Get your loudest and most frivolous glad rags ready – the carnival is coming to town!
From Nigeria to Nassau, Rio de Janeiro to Notting Hill, carnival parades are an established part of the world’s annual agenda, with crowds thronging the streets to celebrate their country’s history and culture. But for many, it’s just another excuse to get dressed up in wild and wonderful costumes and get just a little bit, well, silly.
The Malta Carnival, set in sun-drenched Mediterranean surrounds, is no different.
Steeped in years of carnival history and tradition, Malta’s highly anticipated annual celebration returns in February, and, for five days and nights, will turn the streets into a playground of revelry and merriment.
The Malta Carnival has been celebrated since 1535, when the Knights of St. John first arrived on its shores – although some studies have found carnival history dating back as early as 1470. While numerous towns and villages across the island take part in the festivities, the heart of the action can be found in the journey from Floriana to the charming Maltese capital, Valletta; whose quaint streets provide a photogenic backdrop to the entertainment.
Each year, the city of Valletta is transformed into an ocean of giant parading floats: a sea of explosive colour depicting everything from important historical figures to enormous clowns. Starting in Floriana, the parade makes its way to the main gates of Valletta, where it begins a leisurely meander through the streets of the capital. Traditionally, it was common for the floats to satirise well-known political leaders, and became famous for its piercing political themes. Although this custom has been banned since the 1930s, it was reintroduced again at last year’s event.
Like many celebrations in Malta, food and drink play an important role at Carnival so make sure to try the traditional carnival treat, Prinjolata – a cream, chocolate and cherry-topped sponge cake, aptly described as a sweet mound of mess – to ingrain yourself a little more in the spirit of things!
Another tradition at Carnival is a public display of the traditional Parata dance. Mainly showcased by children in modern times, the Parata recollects the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 and the struggle between the Knights of St. John and the Muslim Turks, re-enacted in the form of a light-hearted buoyant dance. The show has been a routine feature of the Malta Carnival for centuries, with prizes awarded for the best artistic dances.
Senglea is a small, fortified city on a peninsular parallel to Vittoriosa. A pedestrian bridge connects it to its larger neighbour and two grand forts – Fort St Michael and Fort St Angelo – stand guard either side of the city. Unlike the other Three Cities of Malta, Senglea escaped from the Great Siege relatively unscathed, thanks to protection from the forts. The city was renamed from L’Isla (meaning ‘the island’) to Senglea, after the man who fortified it in 1551, Grand Master Claude de la Senglea. It’s also commonly known as Citta’ Invicta (the invincible city). However, Senglea’s luck unfortunately ran out during WWII, when a staggering 75% of its buildings were damaged. In the years since, many key sites (such as the Our Lady of Victories Parish Church) have been restored to their former glory.