malta. All the island is dotted with legends and customs, which make it an exciting kaleidoscope. Though some may think St Julian’s is a latecomer, it is not so. Its vicinity, Mensija, boasts a splendid set of Bronze Age cart ruts, and tombs and remains of a round tower of the Roman era have been located, not to mention the Saracen burial ground in nearby Kappara.
Located on Malta’s east coast, St Julian’s was initially a small fishing village with its inlets (qaliet) playing a small part in Malta’s defence. Watchtowers provided an early warning against hostile incursions, especially during the period of the Knight of Malta.
St Julian’s Tower, constructed in 1658 and now within the boundaries of neighbouring Sliema, was one example. But these towers failed to prove their mettle when General Bonaparte conquered Malta practically unopposed, ousting the Order of Malta from the island. One of the first French landing sites on 10th June 1798 was St Julian’s Bay, where 7,000 men arrived without opposition.
In the Spinola area is the picturesque sight of Spinola Bay, with its charming arched boathouses on the quay, coloured Maltese boats and a small church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception halfway up the hill, while Spinola Palace commands the crest in the distance.
The church and palace were built by Knight of Malta Fra Paolo Raffaele Spinola in 1688, with funds provided by his brother Marquis Francesco Napoleone Spinola di Roccaforte. The palace was enlarged in 1733, and the church’s façade was rebuilt in 1914. The renowned Spinola family had produced doges, bishops, cardinals, historians and knights.
Another palace in St Julian’s was built in 1870 by the Maltese banker Emmanuele Scicluna as a summer residence. It now operates as Dragonara Casino, the name reflecting an old legend of a dragon, who lived in the nearby caves.
Several notable people resided in St Julian’s, among whom were the Maltese national poet Dun Karm Psaila, who had a modest summer residence, and the internationally renowned ophthalmologist Ċensu Tabone, who was also President of Malta from 1989 to 1994. He lived in St Julian’s for 71 years and is now commemorated by a monument in Balluta.
Close by is a fountain built in 1882 commemorating the extension of fresh water supply. And on the side of Balluta Square, the elegant Art Nouveau complex, Balluta Buildings, erected in 1928, cannot be missed. Balluta refers to the oak trees (ballut) that grew in the area.
The population, at present over 14,000, has grown considerably in St Julian’s from 824 in 1881. This is because, from a summer residence location, it became all-year residential and developed into a hub for tourism and commerce, attracting hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and the entertainment area called Paceville. An attractive promenade entices persons of all ages to walk or jog its stretch by the sea – a most welcome break from daily stress.
Swimmers can choose between sandy or rocky shores in the area. On the rocky seashore, a few excavated bath-like pits can be spotted. These were originally covered with wooden sheds or tents to protect the ladies from prying eyes when changing into bathing costumes. Remnants of Victorian times!
The patron saint of the town is, naturally, St Julian, who is reputed to have killed his parents by mistake and, to expiate, dedicated himself to assisting travellers and the poor. He is also the patron of hunters, and a recent custom sees hunters shooting blank cartridges from the church roof while the saint’s statue is led out for the festive procession.
Not many think of saints and churches when they think of St Julian’s today, but the town has a number of its own. The oldest in the area dates back to at least 1580, while another large church, dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and built in 1958 in Gothic Revival style, offers an elegant and picturesque backdrop to the fronting sea. In Paceville, a modern church, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Council, offers a striking spiritual contrast to the adjoining entertainment hub, while the current parish church, opened in 1968, overlooks and embraces the bustling town.
Philip Farrugia-Randon, a St Julian’s resident, is a lawyer, historian, watercolorist, wit, author and poet.
DISCOVER SIX TOP SIGHTS IN ST JULIAN'S:
THE LOVE SIGN
A popular landmark and meeting point, this marble sculpture was designed by renowned architect Richard England. Written upside down and back to front, it is supposed to be read from its own reflection in the sea below.
If you’re after pumping nightlife, look no further than Paceville, with its bars, nightclubs and restaurants to suit any reveller’s taste. All you need is energy to party the night away.
ST GEORGE'S BAY
This sandy Blue Flag beach is the ideal spot for the many tourists, who choose St Julian’s for their stay on the island, to chill out after a night on the town. It’s also close to cinema and shopping complexes and all the entertainment they need.
Sit in a café in this popular, shaded square, overlooking a small sandy beach and flanked by five-star accommodation and catering establishments, as well as the impressive Art Nouveau Balluta Buildings. It is a welcome pitstop when walking along the seafront.
In the heart of St Julian’s, this bay retains an element of the former charm and tradition of the now bustling and cosmopolitan town. The colourful Maltese luzzu harks back to its fishing village days.
For a calmer night out, head to Portomaso’s man-made marina, where luxury apartments and the five-star Hilton Malta engulf superyachts and sailing boats, under the watchful gaze of the 23-storey business tower exactly above.