In almost all Christian countries around the world the custom of putting up large crosses or statues of Christ – or sometimes even a monumental church, on top of prominent hills seems to be quite the norm. One finds this almost everywhere in Europe and other continents – notably South America.
Befittingly for a traditionally strong Catholic country, Malta also has a couple of ‘crosses on hills’ the most prominent and visible from miles around being Laferla Cross – situated on the highest plateau in Malta and just a short mile from the village of Siggiewi.
The cross was erected at the start of the twentieth century to commemorate the Holy Year of 1900 and got its name from the man on whose initiative it was constructed – one Reverend Paul Laferla. The base of the cross contains a tiny chapel. Close to the cross is another chapel dedicated to The Annunciation. This is a much older chapel whose origins date back to the fifteenth century – although the chapel has been rebuilt and renovated a number of times.
Laferla Cross can be reached in two ways. A scenic surfaced road from Dingli cliffs leads all the way to an open paved area near the cross. The other way is by what has recently become a ‘pilgrims’ way’ via a steep path that starts from the outskirts of Siggiewi. In recent years on Maundy Thursday a popular pilgrimage is organized which starts from Siggiewi square and devotees make their way up this way – the path is adorned with votive statues showing scenes from the Passion.
But the Laferla Cross area (more commonly known locally as Is-Salib tal-Gholja – ‘the cross on the hill’) is more than a cross and a chapel. The high ground of course means it is one of the best viewing points on the island. From here one can easily make out Mdina, Valletta and practically all in between. It is a prime bird-watching site during the spring and autumn migration seasons when birds of prey roost overnight at Buskett and the nearby Girgenti valley. The area has a mixed rural use and contains large garigue stretches. The dry garigue comes to life during winter and spring with a flourish of flowers and low aromatic bushes with a splash of orchids crowning this short but intense flowering season.
Several pathways criss-cross this exposed hilltop. A stony path leads south from the paved area mentioned above and this in turn leads to the southern edge of the plateau with great views out to the islet of Filfla and the rural Fawwara road below. The path that follows this cliff top goes all the way to the Fawwara ta San Gorg - covered in another blog post here http://www.chevron.co.uk/blog/a-bird-a-plant-and-a-magical-spot-dingli/
But perhaps it is the relative remoteness of the place that lends this hilltop its particular magic (more so at sunrise and sunset) and the fact that such silent places even exist on one of the most densely populated countries on earth is something of a miracle. Enjoy in silence!