Il-Fgura

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Il-Fgura

Il-Fgura is quite a recently built-up area, that expanded from a handful of farms and farmers’
cottages in these last fifty years. However, the history of the nearby village of Ħal Tarxien,
with its Neolithic Temples, Kordin and the Hypogeum in Ħal Saflieni, undoubtedly shows
that this same area was inhabited by settlers in the very early ages of Maltese History.

Punic Artifacts

Six Punic tombs were found in Liedna Street, dated between the third and fourth centuries
B.C. Punic artifacts found in them testify that settlers from the Carthaginian era used to live
on this land. The Carthaginian period started with the ventures of the Phoenicians into the
Mediterranean Sea and ended with the expansion southwards of the Roman Empire.

Although Malta and the surrounding lands were going through tough times of war, the Maltese lived a relatively prosperous life at the time, mostly from the cultivation of cotton and the production of olive oil and wine. The Romans also treated us as a colony with a special status.

From the artifacts found in the tombs excavated in Liedna Street one can tell that those buried there had been wealthy people and held a high position in their society, and this also shows that the Maltese were passing through a period of flourishing business.

The community that lived in the area at the time must have believed in life after death. This is confirmed by the number of objects found in these tombs, such as lanterns, food and water recipients, plates, glasses and perfume jars, intended to accompany the individual for the last voyage to afterlife. The fine designs and the long-lasting material used on these terracotta jars and other objects show the cultural level of the community and the family status of the people that were buried there.

Compared to objects found in other burial places, the artifacts found in the Liedna Street tombs show designs of a highly artistic level. Infact it was the floral design which these terracotta artifacts were decorated with that gave the name to Liedna Steet; liedna being a rambling plant with dark green attractive leaves.

Nowadays these artifacts are exhibitied for the public at the Museum of Archaeology in Republic Street, Il-Belt Valletta (Città Umilissima).

The Derivation of the Name ‘Il-Fgura’

There are no documents to throw any light on the derivation of the name ‘Il-Fgura’. Some historians hold that, in the middle of the road that divided the Fgura area into two, leading from Ħaż-Żabbar (Città Hompesch) to Paola, there was a stone cross, and very near to it stood a niche with the icon of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Common people, and passers-by, used to refer to this icon as the figura in Maltese. In English they may have meant ‘figure’ or ‘face’. As time went by, as is customary with people the world over, the word figura became ‘Il-Fgura’, giving the name to the whole area. A stone cross and a niche can still be seen today, although they are not the original ones, and neither are they in the same place of the original ones.

Another theory is possible. Some of the first people to settle in the area were Gozitans, coming over from the sister island with their families and livestock. An area between Ta’ Pinu and San Lawrenz in Gozo was called il-Fgura. Today there is still a sign with the name ‘Il-Fgura’ to indicate the area. Some people hold that the name ‘Fgura’ was brought over by these Gozitan settlers, who thus gave this name to the new area in Malta where they settled down. There are still people living in il-Fgura whose ancestors were among these first settlers, that came from the sister island of the Maltese Arcipelago.

The First Church

In 1788 a certain Klement Busuttil, one of the early inhabitants of modern il-Fgura, sent a petition to Grand Master de Rohan to build a chapel on the same site of the niche that held the Icon of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Permission was granted and the chapel was finished by 1790. It was very well kept, and the people of the environs were very proud of it.

Twenty years later, in 1810, Bishop Mattei gave permission to celebrate Mass in the chapel. In 1842 Dun Salv Busuttil, who was Klement’s nephew, enlarged it by adding a sacristy to it.

The devotion of the people of il-Fgura to Our Lady of Mount Carmel dates from time immemorial. With time, the people in the neighbourhood became more zealous, and soon the chapel became too small.

After having obtained some land from the Dominican Friars of Vittoriosa, Dun Salv Busuttil applied to the Colonial Government to be given permission to demolish the chapel and build a new and larger one in its place. The land on which the chapel was built was Government property. The Government was willing to sell him the land, and permission was granted to build a larger and more comfortable chapel. Work on the new chapel, under the direction of Architect Indrì Vassallo, was finished in 1844. It was solemnly consecrated ten years later by Vicar General Vincent Chapelle

Responsibility of the chapel passed from one to the other in the same Busuttil family. All of them administrated it very well, providing as best they could for the spiritual needs of the people. Then in 1945, responsibility passed into the hands of Dun Ġużepp Zerafa, a priest who for seven years, rain or shine, used to come over from Raħal Ġdid to celebrate Mass every day.

During the Second World War the area, being so near to H.M.’s Dockyard, was heavily bombed by the enemy, and the chapel sustained some damage. Because of this, when the war ended the chapel was given a face-lift.

