Gran Ballo La Valletta 2007
Great Carnival ball 2007
Gran Ballo La Valletta 2008
Great Carnival Ball 2008
It has been celebrated in Malta since the arrival of the Knights of St. John in 1535, but some studies even date the first carnival revelry back to the year 1470. Up until 1751, carnival was an activity exclusive to Valletta. Nowadays, revellers gather in every corner of the islands during the five days preceding Ash Wednesday from Nadur in Gozo to Ghaxiaq in the south of Malta. One thing is for sure, the Maltese have had valid excuses to mark carnival for hundreds of years and the celebrations have come a long way since.
Beyond any doubt the centre of attraction of today's Maltese Carnival are the grand defiles of floats in the streets of Valletta and Floriana. Though the controversy over the restriction imposed by the authorities on the themes that can be represented in floats has marred the past few editions, the celebrations involving these often ingenious devices remain as colourful and popular as ever.
Perlini u prinjolata
Perlini u prinjolata
dawn huma jiem ta briju
ghall-kbar w ghalina tfal
min jilbes ta xi buffu
min jilbes ta pirat
ilkoll incapcpu u nidhku
hadd ma jkun irrabjat
ninghqadu llkoll mal-follol
viva viva l-karnival
viva viva l-karnival
Pine-nut cake and sugared almonds
Coloured like these carnival days,
Full of noise and joy and laughter,
Of young and old with childish ways.
Some will dress as mighty pirates,
Some will dress as funny clowns,
We’ll all clap and laugh together,
No one should be wearing frowns!
So long live the masquerades and
Long live all the foolish deeds!
Let’s all join this crowd of people,
And see the floats parade the streets.
Long, long live the carnival!
Long, long live the carnival!
Some hate it... others bear it, while others simply live every day of the year waiting for those five short days, usually in February, when the silliness, the senseless and the idiotic takes over.
Carnival has been celebrated in Malta since the arrival of the Knights of St. John in 1535, but some studies even date the first carnival revelry back to the year 1470. Up until 1751, carnival was an activity exclusive to Valletta. Nowadays, revellers gather in every corner of the islands during the five days preceding Ash Wednesday from Nadur in Gozo to Ghaxaq in the south of Malta. One thing is for sure, the Maltese have had valid excuses to mark carnival for hundreds of years and the celebrations have come a long way since.
Beyond any doubt the centre of attraction of today's Maltese Carnival is the grand defiles of floats in the streets of Valletta and Floriana. Though the controversy over the restriction imposed by the authorities on the themes that can be represented in floats has marred the past few editions, the celebrations involving these often ingenious devices remain as colourful and popular as ever.
For many years, Carnival has completely entrenched itself in Maltese tradition. It represents a colourful event, in which people from all walks of life participate. Carnival in Malta takes up five days before Lent. Traditionally this was the time to indulge and feast before sobering up for the 40-day fast which in Christian and Catholic tradition preceded the Resurrection of Christ. Actually carne vale marked the period when meat and other earthly pleasures could be enjoyed in a spree prior to the commencement of the term of Lenten penitence. In Malta the five feast days are celebrated almost exclusively in the capital, Valletta, even though one can find numerous activities in other towns.
Historically, this entertainment can be traced back to the early 1400s. Encouraged by the Grand Masters of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (1530-1798), Carnival declined in the 19th century but managed to live through the period of British rule (1800-1964) and has thus been handed down in an almost unbroken tradition of about six centuries.
During the carnival days, Valletta bursts at the bastions with phosphorescent carnival floats. These floats are the mainstay of the Maltese Carnival. Massive cardboard structures, painted in an explosion of screaming colours, start their route at Floriana on the outskirts of the capital, enter Valletta's main gate, then commence a slow parade through the principal streets. The "city built for gentlemen" turns into the City of Fools for the carnival days. Prizes are awarded for the best artistic dances, costumes, floats and grotesque masks. Before the Second World War, the floats often represented local political figures. In the 1920s and 30s the caricature of political does not, however, consist only of these floats. Throughout the five days of merrymaking, numerous activities take place throughout the island.
