Shrouded by myths, Mosta is considered to be one of Malta’s most historical places of interest and is now a very important tourist location. A large town in central Malta, with a population of about 20,000 people, Mosta is always buzzing with hordes of tourists mingling with local residents and the commercial sector busy and flourishing. Being located in the centre of Malta and with a road connection between south and north, the main street has to carry a huge volume of traffic, mainly buses and coaches, on their way from Valletta to Buġibba, St. Paul’s Bay, Qawra, Xemxija, Ċirkewwa and Mellieħa.
Mosta is connected with several local popular legends. The town is surrounded by many historical places of interest, including the Victoria Lines, which were built by the British Empire as a defence mechanism against land invasion from the North. But by far the greatest treasure in Mosta is an iconic building dominating the town centre and attracting visitors from all corners of the world.
The ‘Mosta Dome’ is a gigantic church with the third largest unsupported dome in the world. Built between 1833 and 1860 on the site of a previous church, the plan was based on the Pantheon in Rome. It was designed by George Grognet de Vasse, a French citizen resident in Mosta. Local residents, at that time totalling not more than 1500, built the church with their own hands and their own cash collections. It took them 27 years to complete but the result is a tourist attraction of world standard. Grognet was a perfectionist and he chose the type of stone by getting one slab from each quarry operating in the Islands. He then proceeded to test their durability. In the end he chose the stone from a quarry in Mosta.
The people of Mosta dismiss accusations of deliberate pomposity in building such a huge dome on their church. It had to be those proportions because the church was constructed around the existing church which could not be demolished until the new one was complete. In fact the old church came in handy as scaffolding while building the new one. The facade of the ‘Retunda’ is immensely impressive and being so high and of such huge proportions, it can be seen almost all over the island of Malta.
The interior is just spellbinding with its size, design and decor. A coffered ceiling of gilded stone-carved flowers set on a blue background and a floor on inlaid marble gives a feeling of rich splendour. There are eight splendid side altars and a magnificent high altar. The murals behind the side altars, painted by the famous Maltese artist, Giuseppe Cali, are simply beautiful. The whole interior, lavishly decorated by local artists and trimmed with gold leaf is a joy to behold.
The Mosta Retunda, as it is best known, is dedicated to The Assumption of Our Lady and a very popular feast among the locals as well as the tourists is the feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady on the 15th August. This day is a public holiday and is celebrated with lots of music, food and fireworks. The church had an amazing escape in 1942 when it could have been demolished by a direct hit from a German bomber but by some miracle it was granted a reprieve.
The location of Mosta near to Ta’ Qali airfield placed it right in the path of attacking planes during World War 11. On one such raid on the 9th April 1942, several bombs were dropped around the church, with one actually piercing the dome, landing on the floor where three hundred people were attending Mass, and incredibly, it failed to explode. No one was injured, the dome was only slightly damaged, and to commemorate the miracle, the empty shell of the bomb can be seen today in the sacristy of the church.
Another renowned attraction in Mosta is the Speranza Chapel which is situated close to the Speranza Valley. Legend has it that during the Turkish invasion between 1760 and 1761, a young girl and her siblings were taking care of the family’s sheep. The siblings managed to escape but the little girl could not run fast enough so she found refuge in a cave where she prayed to Our Lady who intervened and created a spider web over the opening of the cave. The Turkish invaders did not look for her in the cave as the web was still intact.
The town of Mosta is surrounded by many historical places of interest, including the famous and historic Victoria Lines. Those were originally known as the North West Front and sometimes unofficially known as the Great Wall of Malta. They are a line of fortifications flanked by defensive towers that spans 12 kilometres along the width of Malta, dividing the north of the island from the more heavily populated south.
The Victoria Lines run along a natural geographical barrier known as the Great Fault, from Madliena in the east, through the limits of the town of Mosta in the centre of the island, to Binġemma and the limits of Rabat, on the west coast. The complex network of linear fortifications known collectively as the Victoria Lines, cuts across the width of the island north of the old capital of Mdina, and built by the British Empire as a defence against land invasion, is a unique monument of military architecture and can still be viewed today.
Another item of interest to those visiting Mosta would be the historical farmhouse overlooking the valley of Wied il-ghasel. This old farmstead was the property of the noble family of the Marquis Mallia Tabone. It is now run by the Philanthropic Society, ‘Talent Mosti’ in collaboration with the adjacent school council. It is now a busy resource hosting lots of exhibitions throughout the year.
The town of Mosta is now a bustling market town but is also a major tourist location. Traffic can be heavy especially in Constitution Street; the main artery that skirts around the ‘Dome,’ but it doesn’t bother the thousands of visitors who flock to this amazing architectural and spiritual phenomenon. I’m sure they are all amazed by the eye-opener that is the Mosta Dome, and like me, depart uplifted and inspired.
From ‘IN LOVE WITH MALTA’ (The Hidden Treasures)
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