When one sees the name Marsaxlokk written down it looks a difficult word to pronounce, but after a few attempts I eventually cracked it. It is pronounced ‘Marsa-shlock’ and derives from marsa (the port) and xlokk (the sirocco wind). It is the biggest and most picturesque fishing village in Malta and as a must-visit for tourists, it is always a highlight of their visit to the Maltese Islands.
Set on an inlet on the northern side of Marsaxlokk Bay in Malta’s south east corner, this quaint village is a treasure trove of traditional character, colourful ambiance and old world charm. The bay is alive with all shapes and sizes of fishing boats and the promenade is swarming with fishermen, some unloading fish, some buying them, some working on boats and some sitting on fish boxes mending their nets. It is a joy to linger a while and just gaze.
But the promenade is so long and spacious that it is also a busy market place selling a myriad of quality souvenirs and the famous hand-made Maltese lace. The ‘Flea Market,’ as it is called is open on a small scale every day but on Sundays it is a major event involving a multitude of traders and attracting bargain-hunters from all over Malta as well as hordes of tourists who come to savour the atmosphere.
But for most tourists the best part of the long promenade is the open air restaurants where they can relax and enjoy the amazing fresh fish dishes expertly cooked and presented. This is a truly unique dining experience. All around is the true fish culture, the fishy smell is everywhere and the tables are adorned with the most succulent fish cuisine. It’s a perfect combination and it’s no surprise to see the ever increasing influx of tourists availing of this heavenly ambience.
Most of Malta’s fish supplies are caught by the fishermen of Marsaxlokk. Swordfish, tuna, and the popular ‘lampuki’ are the big catch between spring and late autumn. On weekdays, most of the fish are taken to the fish-market in Valletta, but on Sundays the catch is retailed by fishermen in the open on the quay.
Malta with its extensive fishing industry has been relatively lucky in avoiding sea tragedies down through the decades. In 1924 a storm cost the lives of fishermen but for the following eighty-four years, not one boat or life was lost. Sadly, that all changed in July 2008 when a fishing tragedy occurred that rocked the nation, causing unspeakable anguish for the crew and their families.
It was a family owned boat from Marsaxlokk, named ‘Simshar’ and while fishing off the coast of Sicily an explosion and fire destroyed the boat leaving the crew clinging on to a flimsy makeshift raft in the middle of the Mediterranean. The crew were the skipper, his elderly father, his 11-year-old son, and two young crewmen. While a massive search involving naval vessels, aircraft and the whole fishing fleet continued for eight days without a sighting, the crew were dying one by one until eventually the little raft was found. The skipper was the only one still clinging on but was just a few hours from death. He was rescued and was the only survivor who lived to tell the horrible tale.
The tragic story is now recaptured in print and on screen. The book ‘The Crying Sea’ written by Paddy Cummins (Yours Truly) gives a harrowing account of the tragedy from beginning to end and the story is now a major international film ‘Simshar.’
I have spent many sombre days in Marsaxlokk chatting to the fishing community while researching the book. They have put all that behind them and now when I go there I find again the old vibrant and friendly atmosphere that always characterised this delightful fishing village. I never tire of going there and I think most visitors would say the same.
From ‘IN LOVE WITH MALTA’ (The Hidden Treasures)
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