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4 Aspects of Malta's Mysterious Sinkhole - il-Maqluba

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

Aerial view of il-Maqluba [1]

The small, quaint village of Qrendi, located in the South West of Malta, can boast of a long colourful history, a rich religious cultural heritage, fascinating legends, and a peaceful rural environment with breath-taking scenery.

Just outside this small village, with its population of around 3,000, one can find a number of well-known sites, especially popular with tourists, such as the prehistoric temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra, the spectacular fishing hamlet of Wied iż-Żurrieq, and the famous Blue Grotto.

But right at the very end of Tempest Street, which skirts around Qrendi, there is another site which is much less known. At one end of the small open area known as Misraħ tal-Maqluba, and just behind the small chapel dedicated to St. Matthew, lies a mysterious crater-like hole in the ground. At approximately 15 metres deep, 'il-Maqluba', which literally translates into 'turned upside down', covers an area of about 6,000 square metres.


1. God's Punishment? The Legend behind it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, centuries ago the locals came up with a legend to explain the existence of this strange feature. It was said that this was once the site of a small hamlet, whose inhabitants had turned away from God. Though He tried to warn them through a pious woman living in the area, they refused to change their ways and were thus punished. A terrifying storm broke out, as angels ripped the village from its roots and dumped it out at sea, thus not only explaining the large hole left behind, but also the creation of the tiny islet of Filfla. Only the woman, praying inside a small chapel on the village outskirts was spared. This story seemed to be corroborated by the fact that today’s chapel is found literally at the edge of the precipice.

The medieval chapel located almost directly at the edge of the sinkhole.

2. A Geological Feature

In truth, of course, there is a much more logical explanation for the existence of this feature. Such dolines, or sinkholes as they are more commonly known, are usually formed when the ceilings of underground caverns collapse. Given that caves are very common in the Maltese Islands, there are numerous other sinkholes locally, but the one at il-Maqluba is undoubtedly the best example we have.

A viewing platform makes it possible to look down into this strange geological feature.

It is believed that il-Maqluba was created on the 23rd of November 1343. On that day the Maltese Islands experienced a very severe Winter storm, possibly accompanied by an earthquake, which led to the roof of a pre-existing underground cave to collapse, leaving behind a big gaping hole. In truth, rather than an earthquake, the tremor felt by the locals would more likely have been caused by the collapse itself, the result of constant underground erosion eating away at the supports.

The sinkhole was formed when the roof of an underground cave collapsed.

3. A Natural Haven - Flora and Fauna

An interesting fact about il-Maqluba is that because of its inaccessibility, several interesting species of plants and animals thrive there, including ones that are endemic to the Maltese Islands, thus making it a very important ecological site. In fact, it is designated as both a Tree Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation of International Importance.

The Sandarac Gum Tree - Siġra tal-Għargħar [2]

In particular, we find a substantial amount of Bay Laurel, as well as specimens of Malta’s national tree: the Sandarac Gum Tree, or Siġra tal-Għargħar. Another interesting tree is the Maltese Salt Tree, which only grows in Malta, while among the more common species, one can also find several Carob, Pomegranate, and Prickly Pear trees. Il-Maqluba is also home to the so-called Cramp Balls, a very rare type of fungus that only grows in a few localities, mostly on dead branches.