The City and the Forest

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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.

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3 thoughts on “The City and the Forest

  1. Wow. Very interesting and well framed photo. Wouldn’t call ‘Boschetto’ a Forest though – it’s just a little wood.

  2. The so called mini-forest was created by the British and only after the 1930’s as can be verified by period photographs. The only woodland present at Boschetto at the time of the Order was the old Holm oak (Ballut) valley k/a the Bosk. Some White poplars (Luq) grew along the watercourse. The remaining land was leased to 3rd parties and heavily planted with agricultural product such as various crops and abundance of fruit trees such as olive trees, citrus groves, pomegranates, figs, almonds, cherries and vast portions planted with vines. The lease was also terminated by the British after the mind 1900s. An artificial creation indeed it was when Grandmaster after another transformed it into a terraced Baroque Garden staring with extensive works commissioned by GM Lascaris. He adorned it with an imposing stairs leading from Verdala Palace to the older hunting lodge and vaulted grotto (commissioned by the former GM De Valette) from a new 700 meter main axial path. This path lead to a small piazza in front of the grotto which eventually was flanked by majestic fountains (at least 3 and described as being very complex). This garden was further embellished with a substantial amount of garden architectural ornamentation. Indeed today we find that the haphazard mid 20th century planting matured to such extent that it has acquired the powers of self-regeneration, but this to the detriment of national history as it is slowly being allowed to demolish what was left by our forefathers. The above note is all well documented in researched period manuscripts which date as far as the 16th Century.

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