MEETING WITH THE MAYOR, JOE ATTARD
ZEJT IZ-ZEJTUN A PROJECT OF HERITAGE REGENERATION
Hello explorers 🙂 Last time I brought you to Zejtun for the charming and tasting event of Zejt iz-Zejtun or the Festival of the Olive Oil.
In that article, click here, I showed you the magic of Zejtun dressed up in a medieval style to celebrate the new olive-picking season, an event full of colours, music, local food and the magic of the Knight of Malta parade (see the video click here).
I definitely wanted to know more about this event and why it is held in Zejtun. I came back home with a question: why Zejtun is so related with the olive oil?
I went back again in Zejtun and this time I asked all my question the the first citizen, the Mayor Mr Joe Attard, who was so kind to tell me the story of this village.
He actually told me: “Flora, your curiosity for the Festival of the Olive Oil is bringing you to find the historical origin of Zejtun!”
Wow, that is real treasure hunt, I thought 😉
Joe Attard continued telling me that the Zejt iz-Zejtun is the result of a project of heritage regeneration.
Flora: “Please Joe, can you tell me more about this project?”
Joe Attard: “All right Flora. Maybe you don’t know but during the Roman Period Zejtun was an important village, for two reasons. The Roman chose Zejtun as their main base in the South first because it is located above the sea and overlooks the bays of Marsascala and Marsaxlokk and second, because it was surrounded by a fertile countryside.
Consider that St Thomas Bay, now under the Local Council of Marsascala, was called “il Ramla ta Zejtun”, the Bay of Zejtun.
Then as you probably know, the Romans used to cultivate olive trees, because oil was essential for their daily life and in Malta they could harvest the olives in late September, before than in Italy.
Flora: So during the Romans Zejtun and the South of Malta were the main agricultural and commercial area thanks to the proximity of the harbour and for the agriculture. I can figure out how beautiful was Malta covered by olive trees. Then what happened?
Joe Attard: “You are right Flora. Before the arrival of the Knights of St John and the establishment of Valletta as a capital city, the capital was Medina, well protected by its geographical position and the South of Malta was a very lively area. The ruins of the Roman villa found inside the Secondary School here in Zejtun and the ruins of the Temple of Juno found at Tas Silg show as that the Romans where established, for economical and defensive reasons, mainly here in the South (in the pictures below you can find some display with pictures of the Roman villa and some displays in Maltese language).
Before the Romans the Phoenicians established here and after the Romans the Byzantines, as is it testified by the Temple of Tas Silg, which has different layers belonging to three different religious sites, it was:
- The Temple of the goddess Astarte for the Phoenicians,
- The Temple of Juno for the Romans and
- A Byzantine Basilica.
Unfortunately, with the arrival of the Byzantines the cultivation of the olive trees begin to wane, as they didn’t actually inhabited Malta as a residence but just as a spot for refurbishment.
When the Arabs arrived they found mainly uncultivated olive trees, that’s why you find many villages called Zebbug.
Flora: So it seems clear now the difference of the meaning between the name of Zebbug or Birzebbugia and Zejtun.
Joe Attard: Zejtun means ‘cultivated olive tree’ and again from the toponymy we have the evidence of the flourish agricultural and economic centre of Zejtun, where the cultivated trees probably still persisted when the Arabs arrived. That’s why they named the villages differently. The fact that there are more places in Malta with the root of the name as ‘Zebbug’ than ‘Zejtun’, can indicate that when the Arabs arrived the cultivation of olive tree where almost at its end. The Arabs then improved the cultivation of cotton replacing the olive trees.
Flora: “I guess that your project is to revive the olive oil tradition”.
Joe Attard: “Exactly. After about 1000 years, we are regenerating our heritage that is based on the olive tree. That is why I promoted the Feast of the Olive tree, “Zejt iz-Zejtun”, to develop the consciousness about our agricultural and cultural heritage.
Furthermore, to support and encourage some farmer families in their project of restoration of their farms the Local Council is restoring the countryside street called “from chapel to chapel” (see the pictures of the two chapels below). This street in the outskirt of Zejtun connects the village with Marsascala and Marsaxlokk, passing by Tas Silg.
Along that countryside street six farms are being converted in agritourist accommodation (some pictures below), for tourists who want to live a special holiday in contact with nature and with the local farmers.
In the same area of the countryside street, there is also a winery with a tasting area and some cow farms, consider that about the 70% of the Maltese milk is produced in Zejtun.