HISTORICAL EVENTS that occurred in JANUARY of past centuries

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The  Earthquake of 11th JANUARY 1693

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On 11th January, 1693, at 2 p.m., a powerful earthquake hit Malta. This earthquake is possibly the most powerful one ever to have been recorded in the history of the Maltese islands. The epicentre of this earthquake seems to have occurred in the southern region of Sicily, where it is estimated that some 50,000 people were killed and many buildings were destroyed.  Fortunately, in Malta, not one single person died, though some Maltese working at the time in the port of Augusta, Sicily perished but property belonging to the Order of St John, in both Augusta and Syracuse were damaged. In Malta, the earthquake also caused lots of damage, especially to higher buildings, such as the Mdina Cathedral, the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria in the Citadel of Gozo, the parish church of Senglea, and other buildings in Valletta and in the Cottonera area.  The sheer terror of this awesome quake made many Maltese take to the streets and pilgrimages and vigils were subsequently held in various places.


terremoto 1693


The Attack on H.M.S. Illustrious  JANUAY 16 – 19, 1941.

On January 10, the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Illustrious, then engaged in military operations in the Mediterranean was attacked by Junker planes of the Luftwaffe that were stationed in Sicily. During these attacks the aircraft carrier sustained considerable damage and was thus compelled to limp into the Grand Harbour to undergo vital repairs. On January 16, a large number of Junker and Stukas took off from Sicily and headed for Malta, with the single purpose of sinking the aircraft carrier as it lay crippled at Parlatorio Wharf, below Corradino Hill. During the numerous attacks that followed, Senglea and the towns of Birgu, Bormla and Valletta suffered terribly with Senglea taking the full brunt, the town being practically annihilated. Indeed, on that day and those following, during the merciless onslaught that ensued, the harbour many people were killed. In one instance some 33 people died, buried together, as they took shelter inside the sacristy of church of St Lawrence in Birgu. On January 19, another massive attack took place as some 100 Stukas again were dispatched from Sicily to destroy the Illustorious. Yet this vessel was so well defended by anti-aircraft that it did not suffer any serious damage. On the contrary, twenty of these planes were shot down from the skies by Maltese gunners. This was the first wave of air raids by the Luftwaffe on Malta during the Second World War but was by far more ferocious than any previous attacks led by Mussolini’s Aeornautica Militare. The German aircraft dropped 1000 lb bombs, while some nose dived towards their target while sounding their Jerico trumpets to spread terror amongst the Maltese defenders. In the aftermath, a mass exodus of thousands of residents from the Cottonera area ensued, many seeking refuge in other towns and villages in Malta as well as on Gozo.


illustrious Attack - Copy

The Execution of Dun Mikiel Xerri – 17th JANUARY, 1799

On January 17, 1799, Dun Mikiel Xerri, a priest and 42 other Maltese rebels were executed by French firing squads in the Place de la Liberté, in Valletta, previously known as Piazza San Giorgio. Dun Mikiel, together with other insurgents in Valletta had been plotting to overpower the French watch posted at the Marsamxett Gate at dead of night in order to allow open the gate to allow the Maltese militia, then besieging the town, to enter and overwhelm the unwary French troops billeted inside the capital. The plot was hatched weeks before between a group of men led by Dun Mikiel Xerri, and his aide, Lorenzo Guglielmi, a Corsican pirate, a sympathiser of the Maltese cause. Dun Mikiel Xerri was the prime link –  the spy, conniving with the commanders of the Maltese militias posted in various military locations surrounding the Grand Harbour.  Alas, the plot was discovered by a French officer while crossing by boat Marsamxett Harbour, from Valletta to fort Manoel Island. He noted strange movements below the capital’s fortification walls, at some distance outside the Marsamxett Gate. He thus alerted the French command in Valletta and soon the French troops rounded up the insurgents and their ringleaders.  Dun Mikiel Xerri and his accomplices were brought to trial and soon thereafter were summarily executed in small numbers throughout the number of days that followed.  The  monument recalling this ill-fated episode stands erect in Independence Square, in front of the Auberge d’Aragon, Valletta. I keep wondering why such monument is not located in Misraħ San Ġorġ the spot where the executions actually took place. Such a monument and that of recalling the Sette Giugno riots would very appropriately display the fortitude of the Maltese towards ill-treatment suffered under foreign rulers.


Dun mikiel xerri22.JPG


The Inauguration of the Manoel Theatre, 19th JANUARY, 1732

On 19th January 1732, the Portuguese Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena inaugurated the newly built theatre which soon became known as  the Teatro Pubblico.  Prior to this date, theatrical performances were mostly enjoyed by the knights of St John inside various locations, namely auberges, especially in the Auberge d’Italie and that of Castille. The first performance that launched the first theatrical season was Merope, a tragedy that had been scripted in 1714 by the Italian Scippione Maffei. The director of the play was none other than the famous French military engineer and architect, then residing in Malta, Francois de Mondion. Since then the theatre was to be patronised by audiences made up of members of the Order of St John and others. Each year during the days of Carnival, balls were held at this theatre in which knights of the Order danced presumably amongst themselves. When the Order was expelled from Malta, the French made good use of this theatre. The French troops were entertained by performances meant to lift their morale while enduring continuous harassment from artillery fired by the Maltese militias.  During the subsequent British period, the theatre underwent heaving renovations and had its name changed to the ‘Royal Theatre”.  In 1862, it was turned over to a private entrepreneur. The name Teatro Manoel was applied 1866, once the Royal Opera House took over the major performances in Valletta.



St  John’s – From Conventual to Co-Cathedral  JANUARY 27, 1816

The Order had built St John’s as its monastic church, meaning that the church was used for the sole and exclusive religious services of the Order of St John.  When the Order was expelled from Malta by Napoleon, the Maltese bishopric was allowed by the French to ‘inherit’ this property for its own religious functions. When in 1800, the French were in their turn expelled by the British, the new administrators seriously considered taking over this beautiful church for the exclusive use of those soldiers and others to practice their own faith. When word of such a proposal reached Malta’s Bishop, Ferdinando Mattei, the latter immediately pleaded his case with Pope Pius VII, insisting that such a prestigious place of worship should never be relinquished to the Anglican administrators. Consequently, on January 27, 1816, the conventual church of the Order was raised by the Bishop to the dignity of a Co-Cathedral, that is, a collegiate sharing the same dignity and rank of the Cathedral in Mdina. The British rulers conceded to this in order not to unsettle the good relationship that existed between the administrators and the Maltese bishop. A proviso was, however established, that the British Governor would retain the privilege of a ‘royal’ seat on the presbytery facing the tribune of the bishop of Malta.


st john's cathedral favray (2).jpg


 10th January 2020

For further reading in the Maltese language, please click here:  https://kliemustorja.com/a


In case you are interested to read about one very particular aspect of Maltese social history … plse click here :  https://sites.google.com/view/maltesehumoursbutseriously/home

This is my researched study about Maltese humour – past and present ….




This book deals with the story of Maltese humour since Roman times up to present.

The author tackles humour both on the individual level as well as that which was and is presented in the theatre and on screen. The writer draws from many past and present anecdotal episodes and situations to elucidate on the genral state of the Maltese psyche. Humour is a two way style of communication that sizes up the temperament of both the presenter as well as the receiver of humour.

Paperback; paġni: 226. Euro 12.95. Available at bookstores …. If you are in Valletta try Agenda or Meli Bookshops.


‘Ajjut ….!’ … ‘Help …!’


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