National Geographic : 1935 Nov
THE MALTESE ISLANDS SOCCO Malta 4Y, S Srru tr--- - Italy)--- S5 L 1Tripo 0 5 LONGITUDE 10 EAST OF 0SGREENWICH 20 ALMOST IN THE CENTER OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, THE MALTESE ISLANDS REAR THEIR HEADS A hundred and forty miles from Europe's mainland and 180 miles from Africa, they guard the busy marine highway between Gibraltar and Suez. Italian territory, the coast of Sicily, is only 58 miles away. Strategic location and its spacious harbors have given Malta a place in history out of all proportion to its size. races. These races for horses and donkeys are of unknown but undoubtedly great age. The course is a piece of straight, hard road leading uphill to the big square in front of Notabile, where from his great stone box the Grand Master in former days handed down, and now the Governor of Malta hands down, the banners of victory to the winning competitors. Spectators, including leading families of the island, watch the proceedings from two smaller but similar boxes flanking that of the Governor. The name Imnaria is a corruption of luminaria, illumination, for it was the cus tom on that day to illuminate the churches of Notabile and adjacent Rabat in honor of the two saints. A more picturesque, if less trustworthy, tradition derives Imnaria from Hymen, the God of Marriage, it being sup posed that the young men of the island were wont in former times to choose their wives from among the maidens coming to watch the contest. The banners still given as prizes are long and narrow pieces of brocade of dif ferent colors. The fortunate winners take them back to their village to be used as altar cloths of the parish churches for the ensuing year. Visitors are always interested in the jaldetta (more properly called ghonnella) of the Maltese women. This headdress does not owe its existence, as some allege, to the excessive gallantry of Bonaparte's troops, but is of much more ancient origin. It is a voluminous hood of rich silk, stiffened inside the top edge by a piece of cardboard about a yard long, black everywhere save in the villages of Zabbar and Zeitun, where it is blue. One end rests on the head while the other has to be held (see page 655). This striking adornment, or rather, con cealment, is Malta's one characteristic ar ticle of dress and constitutes the local method of shrouding a woman's face and form, a custom common to southern lati tudes from India west to the Azores. Its one drawback is that it takes up so much space, more space, unfortunately, than is available in the motorbus, which is modern Malta's form of land transport. FROM STONE AGE TO THE KNIGHTS The dominant architectural notes of the Maltese islands are megalithic and baroque, and the gamut thus constituted can scarcely be called a narrow one. Ro man remains include villas and catacombs. There survives a certain amount, although not very much, of Sicilian Gothic, particu larly one complete house in Notabile, whose owner has been at pains to preserve and restore it wisely and furnish it suitably.