The City and the Forest
Valletta and Buskett, City and Forest. Fifteen kilometres distant from each other but beautifully framed in a single photo taken from the heights of Dingli Cliffs. A photo showing a scene which is not possible when using one’s eyes alone, but which is squeezed in due to the effect of the zoom lens which flattens distances and narrows angles of vision.
The City and the Forest. Their common origin not immediately apparent, but common it indeed is. For they both date back to the first few decades of the Knights of St. John in Malta in the sixteenth century. The Knights were offered Malta and the desolate North African fortress town of Tripoli by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Fifth as an alternative home following their eviction from Rhodes by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
The Knights missed Rhodes badly: their beautiful island home, lush and verdant, green and bountiful. And complete with a fortified harbour town. In Malta they found nothing of the sort. An inland capital which was of no use to their naval needs, a coastal village with a decrepit medieval hold as their maritime base and a windswept, treeless landscape which made them yearn with nostalgia for their previous home in Rhodes. The coastal city they needed as a maritime base, the woodland they needed to indulge in their pastime of hunting.
But their initial dislike and disappointment eventually gave way to action. Knowing full well that a return to Rhodes was well nigh impossible they set about modifying their new island home. Where there was no maritime city, they built one from scratch and turned it into one of the most famous of the period. Where there were no defences they spared no expense and built one of the most impregnable and impressive systems of defence worldwide. And where there was no forest they also created one: the Boschetto, or small wood, the Maltese word for which was to eventually become corrupted to Buskett. A wood of pine, oak, cypress, poplar, olive and carob, surrounded by citrus groves. An artificial creation which has today matured to the extent that it has acquired the powers of self-regeneration, meaning that it is slowly freeing itself from its original artificial creators.
Two man-made creations which add two special dimensions to Malta: a sophisticated capital city and a mature woodland. Two phenomena where you least expect them. Courtesy of the hard work of a group of reluctant guests whose nostalgia for their previous home led them to create the inconceivable.