The traditional village feasts in Malta are spread out over the summer months with rarely a week going by without a celebration somewhere or other. August sees the majority of the festi and the peak is reached on the 15th, with no less than seven towns and villages celebrating the feast of Santa Maria – the Assumption of Our Lady.
An abundance of feasts and a possible dilemma for the visitor; with such a wealth of fireworks displays to choose from one is quite spoilt for choice. But really, and especially for the first time visitor or the fireworks enthusiast, there is only one place to be on the eve of Santa Maria.
The small village of Mqabba hardly features on the tourist trail at all. Most of its buildings are sadly modern and nondescript and its surroundings are quite scarred, consisting mostly of huge stone quarries where some of Malta’s best building stone is cut and dressed. The locals like to boast they built most of Malta itself – not entirely an inaccurate claim either.
At its centre Mqabba does have the redeeming features of a traditional village; the church, some picturesque alleys, a few lovely chapels …. and ahem… two rival band clubs with their associated fireworks factories, whose main focus of competition has evolved in the creation of some of the Island’s best fireworks displays. Over recent years the rivalry has resulted in some notable feats. The Lily Fireworks Factory holds the Guinness World Record for the largest Catherine Wheel ever made, while the St. Mary Fireworks Factory has fared equally impressively, going on to win the prestigious Caput Lucis international fireworks competition in Rome in 2007.
On the 14th of August it’s the turn of the St. Mary Fireworks Factory (associated with the King George V Band Club) to put on its unique pyrotechnic display. This takes place around a so-called tower of light at the edge of the village. The tower, a steel structure some 45 metres high is literally packed with over 1,400 petards and these are let off using a computerised system which synchronises the display to music.
It is one awesome display with the tower and the surrounding fields being put to full use to create an hour-long spectacle of non-stop colour, lights and wonderful shapes forming in the sky. Each year the society excels in innovative creations… the shapes of dolphins, stars or even smiling faces are created in colour petards, Maltese crosses suddenly appear in the sky or the words Viva Santa Maria are formed in fire.
This is absolutely one of the greatest free shows in Malta this month. The people of Mqabba will tell you that nothing compares to this in pyrotechnic displays and enthusiasts from other villages will likely grudgingly admit to this too…
Photos: Jonathan Mifsud
Author: Steven Bonello
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