Marsaxlokk is a quaint, traditional fishing village in the island nation of Malta. The difficult to pronounce name is derived from the Arabic word "Marsa", which means port, and the Maltese word "xlokk", which means south-east. The fact that the name of the village is a syncretization of two distinct languages -- one from the Middle East and one from the Mediterranean -- is indicative of its unique history and diversity of influences. As one can guess, the village is located on the southeastern coast of Malta. The town has a modest population of around 3,000 people and has been used as a port for thousands of years. Marsaxlokk is popular among domestic Maltese visitors as well as tourists. The main points of attraction are its history, culture, and scenery.


The History Of Marsaxlokk

Tas-Silġ And The Bronze Age

Perhaps the earliest remnant of antiquity that can be found in Marsaxlokk is Tas-Silġ. The Tas-Silġ site is made up of temples and megalithic structures. The megalithic temple complex dates back at least as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C. Ancient Phoenicians and Punics used the island temples to worship the Hellenic Egyptian Goddess Astarte, who represented war, sexuality, royal power, and healing.

The spiritual importance of the site was recognized by the successors of the Phoenicians. During the Roman Era, Tas-Silġ was used as a temple to the deity Juno, who was the daughter of Saturn, or Chronos.

The Roman statesmen Cicero made reference to the temple of Juno in his recorded speeches. Today, the port city of Marsaxlokk is also known as Portus Herculis, which is a reference to the town's ancient connection with Rome. More recent archeologic analysis shows that the temple site was used as a place of exchange for international trade.

The sanctity of the temple was conducive to international trade at a time when the government did not have a monopoly on violence to enforce transactions and property rights. As trade at the time was occurring between religiously similar Pagan empires, the rules of fair exchange would have been respected at the temples, even if they were not respected elsewhere. The artifacts found at this temple included highly valuable ivory ornaments and statues.

Visitors can experience this spiritual hub firsthand at Tas-Silġ, which is on a rounded hilltop near the border of the city of Żejtun.

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Barbarian Raids In The Middle Ages

Not very much is known about Marsaxlokk during the Middle Ages, except for the fact that the southeastern coast was routinely subject to raids. Without a larger empire to secure the borders of the village, the people were left ungoverned and unprotected.

Saracen Pirates would set anchor at the harbors of Marsaxlokk to trade the plundered goods they had acquired. Saracen Pirates were of Arabic origin and imprinted a persistent linguistic legacy in Malta as a result of their frequent visits and raids.

Around the same time, raiders from the Barbary Coast -- North African "barbarians", as they were referred to -- would take trips to Malta to steal supplies and valuables, taking advantage of the lack of governance and protection.

The Middle Ages seem like a dark time for the people of Marsaxlokk, but apart from the occasional raid or pillage, the city was left to its own devices. Today, visitors can catch a glimpse of what life was like during peaceful times, when the fishermen fished, the residents traded, and the ocean imbibed the town with tranquil beauty.

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Empire Invasions Of Marsaxlokk

In the following centuries, the Ottomans would make several attempts to capture Malta. At the time, the island was protected by a Catholic military unit from Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights successfully fended off the Ottomans coming from Tripoli, Constantinople, and Damascus. Over the next several decades, following repeated attacks, Malta, and the port of Marsaxlokk in particular, were bolstered and barricaded. Visitors need not look too hard to see the remnants of these fortifications all over the town. Even Tas-Silġ was turned into a fort, along with every major point of vulnerability and infrastructure.

These fortifications proved ultimately ineffective in the 1700s when Napoleon made a successful attempt to take the island. From then on, the town was controlled by the French, with some territory elsewhere on the island being used by the British and Portuguese. Marsaxlokk became an important area of action during the Maltese Uprising near the turn of the century in 1800 when the island underwent a grueling two-year naval blockade orchestrated by the British. The scars and wounds from this period in history are still visible in the general architecture and culture of the town, adding yet another layer of depth, beauty, and melancholia to the quaint fishing village of Marsaxlokk. Visitors will find French, Ottoman, Portuguese, and British influences all over the town, especially in the street names, cuisine, and ethnic make up of the residents.

Related: We Already Know That Malta Is Beautiful, But What's The Food Culture Like?

What To Do In Marsaxlokk

Apart from visiting historical sites such as Tas-Silġ, walking around to see the ancient architecture, and taking a tour of military fortifications, the best way to experience Marsaxlokk is to do simple, everyday things.

About 70% of the Maltese fishing fleet is located in Marsaxlokk. The fishermen use traditional boats called luzzu and kajjik. Swordfish, tuna, and lampuki (mahi-mahi) are caught off the coast of Marsaxlokk, and on Sundays, the fishermen sell their catches directly to customers on the quay. Tourists will find that Sundays are a wonderful time to be in Marsaxlokk, when the residents are dressed up for Church and the boardwalk is rich with the smell of fresh fish. If tourists are planning on staying for less than a week, it's best to come on a weekend.

Due to the abundance of seafood and the long tradition of marine cuisine, visitors can enjoy a number of amazing restaurants that line the pier and harbor. After a heavy meal, it's a classic tradition to walk along the boardwalk, enjoy the cool sea breeze, and grab an ice cream cone.

All in all, between the rich and diverse history and culture, delicious food, and slow pace of life, Marsaxlokk delivers a unique experience that will leave tourists relaxed and with a refined sense of beauty.