Xemxija Heritage Trail
Xemxija Heritage Trail
Being part of Maltese heritage, the Punic Roman road is still preserved for a considerable length and is unique in Malta. The stones holding up the road surface are in good condition despite their age – over 2000 years old. Channels were cut along the road at the most opportune points where water would naturally collect.
This road is one of the network which connected the settlements and served to transport farm produce as well as salt. Besides, this road is also known as the Pilgrims Way, an old road taken by pilgrims on their way to our lady’s sanctuary in Mellieħa.
A long stretch of the rubble walls has been repaired and rebuilt in places. These walls are an integral part of our heritage and are a characteristic of the Maltese countryside. The functional purpose of these walls is threefold.
That of retaining the soil in place especially in sloping areas and terraced fields
That of acting as a limit and extent of a property or demarcation lines, dividing properties
To serve as a windbreak for the protection of trees and plants.
An interesting feature of these walls is the lack of a bonding agent. Rubble walls house a variety of flora and fauna, such as snails, geckos, lizards, snakes, and other creatures, as well as plants and flowers.
A few metres up the Roman road lies a large vertical rock known as a megalith, monolith, standing stone or as commonly known Menhir. This is of a prehistoric origin connected with the ancient temple builders of Haġar Qim, Mnajdra, Ġgantija and others.
Menhirs are distinguishable from dolmens by the fact that they are usually single stones. The Menhir, as an architectural feature is of unknown origin, but archaeologists seem to associate it with the Neolithic period, since pottery shreds collected from different sites usually date to that period. This single Menhir is placed only a few metres in front of a whole line of Neolithic and Bronze Age tombs
Cave of the Galley
This is one of the many caves that abound in the area, which were used for human habitation in the not too far distant past. Originally, it must have been a prehistoric tomb during the Neolithic, possibly up to the Roman period. What is particularly interesting is the presence of an etching or graffiti of a war galley on the left hand jab of the doorway. These graffiti are usually found on prehistoric temple walls, churches chapels and bastions, dating from the 17th to the 18th century, as symbols of thanksgiving on sailors’ safe return.
Apiaries are structures or caves where bees are kept for the production of honey. Malta has always been known for its first class honey. Some even sustained that the name Melita (Latin for Malta) is formed from the word mel which in Latin means honey. Most apiaries are built facing south, an orientation beekeepers chose for maximum light and warmth needed by bees. Following the Roman road just before one arrives at the top of the hill is a cluster of four apiaries, two of which have recently been restored to their former glory.
The buildings must date back to Punic-Romain times according to the size and workmanship of the stones. The apiary is sectioned into alcoves, each containing two stone shelves, with a terracotta beehive (qolla) behind each hole. The hives are lying on their sides with the neck right behind the outside hole. They were blocked by pieces of wood which the bees sealed from inside with wax.
To harvest the honey, the farmer removed the board and cut the layer of the honeycomb, leaving sufficient honey for the bees to survive. Practially all the caves in the area all the way up to Manikata conserve traces of human habitation. These include the apiaries, which also show signs of having been used for burial purposes.
The Oldest Carob Tree
Right at the corner at an angle from the Roman Apiaries, lies what is known to be the oldest carob tree in Malta. It is around 1000 years old and is over 7.25 metres in circumference.
It’s well known coloured pod-shaped fruit. Known in northern countries as Johannesbrot (St. John’s Bread), harveted in mid-August, was the main source of fodder for goats, cattle, equines and rabbits. Man extracted sugar solutions from it in the past and still does so today. Yielding a sweet extract when the fruit is boiled, it is allowed to set and then serves as blocks of sweet (karamelli), when the liquid solidifies. Traditionally, this sweet is very popular on Good Friday, as one can have a sweet without breaking the fast. Home made syrup (ġulepp) prepared from this fruit for soothing a cough is still very popular.
In very rough times during World War II ,many people satisfied their hunger by eating the fleshy part of the fruit.
An extract of carob’s seed known commercailly as the Long Bean Gum (LBG) is used i many food preparations for its solidifying qualities. It is said that the word carat used for weighing gold is derived from an Arabic word qirat, which is the carob seed used as weight. The carob tree also provides food for the bees that thrive on its flowers. Honey produced from these flowers tends to be very dark in colour.