After the war il-Fgura became a fashionable place to live in, because it offered a more quiet and greener environment when compared to that in the surrounding towns. Houses began to mushroom all over, and the Labour Government, in 1955, felt the need to widen the road that took from Paola to Ħaż-Żabbar (Città Hompsech). The chapel was right in the middle of this road, and it had to be demolished and make way for this development. As a memento the people of il-Fgura built a new niche only a couple of metres away from the spot.

The Arrival of the Carmelite Friars

The Order of Carmelite Friars came to Malta in 1418, even before the arrival of the Knights of Malta. They settled at “Il-Lunzjata”, limits of ir-Rabat. From there they went to l-Imdina (Città Notabile) and, when il-Belt Valletta (Città Umilissima) was built, they erected a Basilica and convent there.

They knew well-enough about the deep devotion that the people of il-Fgura had for Our Lady of Mount Carmel. So, in 1945, they sent a small community of three monks and a brother to cater for the spiritual needs of the inhabitants of our village. They settled in a rented house in St. Simon Street, and they took upon themselves the responsibility to administer the old chapel, until it was demolished ten years later.

As soon as they set foot in il-Fgura, the Carmelite Friars started to look for some land where to build a new church to cater for the then increasing population.

The Parish Church

Anglu Camilleri and his wife Marianna offered them a piece of land where to construct a new church and a convent. The Carmelites lost no time, and they started work immediately. Architect Ġużé D’Amato drafted the plans, which were approved, and work began.

In 1948 H.G. Mgr. Michael Gonzi, Archbishop of Malta, blessed the laying of the first stone. The church was ready in just two years. It was inaugurated on the 19th November 1950, in the presence of Dr. Enrico Mizzi, Prime Minister of Malta, and blessed, again, by H.G. Mgr. Michael Gonzi, Archbishop of Malta.

Now il-Fgura had its full-size church. But the inhabitants still depended on the Parish church of Ħal Tarxien for many essential spiritual services. This situation ended on the 21st January 1965, when H.G. Mgr. Michael Gonzi, Archbishop of Malta, issued a Decree by which a parish church was established in il-Fgura. The first kappillan was Fr. Timoteo Azzopardi, O.Carm.

As years went by, however, il-Fgura expanded in all four directions, to touch Bormla (Città Cospicua), Ħaż-Żabbar (Città Hompesch), Paola and Ħal Tarxien. Not many years passed when it was evident that the church, which had been built not too long before, was fast becoming inadequate and small. So the Carmelite Friars had to do some thinking again, and pray for the help of God and the generosity of the people.

Some land was bought which was at the back of the existing church. The Carmelite Friars soon engaged Architect Victor Muscat Inglott to draw plans for a new church. The architect was to be aided by Mr. Karm. Parascandolo, who had some experience in construction. The church was to have an architecture which is very unusual for the Maltese Islands.

Work on the new church started on the 2nd January 1976. It was entrusted to the hands of Architect Godfrey Azzopardi. Architect Edward Micallef entered for the second phase and finished off the project in 1988.

The new church was solemnly inawgurated and blessed by H.G. Mgr. Ġużeppi Mercieca, Archbishop of Malta, on the 25th May of the same year.

The Nuns of ‘The Blessed Heart of Jesus’

On the 14th September 1972 a group of twelve nuns of the Order of the Sacred Heart came to il-Fgura and settled in Liedna Street. In this convent they had a small chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was held permanently, for the worship of the people. The nuns had obtained permission from the Archbishop of Malta. They used also to lend this chapel to the various religious associations, so that they could hold a prayer session or a meeting in it.

These nuns were a great help in the community. They helped people with their charitable activities, they took care of children while their parents were in church for some religious function, they visited and helped old people. They also helped in welfare campaigns, and at the Rehabilitation Centre in Kordin.

In the convent the nuns built up a lending library, which was quite well equipped with reading books and other reading material for young children. It was called the ‘Duchesne Lending Library’.

It is quite some time now that the nuns of the Sacred Heart left il-Fgura. Their convent, in Liedna Street, today is being used as a refuge and shelter for irregular immigrants.

Catholic Catechism Centres ( M.U.S.E.U.M.)

Before the Second World war, men from the Tarxien Section of the Society of Christian Doctrine (M.U.S.E.U.M.) used to come to il-Fgura to impart Catholic Doctrine lessons to the few children that lived in il-Fgura at the time.

When the war ended the number of children began to increase fastly throughout the Maltese Islands; and very much so in il-Fgura, which began to attract new families. Cathechesis was given in two small rooms; but soon the need was felt to find larger premises, and the Society bought the whole building which included the two rooms that had been used till then. This centre was at 60, Carmel Street. After some time cathecism teachers from iż-Żejtun (Città Beland) replaced those from Ħal Tarxien.

