A Maltese Melody
On the tails of a three-day shoot in Buenos Aires, I find myself on a connecting flight out of Frankfurt Airport into the Mediterranean. This time for a 12hr sunlight chase from the eastern coast of Malta to the western cliffs of Gozo.
A Maltese Melody
DISEMBARKING off LH1276 at Malta International Airport, I’m assaulted by a blast of sweltering humidity. It’s nearly paralytic, scented by sea salt, and strangely welcoming. So begins an island experience in the Mediterranean for Lufthansa’s City of the Month series. With me is London-based adventure photographer Alex Stead. Though the capital city Valletta offers a veritable array of charming streets, ancient architecture, and Italian cafes, we opt to explore the entire archipelago - one giant photo-playground.
Alarms go off at 5:10am the following morning. Coffee. Cameras. Drone. Geared up, it’s full RPM out of Valletta, hell bent for the eastern coastline of the island. It’s a race against time for a sunrise shoot of a local diving spot named St. Peter’s Pool. Reliant on low 3G signal, spotty Google Maps, and dubious sign posts spotted along the way, we weave and bounce over rocky terrain. Hemmed by ancient limestone walls, the roads are barely wide enough for our junkyard car to scrape through.
With dust billowing behind us cinematically, we peel into a dirt lot atop the cliffs just in time as dawn breaks out over the Sea. Alex takes the lead, scrambling down like a young Indiana Jones in board shorts, and I follow in hot pursuit. Down in the cove, the clock ticks 6:39am – sunrise. We unpack our gear, and cameras begin firing away while the drone is released into the wild. It’s not long before the day’s Maltese blue and Mediterranean gold comes echoing through the skies, rushing in with the tide.
Treading Through Antiquity
SHOTS scored, breakfast is on our minds. Google promises options in the sea-side town of Marsaskala. Based on nearby villas, catacombs, and baths dating back to antiquity, it’s highly suspect that this small picturesque village was once a thriving Roman port. Today, wooden skiffs and small sailboats bob in the harbour, carefree. We select a waterfront caffé where a wide-eyed waitress frets when my piping hot homemade brioche con marmellata turns out to be chocolate. She’s nearly in tears and I’m suddenly gripped by the sensation that I’ve walked into a scene of Pierrot Le Fou. I assure her the world will not explode into flames.
From the coastline, we cut inland and an ancient fortress looms into view. History points to Phoenician settlers arriving around the 8th century BC, establishing the city of Maleth as an administrative centre, and ruling the islands for over half a millennium. After Roman conquest in 218 BC, both island and city became known as Melite. Following the city’s fall to an Arab dynasty down the line, the city then adopted the name Medina, giving way to the present-day appellative: Mdina.
“Places have memories. They remember everything. It’s engraved in stone.” – Wim Wenders
Situated on the highlands, Mdina is widely known today as “The Silent City.” As if we were outlaws hiding from Roman soldiers, we slink surreptitiously through narrow alleys, ever wary for any tourist Praetoriani that might be on the march. Aside from a few close encounters, the labyrinthine citadel is stoic. Our footfalls echo eerily. We follow shadows that pierce out of the sky and carve down timeless walls faded smooth over aeons. There is a feeling that time is quietly being sucked away through these stones. Oh, what dark secrets they must guard.
An Island of Giants
“MAYBE we should get moving? I want to get set up in time by sunset,” suggests Alex regarding the Azure Window, our ultimate destination. With that, we cruise our way through a string of sun soaked villages to the Ċirkewwa Terminal where the westbound ferry takes us to Gozo. Though nearly one third the size of Malta, this neighbouring island commands a wild presence that out-shadows the mainland. I find it mystical, supernatural, and archaic. In fact, as Gozitan folklore would have it, the Neolithic temples sleeping on this island were the handiwork of giants once living here. Having started the day along the eastern cliffs of the Maltese Islands, we now approach the rugged western-most coastline of Gozo.
The road drops down to a small parking lot where an empty café sits forlornly beside an equally uncomfortable church. The scenery is otherwise desolate. Walking towards the sonorous thunder of the Sea, the landscape peels way to what we’ve travelled so far to witness. I am overcome by disbelief, awe, and fear. The wind snaps and snarls at my hair. Sun light flares. The water swirls and foams. It gathers itself and pounds up against Jurassic cliffs. It is staggering. And yet, against such monstrous might of the elements, the arch stands tall in all its primordial glory. Indelible. A monstrous gateway for giants.
As the sun dips and turns the world into a Turner, our travel fatigue sinks in. We shoulder our gear and hesitantly walk back with many a wistful glance back. Dusk carries us home to Valletta. The darkness is occasionally offset by our flashing grins, though conversation is minimal. How could words ever capture the beauty of natural powers that are so formidable, ferocious, and utterly uncontrollable? What is certain in my mind is this: when the day is done, the paperwork finished, and the parties have died in the city, the wild wide ocean will never fail to terrify and inspire me.
Text & Photography: Mr. Vagabond
CityoftheMonth for Lufthansa