The Maltese, Masters of Fireworks
Summer in Malta is an exciting time and a holiday atmosphere infuses tourists and the Maltese alike, and nothing says Malta in summer quite like fireworks. Indeed, the Maltese seem to be quite obsessed with them and that is why the island nation has perfected the art of making fireworks, awakening the senses of sight, sound and smell for all who see them.
It’s an enigma, how this tiny little island nation has amongst the best fireworks in the world both in terms of quantity and quality and they don’t just leave them just for special occasions (like New Year’s Eve), they are on show at every festa, for each parish, every week from May to September. The dazzling displays leave tourists and the Maltese alike in awe.
With 365 churches around the islands, each having a festa, there is not a single weekend when the night sky isn’t lit up with fireworks. But it’s not just at night and it’s not just in the air. When it comes to fireworks the Maltese have an appetite for the grandiose. During the months of summer, the thunder of fireworks can be heard during the day with the sound rumbling along the limestone buildings before vanishing into the distance. Love or hate this day time booming, it is an institution in Malta. Visitors to Malta can commonly be seen flinching or jumping in shock as day-time fireworks go off nearby like powerful gelignite. The Maltese on the other hand have become so accustomed to this, it is rarely even a topic of conversation unless young parents are trying to put their little ones to sleep or they’re woken at 8:30am on a Sunday morning by a building shaking boom when they’re trying to have a lie-in.
ORIGINS OF FIREWORKS IN MALTA
Fireworks define the Maltese character- loud, exuberant and passionate about life. There are 35+ fireworks factories on the islands, each vying for the crown of having the finest Maltese fireworks artistry. The firework trade goes back to the time of the Order of the knights of St. John. The knights would fire the pyrotechnic devices in order to;
- celebrate the birth of a prince,
- announce the election of a new pope and
- celebrate the feast of the patron saint of the Knights – St. John.
Nowadays, fireworks have become a common hobby. Young adults try their hand at it and carry on the tradition to the generations that follow.
WHERE BEST TO SEE MALTESE FIREWORKS
The big question is which village offers the most stunning display. We could get ourselves into hot water by coming up with a list so it will be a brief one. The tiny village of Lija with the feast of Christ our Saviour on 6th July is generally regarded to display aerial fireworks second to none. Indeed, they are comparable to fireworks in major world cities at New Year’s Eve. The sky is lit up not only on the day of the festa but also on every evening during the week proceeding it. Other notable fireworks include those of St Phillip, Zebbug, St Helens of Birkrikara on the 18th August and on the Feast of Santa Maria on the eve of 15th August which is Malta’s most beloved feast day, the pick of the varied displays is perhaps that of Mqabba. You surely won’t be disappointed.
GROUND FIREWORKS (ĠIGĠIFOGU)
On the more unique side, Malta has something that few countries do at all; let alone as well as the Maltese. A common firework display showcased at feasts is the ġigġifogu (a corruption of the italian word gioci di fuoco). These are traditionally ground-based fireworks, featuring various mechanisms with different rotating ground wheels that shoots fireworks out of its sides, or create complex designs and motions using the rotational power of the fireworks.
The mechanised ground pyrotechnics are an abundant series of spinning Catherine-wheels, pin wheels and varied opening and closing wooden appendages shooting off fireworks raised on high poles and so close to the spectators that at times that they can be showered with sparks. It is an unquestionably exhilarating experience, albeit a little unnerving for first timers if viewed up close and with the crowd pressing in from behind. Among the best of these ground fireworks displays are at the festa of St George in Qormi (June 30), those of St Joseph, Msida and St Catherine, Zurrieq on the 21st July and 1st September respectively.
THE MALTA INTERNATIONAL FIREWORKS FESTIVAL
In addition to the many village festa fireworks displays, for the past 18 years the Ministry for Tourism and the Malta Tourism Authority organise the Malta International Fireworks Festival from the end of April to early May. This festival sees participants from around the world display their artistic best with the stunning backdrop of Valetta and Grand Harbour and other locations around the islands. The festival also has a competitive element with a pyromusical competition being held. Here the fireworks are designed to match the rhythm of musical scores and points are awarded for the most impressive display. Maltese manufacturers placed as follows since 2012:
2016 First and Second
2015 First and Third
During the above shown years other top spots were won by factories from Italy, Denmark, US, UK, Philippines, Croatia, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Malta placed first four times: in 2019, 2016, 2015 and 2012, with a total of nine top three placings since 2012.
MECHANISED GROUND FIREWORKS FESTIVAL
Year after year, the Mechanised Ground Fireworks Festival has gained undoubtable fame.
The festival gathers different firework factories from around Malta and exhibits two Catherine wheels. Firing sets off at 10:30pm and is accompanied by upbeat music. While Maltese firework factories maintain an unspoken rivalry between them, the Ground Firework Festival is the only occasion they can directly compete against each other. The festival issues 3 rewards throughout the night which are given out for best mechanism, best use of products and originality for design. Winning any of these merits is considered to be a huge honour for the factory.
Maltese fireworks will offer a rush on your senses like no other. The brilliant colours and design together with the thunderous sound and the lingering sulphurous smell all combine to stage an unforgettable show.