Carnival in Gozo is a separately organised edition of the festivity. These festivities were first officially organised in Gozo in the year 1952. The Gozitans have their own floats and parades. The main activities take place in It-Tokk, the main square in Gozo's capital Victoria, and in Nadur square. The Gozitan Carnival bears witness to a separate and autonomous interpretation of the festive occasion and is therefore instilled with a character of its own, stemming from the different temperament of the people who set it up. But a parallel event, which takes place in Nadur, defies the official definition of a standardised Carnival activity such as those held in Valletta and Victoria. The novelty of the Grotesque Carnival on Nadur is that there is no organising committee to plot out its course.
Every year, there is the so-called Parata, a re-enactment in dance form of the 16th century struggle between the forces of Maltese and Knights of St John against those of the Muslim Turks. Nowadays it is mainly children who participate in the dance. The Parata is of special significance in the history of the Maltese Carnival. Under the Knights it was taken very seriously, and the Maltese eagerly awaited its performance because the rule was "no Parata, no Carnival".
Grand Master Zondadari introduced the traditional game Kukkanja in 1721. A crowd assembled in the Palace Square on Carnival Monday and at a given signal attacked the hams, sausages and live animals tied to the long beams fixed against the guard house and covered over with branches of trees in leaf. The provisions became the property of those who, having seized them, were able to carry them off in safety through the crowd.
The Carnival spirit lives on and year after year more tourists visit Malta with the sole purpose to join the revelry of the Maltese. Carnival. 2007 is being organised by the Malta Carnival Committee within the National Folklore Commission (Ministry of Tourism and Culture).
Carnivals in Malta, as we know them now, were first organised shortly after the Knights of St John came to the Island in 1535. The first that really broke out into the general jollification was probably the Carnival of 1560, when a massed Christian Armada was harbour-bound in Malta before sailing to Tripoli.The Grand Admiral sent his men ashore while Grand Master La Valette sanctioned the wearing of masks in public, which no doubt helped to ease their inhibitions. This was a marked contrast to the action of Grand Master Lascaris, who in 1639 prohibited the wearing of masks by women under penalty of their being whipped.
By the middle of the 18th Century, Carnival in Valletta was in its heyday. From 1751 onwards a rival Carnival attraction took place in Floriana a few weeks before Carnival proper and it too, involved a defile of masks and carriages. The Order encouraged the craze by staging extra Carnivals called "Mad Carnivals" for special occasions. During that period it was usual for the Grand Master's carriage to head the Carnival Procession and it would be flanked by cavalry marching to the beat of the drums.
For many years now Carnival in Malta has been re-established as a season of general jollification. Today, Carnival is one of the main Cultural events in the Maltese cultural calendar. Carnival is organised prior to the Catholic period of Lent which comes prior to the religious festivities of Easter Sunday. The main activities are held in the streets of the Maltese capital Valletta and Floriana, but other activities are held in various villages in Malta and in Gozo.
Carnival in Gozo
In the villages of the Island of Gozo the people used to make up the carnival carts themselves. They used to decrorate their horse-carts with palm leaves and other types of leaves, and anything which they managed to find around in those exciting pre-Carnival days. Ready-made costumes were hard to find and expensive to buy, therefore, they used to make up their own costumes out of sheets, blankets and other every-day clothes. At sunset, the maskarati (people wearing a mask and clothes to disguise themselves), used to come out into the streets, shouting, whistling and doing things which would be regarded as strange, during the normal days of the year. Sometimes, they used to throw sweets, while those who could afford them, used to throw sweet almonds. At those times, the streets of Gozo used to be poorly lit. This helped in encouraging these maskarati to put aside their habitual shyness and throw themselves along with the others, enjoying the outraging happiness. This was to be the Carnival of the past, a Carnival with no set of rules and organisation. But it was a spontaneous Carnival, a Carnival inspired from the psychological needs of the people who used to live a very hard life, full of restrictions and limitations. Fortunately this type of Carnival has set roots in several villages of Gozo and one can still enjoy them at Nadur, Xaghra and Sannat.
The grotesque and macabre Carnival in Nadur is a unique experience and has become one of the biggest spontaneous events which take place in the Maltese Islands
What is Carnival?
