Exploring the Xemxija Heritage Trail
Xemxija Heritage Trail is one of those places that I like to return annually. There is always something cool to rediscover and now I’m returning with my nearly 3 year old son.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve read this photo blog already back in 2017, but I’ve updated it in July 2021. I hope you like the new version more. 🙂
If you start the trek from the same point as I did, which is marked on the map at the end of this blog, you will start with the Roman Road.
These stones are the original ones that were cut in a local quarry in rectangular or square shapes and they are about 2000 years old. It was mainly used for heavily loaded animal driven carts. It served to transport farm produce, salt as well as connected the settlements in the area. The channel alongside the road collects all the rainwater.
The Roman road is also known as The Pilgrim’s Way, basically an old road that was taken by the pilgrims on the way to Our Lady’s sanctuary in Mellieha. Some of them were even carrying chain. Later on, up the road, you can see crosses carved in the rock.
Cave of the Gallery
The first of many caved found in the area was also used for human habitation. It was originally a prehistoric tomb. You can notice the well structured entrance made out of large stones. When you will be walking in look on your left, there are graffiti of war galley on the left side of the doorway.
The Roman Apiaries
This will for you arguably the most interesting part of this whole tour. The Roman Apiary. Malta has been always known for its first-class honey. And here is an interesting twist. MEL in Latin means honey. Melita is a national personification of Malta. The name originated from the Punic-Roman town of Melite, the ancient capital of Malta, which eventually developed in the city of Mdina.
Now back to apiaries. The apiaries are basically structures / caves where the bees where kept to produce honey. Most of them were built facing the south to have the maximum amount of light and warmth throughout the day. These apiaries are very unique and this first one is the only one of its kind in Malta – artistically constructed with arches and large stones worked to perfection.
The structure of the apiaries have to date back to Punic-Roman times. The apiary is divided into niches, each contained two stone shelves with terracotta (clay/hlína) beehive behind each hole.
1000 Year Old Carob Tree
This is the oldest carob tree on the Maltese Islands and it is over 1000 years old. It’s over 7m in circumference. Carob tree is also known as St John’s bread. The carob tree has fruit that looks like a dark brown pea pod, which carries pulp and seeds.
Carob is actually a sweet healthy substitute for chocolate. One can also make a fruit sweetener – the carob syrup – using the extracts from carob pods. It can be used to sweeten up your tea, coffee, porridge, pancakes etc.
The tree also provides food for the bees, they thrive on its flowers and the honey produced tends to be darker in colour. There is also a poem about the 1000 year old carob tree dating back to 1999, 22 years ago.
This used to be a burial cave used for burials in ancient times. The roof collapsed some time ago.
This is actually the only Punic Tomb found in Xemxija. It dates back to 500BC and it’s still in a very good condition and about 2ms deep. The rectangular shaft leads to the burial chamber. No, I never went down to check out if there is actually something to see, however during my last visit one young man actually jumped in to see and there was… nothing!
This is a prehistoric deep silo cut in the rock. It would have been used to store grains and other cereals. There is evidence that it was later turned into a water cistern.
This cave was lived in until the 1930s. Not that long ago if you ask me. They most likely date back to the Punic times. Caves like these used to be divided into sections by dry rumble walls. One for the parents, one for the children and one for the animals. The dwellers used to sleep on hay – dry grass – which would keep them warm and at the same time protect them from the ground humidity.
In wartime these caves also served as shelter during enemy raids.
Unfortunately these are only remains of what was an old rustic building that possibly served as an extension to the cave. As you can see there is total lack of mortar to hold the stone together. Which is unfortunately a habit that stayed with us till today on modern buildings. Notice that there is no binder to hold the bricks together.
I know it doesn’t have a roof now, but when it had it was used for many things to dry clothes as well as onions and pumpkins or as storage of straw.
These baths were discovered relatively recently during maintenance activities in May 2000. This is the Roman Period Bath complex and the baths had pool and cold, lukewarm and hot rooms cut into the rocks. Before it was turned into a bath complex, the cave was also used as a burial site most likely in Punic times around 500BC. I don’t know how about you, but I wouldn’t want to bath in a cemetery!
This outside wall and the arched doorway were constructed in the 17th century turning the baths into a farmhouse or a dwelling.
Now when you enter you will find yourself in a large hall , which probably served as a tepidarium – a warm bathroom of the Roman baths. On the left there was probably a caldarium – a hot room.
If you go up to the upper level you would be able to see a space, which was a huge cistern that was dug to collect the spring water. Which might have been also used at some point it time as a silo to store grains.
These kind of baths required a lot of water, which was provided by a couple of springs, which were up to few years ago running down to Mistra valley.
Eventually the baths had to be abandoned due to decline of the rocks and some major cracks.
Right below the Roman Bath you can see what a typical farm house would look like back in the day to cater for the farmer’s family, animals as well as offering enough storage for his tools and his crops. The dwelling was planned around the courtyard where all the windows would be facing. If you pass from the main road, you will notice there are no windows on that site.
If there would be windows on the outside walls, they would be small and usually on the second floor. Some rooms would have small ‘holes’ that the farmer could use as a spy-holes or to insert a gun to defend his family and his produce if needs be.
Also as you can notice the staircase used to be build outside of the house. Not exactly practical, but it can be noticed in many old houses till today, especially in Gozo’s farmhouses.
There are quite a few of these cart-ruts all over Malta. The width is usually around 1,3 – 1,4m and the depth of the ruts varies, usually up to 60cm deep. There is a lot of mystery surrounding these cart-ruts. They were probably caused by the heavy wheels of the carts in the relatively soft limestone.
Stone huts also known as ‘girda’. It consists of one single room with double walls of bare unplastered stone. There are quite a few of these dotted around the Maltese islands. Some are square, rectangular or circular shape. There is no rule when it comes to its size, height or width. Some say it was used for residential purposes, but if that’s true it looks rather small. On the other hand, the farmer’s land was sometimes quite far from his house, so he could use it to store his tools and corps.
This Girda is located away from all the above mentioned sites. They are all dotted around the area in a close proximity to Xemxija. The Girda is located the opposite direction, approximately half way through the nearby forested area. There is a path leading up to it. If you look for it you will surely find it.
Support me 🙂
As promised below you can find the exact point where the Xemxija Heritage Trail starts. Enjoy!