However, this solved the problem only temporarily, because the number of children in Fgura kept increasing fenominally. So a new premises was found, when the Society bought a flat in Dun Ġorġ Preca Street. This flat had more rooms and a sizeable hall for the chapel.
But it soon proved to be quite inadequate for children’s needs. Besides giving the children a religious formation, the Society of Christian Doctrine prides itself with giving them a holistic up-bringing. Children must play with each other and meet informally to make friends and help each other in a relaxing atmosphere. To satisfy these needs the Fgura section bought some land, quite near the parish church, and built it up with the exigences of children in mind. This new premises is in White Friars Street.

Fgura has also the female section of the Society of Christian Doctrine. The first premises where cathecism teachers used to give lessons in Catholic Doctrine to girls was in a small flat, on the first floor, in White Friars Street. In 1990 the Society decided to buy quite a large house in Triq il-Kampanella, where the section is still to be found today. This house offers more space for activities, other than the teaching of Catholic Doctrine.

Monuments and Gardens

In George Stevens Square there is a monument to George Stevens, a Maltese author and Founder Member of the Għaqda Letterarja Maltija. The monument is the artistic work of sculptor Alfred Camilleri Cauchi, who lives and works in Fgura. It was erected in the square on the 6th September 1986.

Another square is in fact a public garden named after Reggie Miller, the Founder of the General Workers’ Union. This garden was inaugurated on the 28th March 1976. The Hon. Mr. Lorry Sant, MP, Minister of Public Works in the Malta Labour Party Administration of the time, unveiled a commemorative plaque, which was blessed by the Fgura Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Timoteo Azzopardi, O.Carm. This garden was given a face-lift in 1996. Right in its middle lies a magnificent statue, depicting Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the work again of Alfred Camilleri Cauchi.

The inauguration of yet another public garden took place in March 2000, and was dedicated to Patri Redent Gauci – a Carmelite Friar who was a member of the first community that the Carmelite Order sent to Fgura. Patri Gauci, later, was appointed Titular Bishop of Mauritania.

Clubs in Fgura

The Fgura Scout Group had its first meeting in the Parrochial Centre on the 18th July 1987. However, the Group was officially formed on the 29th November of the same year. The first Fgura Scout Group Leader was Mr. Paul Camilleri.

The Group, today, has its premises in Mater Boni Consilii Street. Scouts have become so many in numbers that the Group has stopped recruiting for the time being. A milestone that marks the level of development of the Group is the setting up, recently, of the Beaver section.

Then come the Girl Guides. The first Group was started in 1988. Their numbers have increased progressively, and today they constitute quite a functional Group, taking part in most manifestations in Fgura.

The Fgura Football Club was founded in 1970. A year later Fgura United was affiliated to the Malta Football Association, and it began to take part in the league. In the season 1972/73 they were Runners Up, and a season later they were Champions of the Minor section.

Today they have their club in St. Thomas Street, and also their football ground, where they train and hold football competitions.

In Fgura we have also the Bowling Club (Klabb tal-Boċċi), that has an adjacent pitch. The Club was founded on the 8th December 1985.

Then there is the Pigeon Club, recently founded, with its premises in Triq il-Klerku. The Club enjoys the support of many enthusiasts of the sport.

In Fgura today we have the whole spectrum of religious and secular Associations. Specially mentioned should be the three Praesidia of the Legion of Mary, the Fgura Branch of the Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija, the Charismatic Group, the Gruppi Familji Nsara, the Cathecumenal Group, amongst others.

Local Associations

The local Musical and Social Association, with the name of Madonna tal-Karmnu was founded in 1985.

The first enthusiasts met in a garage in Kent Street, with the aim of setting up a band to play during the titular feast and other occasions.

The band was set up, and in 1986 it had its first premises in another garage in Kent Street. However, the Association did not stop there, and the Committee started looking immediately for a larger and more decorous premises.

A large house was bought in Hompesch Road and, after a lot of work and refurbishment, the new premises was inaugurated in 1991. Now the band had a more comfortable club where to meet and rehearse, and plan activities.

The Band Club set up a nursery that gives free lessons to young enthusiasts who are interested in learning a musical instrument.

It is also involved in street decorating during the Festa period, as well as with the preparation of fireworks and the pyrotechnic aspect of the titular feast of Fgura.

Political Party Clubs in Fgura

Both the large Political Parties: the Partit Nazzjonalista and the Malta Labour Party have their clubs in Hompesch Road. The first Malta Labour Party Committee was formed in 1963. The Partit Nazzjonalista set up its first Section Committee in Fgura in April 1974.

Schools

When Fgura was scantilly inhabited there was no school. Education was not obligatory at the time, and children who wanted to learn, or the parents who wanted to give an education to their children, had to send them to school in the surrounding villages: Bormla, Żejtun, Żabbar or Tarxien.

