Some of the larger villages of Malta get very little attention from visitors to the islands but that is not to say they do not merit an hour or two of wandering. Haz-Zebbug in Malta is one such place. Originally formed of three medieval hamlets – Hal Muxi, Hal Dwin and Hal Mula – Zebbug can now be said to be a small town rather than a village, with a population of some 11,000 and (unfortunately) some inevitable urban sprawl around its edges.
However at its core Zebbug retains a very authentic village atmosphere. This is best exemplified by its central square, dominated by the church of St.Philip – the town’s patron saint. It’s quite a grand church too and definitely worth a peek. Built between 1599 and 1632 its design is attributed to the Maltese architect Vittorio Cassar, although later alterations and enlargement have dented Cassar’s somewhat austere style.
Zebbug’s social life seems to gravitate around the town square. The band clubs– a very important village institution in Malta – have their premises (kazini) here, as do the political parties with their respective kazini and the town’s football club. Needless to say there are also a good number of tea and coffee houses – the ones that mostly serve as meeting places for the village elders to while away a morning – plus the inevitable pastizzeriji and a couple of mouth-watering confectionery shops.
The older parts of Zebbug present some lovely winding streetscapes, with numerous devotional niches and humble traditional houses rubbing shoulders with the occasional palazzo. A good number of small chapels are also a feature of the village. Quite a few Zebbugin have made a name for themselves and the town can count the Maltese National Poet, Dun Karm Psaila (1871-1961) and Malta’s finest ever sculptor Antonio Sciortino (1879-1947) among its finest sons.
Zebbug holds its annual Festa on the second Sunday in June and so it’s a good time to get a feel of the village buzz. There are week long activities leading to the day, adding to the Zebbug festive mood. All the ingredients of a Maltese festa are there; band marches, fireworks, lavish decorations, all leading to the feast day proper. Unlike other villages where the titular statue carried in procession is made of wood or papier-mâché, Zebbug festivals goe one better and their statue of Saint Philip is made entirely of silver – all of 36 kilos of the precious metal. Tradition has it that this is due to the villagers’ overwhelming response when asked to donate for the statue’s commissioning. The statue was made by the Italian sculptor Luigi Fontana in 1863 and travelled from Italy to Malta via the Vatican where it was blessed by Pope Pius IX.