Dwejra Walk: A Cultural Walk Through Malta's History & Legends
by Karl Azzopardi
When we think of Dwejra, most of us immediately think of the coast village in Gozo where our beloved Azure Window once stood. However, Dwejra is also the name of a beautiful agricultural suburb in the west of Malta, snuggled up between Rabat and Bingemma. The area is mostly known for the Dwejra Lines which forms part of what used to be the Victoria Lines — Malta's largest stretch of fortifications from the 19th century.
This entrenchment is but one of the many exciting sites there is to see as you explore the Dwejra Walk that starts at the chapel on top of the Dwejra Lines and ends at Speranza Chapel in Mosta's countryside. In this article, we will walk you through how to get to the starting point, some hotspots to look out for and what makes this a must-visit for any outdoor enthusiast.
The Starting Point
On the road that connects Rabat and Mgarr known as Bingemma Road, you will come across the humble chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Hodegetria, also known as Our Lady of The Way. This is where your journey begins.
This chapel was built by Baron Stanislaw Xara between 1671 and 1673. However, its story starts before it was even built as there was already another chapel built here that Baron's grandfather Giovanni Stanislaw Xara had built around 1600. Giovanni's descendants were supposed to take care of his chapel but it stopped being used in the middle of the century and was abandoned. That is until Baron came around and rebuilt an upgraded version of his grandfather's chapel from scratch just a few metres away, demolishing the old one in the process. The emblem of the Stanislaw Xara family can be seen on its facade and the chapel is still being used for service for farmers and villagers in the area to this day.
The chapel of Our Lady of Hodegetria where the Dwejra Walk begins
From here, one can enjoy gorgeous views of the Dwejra Lines and the valley below which is always nursing with greenery, especially in early between late autumn and spring. Hidden among the greenery is a necropolis of tombs dating back to around 4,000 BC during the Bronze Age. A Greek cross engraved on top of one of the tombs indicates that this became a place of worship for early Christians later on. After that, they were only used during WWII as bomb shelters. You should go and explore these tombs before heading on to the Dwejra Lines!
The Dwejra Lines
Getting to the Dwejra Lines is super easy. All you have to do is go down a passageway on the side of the chapel and you will find yourself on top of what has been called the Great Wall of Malta.
While it is microscopic when compared to the Great Wall of China, the Dwejra Lines are still quite a site to behold. While other parts of the wall have eroded and been overtaken by nature, this area was restored in recent years and reinforced with concrete.
Interestingly enough, the Dwejra Lines were constructed separately from the North West Front as it was planned to serve as an independent entrenchment to protect the valley. They were constructed in 1881 with this purpose and it was not until the last decade of the 19th century that the infantry wall which connects it to the rest of the fortifications on the Victoria Lines (Fort Bingemma, Fort Mosta and Fort Madalena) was built.
Plans for the Dwejra Lines entrenchment, via Friends of The Victoria Lines Trail
The entrenchment was strategically located to blend seamlessly with the surroundings and surprise the enemy. The ramparts that join the two high points of the valley were equipped with a canopier and several demi-canopiers at the front and a wide terreplein at the back where field howitzers would've been deployed. This structure can all still be observed while crossing the Dwejra Lines where you can also take in breathtaking views of the valley.
From Dwejra To Mosta
Once you've crossed the Dwejra Lines, you will reach the top of another plateau, opposite the chapel of Our Lady of Hodegetria. Here you will find yourself on a woodland path surrounded by Apello Pines, lining the fortified wall to your left. You can keep following the path and head towards Falka Gap.
After a while of walking, you will reach an asphalted street which you should keep following until you reach the main road — you know you're getting there when the street starts going downhill and you see a village sign that reads L-Imgarr. Most of the land around the area is private agricultural land so there isn't a lot to see along the way except for some ex-military buildings that have been turned into farms.
The chapel dedicated to San Pawl tal-Qlejja and the bridge leading to it, via Muddy Boots
Once you reach the main road, carefully cross to the other side and take a right until you get to a roundabout (this is not the most glamorous of walks but it will be well worth it, we promise!). At the roundabout cross to the road, walk to the next exit and turn left where you will come to a bridge over Wied l-Isperanza. At the end of the bridge, you will see the chapel dedicated to San Pawl tal-Qlejja. This chapel was built in 1690 but is still used to this day for evening Saturday mass. Its most notable feature is the collection of graffiti of ships and other subjects on its outside walls, some of which are centuries old!
The Last Stretch
All that is left of the walk now is a lovely stroll through Wied L-Isperanza which translates to Valley of Hope — an apt name for the gorgeous greenery it offers after that walk through the main road. However, the origins of its name are more mythical in nature.
Legend has it that in the 18th century, a woman was saved from being captured by pirates with the help of a spider in this valley. Corsairs loved to steal away people to work for them as slaves and their favourite places to raid was the countryside, as it was an easy target being so far away from the city. One day some farmers who were working their land in this area were raided by a group of corsairs. Thankfully an alarm was raised and they had time to flee towards the city but a woman among them could not keep up and ended up stranded in the valley.
Speranza Chapel sitting on top of the legendary cave, via Muddy Boots
Hearing the pirates closing in on her, she hid in the first cave she could find and crawled into the shadows where she started praying to Our Lady for salvation. At the same time, a spider crawled down the cave's entrance and started weaving a web across the opening. Soon after, the corsairs also reached the entrance but didn't believe anyone could be inside with a cobweb blocking the way. So, thinking she made it to the city, they gave up their pursuit and left the village.
Some say that it was this woman who paid for the Speranza Chapel, found at the end of the valley path on top of the cave where the miracle took place. The Renaissance chapel was built in 1761 and has been used regularly for mass ever since. The cave below has also been well-maintained having been restored in 1913 and adorned with statues of the Archangel Michael, the evangelists Luke and John and of course the legendary woman kneeling and praying.
The easiest way to get to the starting point is by getting a cab to Our Lady of Hodegetria Chapel. Taking the bus involves more walking as you will need to catch the 44 bus, stop at Fisher in Mgarr and walk for a good 20 minutes down Bingemma Road till you reach the chapel.
Best time to visit
It is ideal to go on this walk from mid-autumn to spring when vegetation is at its peak. However, keep in mind that valleys tend to fill up with rainwater when it rains so stay updated with the weather forecast if you plan the walk during the colder months.
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