Ħaż-Żebbuġ is one of the oldest settlements in Malta. Named after the large olive groves that were once found in the area, its motto 'Semper Virens', or 'ever green', aptly describes the beautiful countryside and numerous valleys that still surround it.
Although the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, Ħaż-Żebbuġ as we know it today originated in the 14th century, when three smaller hamlets were joined together. During the time of the Order of St. John, it became one of the most important towns in Malta, mainly due to its major role in the cotton industry. During the second half of the 18th century, the population of what was by then a flourishing town, courted the French Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc, who in turn bestowed Ħaż-Żebbuġ with the status of a city - Citta' Rohan - in the year 1777.
De Rohan Arch
To celebrate this historic event, the locals committed themselves to building two triumphal arches. Although financial difficulties precluded the fulfilment of this vow for twenty years, upon the death of de Rohan, an effort was made to keep the promise. Of the two arches planned, however, only one was actually constructed, funded by donations from the local inhabitants. The arch, inaugurated in 1798, was built in the Neo-Classical style and survives to this day - surely one of the town’s most striking architectural features.
The Parish Church
Undoubtedly the main landmark of Haż-Żebbuġ is its beautiful parish church. The first church here was built in 1412 through the generosity of Filippo de Catania, a wealthy Sicilian merchant, who wished for it to be dedicated to his favourite saint and the one he was named after - St. Philip of Agira. The present structure was however completed in 1632, designed by the Maltese architect Tumas Dingli. At the time of its construction, it was one of the largest churches in Malta, and was in the following centuries further adorned by the acquisition of holy relics, works of art, and decorative stonework, turning it into a veritable museum of Baroque art and architecture, as well as a place of worship.
St. Philip Square
The external appearance of the church was greatly ameliorated when towards the late 17th century, the church authorities purchased the surrounding land to form the large square known as Misraħ San Filep.
Among the charming buildings here, one can find those housing the local band clubs. Band clubs in Malta date to the mid-19th century, with their main purpose being that of participating in the annual feast dedicated to the town’s patron saint. It is claimed that Ħaż-Żebbuġ was the birthplace of the first ever such band in Malta, in 1851, and today has no less than three of them, all of which have their respective fireworks factories, and which take part in the feast of St. Philip of Agira and the secondary feast of St. Joseph.
Like most traditional towns in Malta, Ħaż-Żebbuġ has a significant amount of religious statues adorning its streets and alleyways, including one located on Triq il-Kbira depicting St. Roque. In medieval times, St. Roque was venerated as a protector against the plague, several outbreaks of which devastated the Maltese Islands, explaining why he was prominently featured in local sacred art.
This devotion is also seen in the chapel dedicated to the same saint directly opposite the niche. This historic chapel, built after a bubonic plague outbreak in 1592, has been extensively restored in recent years, and is today once more open to the public. It now also hosts a small museum about the history of Ħaż-Żebbuġ.
Apart from artefacts and old photographs related to the history of Ħaż-Żebbuġ, this museum also exhibits memorabilia associated with the numerous important personalities born in this town. These include the Maltese hero and patriot Dun Mikiel Xerri, and Mikiel Anton Vassalli - a writer, philosopher and linguist known as the Father of the Maltese language. Ħaz-Żebbuġ also produced the talented artist Lazzaro Pisani, and his cousins Antonio and Francesco Sciortino, both of whom became established sculptors, as well as Malta’s national poet - Dun Karm Psaila - best known for writing the words to the Maltese national anthem.
This blog was also featured in the Air Malta Bizzilla Magazine.