Iż-Żejtun (Città Beland)

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 Iż-Żejtun (Citta' Beland)

Iż-Żejtun (Citta' Beland), meaning the fruit of the olive tree, covers the top of a hill, that dominates the nearby bays of Marsaxlokk, St Thomas and Marsascala, popular ports of call for all Mediterranean sailors since Phoenician times. They also provided convenient landing beaches for invaders. Hence the location was important as a lookout post for any approaching shipping. Archeological remains indicate that the area around Iż-Żejtun was already inhabited in Punic and Roman times, when the bay of Marsaxlokk was a very important port of call both for imports and exports.

Originally Iż-Żejtun (Terra Santa Caterina) covered the whole south east part of the island extending to the outskirts of the walls protecting Cottonera and including Ħaż-Żabbar, Marsascala and Marsaxlokk. The inhabitants of Iż-Żejtun proper till 1680 formed two separate communities known as Bisqallin (Lower Village) and Ħal Ġwann/Bisbut(Upper Village).

Development during the eighteenth century and the construction of the new parish church according to the design of Lorenzo Gafa',between the two communities formed the present centre and linked the community.

The old Parish Church of the town,dating from 1200, is Iż-Żejtun's oldest church, and a statue of Pope St Gregory the Great decorates its parvis. Though dedicated to St Catherine, Iż-Żejtun's first parish church is commonly known as St Gregory's because of the annual procession to this place. This present church was constructed on and around the site occupied by a watch tower and the old medieval church and dates from sixteenth century. For about three centuries this building served as the parish church for all the south-east of Malta.

Secret passages in the south and south east walls of the Church provided shelter for sentinels who were detailed to provide advance warning signals to the inhabitants of the locality as well as those of the old capital Imdina in the north of the island. These piratical raids round Malta are frequently recorded, the last one being in 1614 when North African pirates where met and defeated by the inhabitants of Iż-Żejtun.

After this incident the inhabitants of the locality enjoyed relative peaace since the Knights of Saint John han not only constructed the fortifications of Valletta but also the Coastal Towers of Saint Thomas and Saint Lucian to guard the south coast, thus providing better protection for the town,

Iż-Żejtun was raised to the status of town in 1797 by the German Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch, who honoured Iż-Żejtun with the title Citta` Bylandt (Maltese "Beland"), The fortifications built by the Order around Iż-Żejtun served little hindrance to the forces of Napoleon, and Iż-Żejtun was the first town to fall to the invaders. The inhabitants were very active during the two year revolt against the French occupiers.

During the British occupation the majority of the inhabitants were employed with the British services. During World War II, the inhabitants of Iż-Żejtun were actively involved in the war effort against the Axis forces. The end of the war brought much unemployment, and emigration between 1950 and 1970 decreased Iż-Żejtun's population. The last thirty years however marked significant progress and Iż-Żejtun is now a thriving town with good prospects for the future. Following the construction of new housing estates, the population increased to 12,000 individuals of particular interest to Iż-Żejtun is the olive tree cultivation and the production of olive oil. This industry was prevalent in Malta, especially during Roman times, but over the years this activity declined especially when cotton cultivation became popular around 200 years ago. There has been a renewal of interest in olive tree cultivation during recent years. This late industry is gradually being revived and the opening of olive picking season is celebrated during the folk festival ŻEJT IŻ-ZEJTUN on the last weekend of September.

                
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