Immediately after the end of World War Two, in 1944, Dun Ġużepp Zerafa, the same one who had charge of the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, took the initiative and applied to the Director of Education, Mr. Brennan, to open a school in Fgura. Permission was granted, and the Director of Education authorised Mr. E.B.Vella to open the school.

The first great headache was to find the premises for the school. Dun Ġużepp approached a certain Mr. Cutajar, and begged him lease of two garages, with a courtyard each, with some rooms at the back, in 16 and 17 in St. Simon Street. Mr. Cutajar accepted, and this was the first school of Fgura.

As time went by, the number of children increased so much that the school administrators had to annex to it a maisonette and another garage. But soon the people of Fgura began to feel the need to have a modern, airy and adequate school for their children. The school’s Parent Teachers Association sent a petition in this regard to Government.

The Director of Education acquiesced, and soon a new and most beautiful school was built, down in Carmel Street. It was a single floor school, surrounded by gardens. Its classrooms are well-aired and lit. Later on another storey was added. It has quite a large hall where the children can hold plays and other performances. It also has large courtyards where the children can play during recreation and physical education lessons.

Cottonera Bastions

Nikola Cotoner, one of the Grandmasters of the Knights of the Order of St. John, ruled over the Maltese Islands from 1663 to 1680. During these seventeen years he worked a lot to enhance the prestige of the Order and leave a marvellous patrimony for posterity.

He ordered the covering in marble of the interior of St. John’s cathedral in Valletta. He also commissioned Mattia Preti, one of the most famous painters of his time, to embellish the cathedral with paintings on biblical themes.

However, we Maltese, especially the people who live in the south of Malta and in the harbour area, associate Grandmaster Cotoner with the building of the magnificent and imposing bastions which surround and enclose within them the three cities: Bormla, Birgu and Isla. Part of these bastions forms the boundary which separates Fgura from Bormla, with Fgura lying on the outside of these magnificent walls.

The construction of these bastions was entrusted to Engineer Maurizio Valperga, who was in the service of the Duke of Savoia, at the time. Grandmaster Cotoner introduced a property tax to finance the project, which was truly necessary if Malta were to be attacked, as the Island had been during the Great Siege of 1565.

The Grandmaster laid the first stone in August 1670, and the bastions were built stone upon stone on street level foundations. Today they are a marvellous tourist attraction.

Triq il-Karmnu ( Carmel Street )

Carmel Street is one of the oldest streets in Fgura. In the past it presented a short cut to people going from Bulebel to Ħaż-Żabbar, thus avoiding Raħal Ġdid.

The street is still dotted with farmhouses and houses, the architecture of which is reminiscent of years gone by. However, today many of these old houses gave way to new and more modern buildings, thus presenting a mixture of the old with the new. The street also houses some new commercial enterprises.

The name ‘Carmel Street’ must come from the ancient niche which housed the icon of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which stood at the end of the road, before it intersected with Hompesch Road.

Sqaq Rjallu (Rjallu Lane)

Sqaq Rjallu is the only remaining lane in Fgura, linking |abbar Road to Mater Boni Consilii Street.

Wied Blandun ( Blandun Valley )

Although the village of Fgura is mostly residential and commercial one can still find a patch of land were to enjoy nature – the Valley of Blandun, known as Wied Blandun.

Around a hundred years ago Wied Blandun was a fantastic nature haunt. Unfortunately, much of it was taken for residential development. Inspite of this, not all is lost. One can still admire trees, rubble walls, plants and water springs formations, especially after it rains.

Lately there seems to have been some rethinking, and the Authorities have embarked on a project of afforestation in the area.


The Fgura Civic Council

On the initiative of Fr. Clement Caruana, O.Carm., a Civic Council was established on the 20th November 1962. These Civic Councils were recognised by Government, and their function was to apply to Government with projects to ameliorate the living of the village people.

The first President of the Fgura Civic Council was Mr. Carmelo Attard, the Head of the Fgura Primary School, and the Secretary was Mr. George Lewis. Soon the Fgura Council affiliated to the Maltese Confederation of Civic Councils, and this enabled it to work harder and better for the development and progress of Fgura.

Among the people who dedicated their lives to work for Fgura, within the Council, special mention goes to Mr. Anthony P. Bilocca and Mr. Nazzareno Farrugia, a member of the Society of Christian Doctrine (M.U.S.E.U.M.).

Conclusion

Nowadays Fgura is a modern, developed town. Commercially, it is self-sufficient, with all kinds of shops and businesses. In these last fifty years Fgura developed fast; and from a land occupied by a few settlers, it has developed into a densely residential area, its population has reached the 12,000 mark. The people of Fgura live in new spacious roads, they can relax in public squares and gardens, and modern commercial premises cater for all their needs.

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