Held in the days before Lent - in earlier times, the period of fasting in the run-up to Easter - carnival has mysterious origins. The name probably derived from the Italian word "carne" meaning meat, and "levare", translated as "to take away". In this case, carnival would have signified a time to go without meat and other good things!
But, it may be interpreted as the exact opposite, because the Italian word "vale" means that something is "permissible". Carnival would then have been an excuse to eat, drink and be merry before the fasting began!
Whatever its origins, carnival today in Malta is a week of lively activity; a time to join in street processions and enjoy the company of neighbours and friends outdoors again after the winter. In a sense, carnival time is the first rite of spring.
Carnivals of yesteryear...
The first documentary evidence of carnival in Malta dates back to the time of the Knights of St John in around 1535. Throughout the rule of the Order, carnival in Malta had rather a chequered history. Some Grand Masters let Carnival take on the ribaldry for which it is famous today, while others, of a stricter religions leaning, regulated it, preferring less rowdy behaviour.
In fact, in 1535, Grand Master Pierino del Ponte was outraged by the participation of the knights in such carnival activities as jousting and fencing. He felt that as members of a religious order, the Knights should not be involved in the festivities of the locals. The tradition of wearing masks may heave started around this time as knights tried to disguise their participation in the events.
A century later, another Grand Master took further steps to limit the revelry by prohibiting, females from wearing masks and preventing carnival balls being organised in the auberge (palaces) of the various langues (nationalities) of the Knights.
Despite attempts to put a stop to the increasing anarchy of the festivities, Maltese carnival developed a host of games and events, which became part and parcel of carnival tradition by the 19th century. Challenge Competitions tested the strength and prowess of the young local men, while the nobility adopted a taste for carnival balls - the most renown being held in the splendour of the Manoel Theatre in the old Valletta. The ball seems to have developed later into the popular national dance, the Maltija.
And the festival today...
Carnival today may be a more organised event, but it has not lost any of its spontaneity and energy of carnivals past. Two main carnival processions take place: one in Valletta; the other in Nadur, a small village in Gozo where the festivities are renown for their sometimes-darker overtones.
By the 20th century, carnival was organised by the British Governors of the islands. The Valletta carnival became the preserve of the upper classes, while Nadur was venue for the festivities of the lower classes. Today, the distinction no longer exists - many Maltese, and tourists, often spend the weekend in Gozo specially to take part at Nadur, while everyone enjoys the Valletta processions.
Preparing for carnival is a serious business; a national committee organises the route and timing of the festivities. Today, many villages also hold their own events, carnival costume competitions and processions, drawing an even larger audience to the festivities. But the hub of the organised activities is in Malta's capital Valletta, in Freedom Square, where a stage and seating are specially erected for open-air performances of dance, drama and song. In Gozo, Main Square in Victoria (Rabat) is the scene of the scheduled events. These two squares provide the venue the all-important "judging" of the competition floats and costumes.
So wherever you are on the islands, you are likely to come across some sort of carnival activity following the traditional pattern: processions of floats, children in fancy dress and adults in papier mache masks depicting funny and grotesque figures. Processions are typified by cleverly designed, humorous 'theme' floats, Maltese horsedrawn carriages (Karrozzin) brightly festooned, band marches and an array of followers wearing homemade costumes. Different band clubs from the same village will often compete just to add spice to the event.
And, of course, with carnival being the time to feast and make merry before the austerity of Lent, you would expect Malta to have its very own festive fare! It would be hard to miss the Maltese carnival cake, the Prinjolata. Around carnival time, this enormous white dome of sponge, cream, mixed with chopped peel and almonds standards in pride of place on bars in cafes and patisseries Don't be overwhelmed by its richness and size - you can ask to taste it by the slice! Lining the carnival procession route, you'll find street vendors selling all sorts of festive confectionery - the traditional carnival sweets are Perlini or small white, almonds.
Come join the festivities!
While carnival is common in many Mediterranean countries, the festivities in Malta have some unusual characteristics and travelling around Malta and Gozo at carnival time, you are bound at some time to find yourself swept up in a swirling crowd decked out in elaborate masks