A Maltese Fascination with Size
There appears to be a certain fascination with size in Malta, a fascination which too often inherently implies that big is beautiful. It seems almost an implant in our collective genes and I suspect it goes back a very long way too…
Clearly Malta’s first settlers must have thought big was beautiful. How else to explain their munificent representations of the mother goddess in so many of their statues? The various portrayals that have come down to us all show the female form in, let’s say, quite generous proportions: large pendulous breasts, enormous hips, and what can only be kindly described as ample thighs. Decidedly if big wasn’t beautiful it was certainly a representation or longing for bounty and plenty but the suspicion remains that the Maltese Neolithic man loved his women big…
Women aside, Neolithic man loved big stones as well. The largest of the monoliths at Hagar Qim is a full seven metres long and weighs more than 60 tons - how these people handled such huge weights remains very much a mystery.
Some millennia later the Knights continued to fuel this predilection for the huge and colossal. They encircled the main cities with miles and miles of bastions. More than seven kilometres of walls girdle Valletta and Floriana, while the Cottonera Lines stretch to some four kilometres, completely encircling the three cities of Birgu, Isla and Bormla from the landward side.
The British also seem to have humoured this Maltese love of all things big and wondrous. They regaled us with what remains to this day (bar perhaps Saddam Hussein’s never realized super gun) the largest gun in the world. The Armstrong Whitworth Company produced just twelve of its huge 100 ton guns and only two survive to this day: one is in Gibraltar while the other is the centrepiece at the meticulously restored Fort Rinella.
The gigantism fetish later manifested itself in large buildings – particularly church domes. Mosta started this trend with a gigantic one that is still the third largest unsupported dome in the world. The dome was completed in 1871 and has an impressive diameter of over 36 metres – that’s five metres more than St. Paul’s in London. A century later the village of Xewkija decided to go for something similar – not quite as large as Mosta’s, but at 28 metres diameter and financed by the parishioners of a village with less than 4,000 people it’s still a feat – a huge one excusing the sorry pun.
The era of large church building now seems past. In its place is a curious pique among towns and villages to get their names in the Guinness Book of World Records. Obviously the Maltese will never go for the smallest this or that of course. It has to be B.I.G.
In 2011 the Lily Fireworks Factory of Mqabba built the largest Catherine wheel in the world measuring 32 metres in diameter – almost as much as the Mosta Dome! The villagers made sure a rep from Guinness was there when it was set alight and the record was announced to wild cheering. Qormi entered the record books a year later with the largest wine glass in the world measuring 12feet 8 inches in height and 6 feet 8 inches at its widest point. It is unlikely that anyone actually lifted it for a sip. Probably that would have made for yet another record. And just last year Zabbar took up the whole length of Sanctuary Street to set up the world’s largest dining table measuring 360 metres and hosting 800 diners. There were no reported complaints of the food arriving cold at the furthest parts of the table, but if there were they would probably be justified ones…
Author: Steve Bonello