Midday Sun Madness in Hamrun
Noel Coward once wrote that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. He was probably unaware that the Maltese too indulge in this dubious pleasure in temperatures which can hover around the 35 degree mark. The morning band marches associated with village festas are hugely popular in Malta – and none more so than the one held in Hamrun; the biggest, liveliest and sweatiest of them all.
Hamrun is hardly the most endearing of Maltese towns. It started life as an outer suburb of Valletta that developed in the late 18th century but quickly grew into one of the largest towns on the island. Nowadays its population is around 10,000 and it’s also an ageing community with a number of vacant and derelict properties. Its parish church was built in the late 19th century and features what can kindly be called a confusion of styles with Romanesque and faux-gothic features rubbing uncomfortable shoulders with baroque motifs. Nonetheless the church has its highlights – none more impressive than its ceiling paintings; the work of Emvin Cremona, one of the islands’ best known 20th century artists.
Hamrun sorely lacks open spaces so fireworks are hardly a feature of the town’s feast. Instead Hamrun goes big on bands – with two well supported band clubs, the Saint Cajetan club in red and the Saint Joseph club sporting blue. Both attract a large following and are the protagonists of the town’s major event – the Sunday march on the feast day of San Gejtanu.
On the day of the march Hamrun goes traffic-free. Its long main street, Saint Joseph High Road, which stretches for over a mile, is closed to vehicular traffic and people take over to party. Beer is the drink of choice and masses of it are consumed during these few mad hours. The bands come out around 11am and the revelry continues non-stop until around 3pm. Supporters of the band clubs follow their respective band and, to the uninitiated, the chanting and taunting that takes place when one band goes by its rival’s premises may appear hostile. But it isn’t so – it’s just a very Hamrun way of harmless fun.
The band march (or rather the double bill of two band marches) reaches its peak in the hottest part of the day around 2pm when both bands start approaching their respective clubs and the flag waving goes into a complete frenzy. The band clubs’ premises are separated only by about a 100 meters and more taunting and mischief takes place before the bands finally make their way into the clubs. In the past this close proximity sometimes led to tensions and some brawling – but this has now become a thing of the past after stringent agreements were signed by the clubs following some serious incidents in 1987. Nowadays the Hamrun march is a much more family friendly event, and though the thickness of the crowd can become a bit claustrophobic in a few places, it is nonetheless one of the greatest and most colourful street parties you could wish for. It’s a dress down affair too…masses of supporters paint their arms and faces in blue and red and the sweating and the jostling that take place are likely to ruin your Sunday best… Let your hair down, become a Hamruniz for the day and you will not regret it.
The feast of St.Cajetan usually falls on the second Sunday of August. The band marches take place along Saint Joseph High Road and adjacent streets from 11 am to around 3pm. There are plenty of kiosks and bars selling bottled water but bringing your own sun block is recommended.