History of Manikata and Għajn Tuffieħa

Manikata is a small rural centre to the North East of Malta. Its history as a residential village is very recent. However, the place abounds in historical artefacts that go back to prehistoric times.

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Cart Ruts

A lot of cart ruts are found around Manikata. These probably date to a period between the Bronze Age and the Roman Era. One particular line of cart ruts surfaces from under the trees in the Miżieb area, proceeds towards the parish church and goes towards the cliffs hanging above Mejjiesa Bay. 

Roman Remains          

In the area of Il-Ġnien ta’ Għajn Tuffieħa there are the remains of Roman baths that formed part of a rural villa. Nearer to Manikata there are several Roman tombs. Some of them have been obliterated when people cut across the cliff side to level the ground and make space for their fields. Other tombs are found in caves and have been modified by subsequent cave inhabitants to be used as storage space. Some tombs were used as air-raid shelters during World War Two.

The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, the lands at Għajn Tuffieħa and Manikata were used for the cultivation of crops and fruit trees. Fields belonged to land owners from the capital city, Mdina, and its suburb, Rabat. The farmers usually inhabited the caves in the vicinity. The caves also housed sheep, goats and oxen. People also used to come here to collect fire wood. A night watch was kept over the sea cliffs of Għajn Tuffieħa by men from Mosta forming part of the civil corps called Dejma.

The Knights of St. John

On the 18th of May 1565 the Turkish fleet anchored in the bays around Manikata, namely Mejjiesa, Mixquqa (Golden Bay), Għajn Tuffieħa and Ġnejna. The following day it arrived at Marsaxlokk Bay to the South East where Turkish soldiers landed to begin their assault on Birgu, the general headquarters of the Order.

On the 23rd of May 1648, Grand Master Lascaris came to Għajn Tuffieħa to lay the foundation stone of the Watch Tower of Għajn Tuffieħa. Grand Master Lascaris also built other watch towers at Ġnejna, Qawra and Nadur (Binġemma). He also built Fort Saint Agatha, the red tower dominating Mellieħa Bay.

Towards the end of the Order’s reign, coastal entrenchments were built over Mixquqa Bay (Golden Bay), near modern-day Golden Sands Hotel. These were meant to prevent enemy troops from landing on the sandy beach below.

The British Period

From 1902 onwards, a number of farmers in Manikata and Għajn Tuffieħa lost a vast amount of agricultural land which was taken over by the Admiralty for the construction of a Royal Marines Training Centre. The Għajn Tuffieħa Camp consisted of shooting ranges and residential quarters for soldiers, their families and camp officials. During World War One (1914-1917) the camp was covered in tents and used as a military hospital to cure wounded soldiers that were brought here from the war front. People from Manikata used to work in this emergency hospital as nurses.

In 1935 Benito Mussolini, the Fascist ruler of Italy, invaded Abbisinia (modern Ethiopia) in Africa. The British suspected that Mussolini would attempt to invade Malta. So, they built a number of coastal defences called beach posts. These were built of concrete and camouflaged with rubble walls. Two such beach posts were built in Manikata in 1935, one near Għajn Tuffieħa Tower and one near the Razzett tal-Qasam. When the Second World War eventually broke out, more beach posts were built along the coast. These were provided with a search light in order to spot enemy aircraft. Over Għajn Tuffieħa Gardens, an anti-aircraft battery was also built. Due to the presence of the Admiralty camp, Manikata was often a target during air-raids. The residents used to take shelter in rock-cut air-raid shelters, in caves or in Roman tombs.

The Church

During the British period, the inhabitants of Manikata came mostly from Mosta and Mellieħa. They usually had a town house in one of these localities which they visited when the wife was about to give birth or to attend high mass during special festivities. During the year they lived in caves or single rooms in a farmstead called Ir-Razzett tal-Qasam ta’ Għajn Tuffieħa (The farmstead of Għajn Tuffieħa estate).

On Sunday, they used to go to nearby Mellieħa to hear mass. In 1919, a farmer called Lazzru Grima encouraged his fellow villagers to build a church in Manikata. Money was collected while the Camilleri brothers made available a plot of land. Within a year the church was erected under the supervision of Spiru Grima, a master mason from Mellieħa, and was dedicated to St.Joseph. It was blessed on the 27th of June 1920 and was put under the care of the Franciscan Friars from the convent of St.Paul’s Bay.

In 1951 the church was put under the care of Dun Manwel Grima, a priest from Mellieħa who dedicated all his life and energy to the people of Manikata. The church was becoming dangerous because the side walls were caving in. It was also becoming too small for the growing local community. Dun Manwel managed to secure a plot of land from the authorities and entrusted the building of a bigger church to his friend, architect Edwin England Sant Fournier. The latter passed on the project to his son, Richard England, who came up with an unusual design that has nothing to do with the baroque churches that dot our islands. It is inspired by the giren, circular stone huts, that abound in the area of Manikata. Construction started in 1962. In 1972 the church was almost complete and Dun Manwel managed to celebrate two masses in it prior to his sudden premature death aged 52. He was followed by Dun Lino Grech who in 1975 became Manikata’s first parish priest.

Manikata Today

Manikata is home to about 500 inhabitants. New houses, apartments and villas have been built recently. People from different parts of the Maltese islands have come to live here in search of serenity and beautiful surroundings. Many local villagers are full-time or part-time farmers. Their fields are found in the surrounding areas known as il-Ġnien ta’ Għajn Tuffieħa (Għajn Tuffieħa Gardens), il-Wilġa ta’ Għajn Tuffieħa (Għajn Tuffieħa meadow), il-Miżieb (woodland) and ix-Xagħra l-Ħamra (The red garrigue). Every last Sunday in August the parish celebrates the feast of St.Joseph. On the eve of the parish feast, the local community celebrates Lejla Sajfija għaż-Żiffa, a Summer Breeze Night, where the villagers put their best talents and products on show, including songs, drama, paintings, hand crafts, vegetables, fruits, honey, wine, olive oil.