Sunrise over the lake

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Sunrise over the lake

A lake in bone dry Malta?  The only European country with no permanent surface water?

Yes.  In the place appropriately called l-Ghadira, the Lake.

What and where is this lake?  A patch of low land lying in the small valley between Mellieha Ridge and Marfa Ridge in the hinterland of the big sandy beach of Mellieha Bay.  Land which actually lies below sea level, allowing brackish water to seep through the rock and mix with fresh water percolating from the rocky layers of the surrounding ridges.  A true saline marshland, the Maltese bur salmastru.

The lake has been there since antiquity: a salt lake which dried up during the summer leaving salt deposits only to refill again with the winter rains.  A smaller version of the salt lakes of Limassol and Larnaka in Cyprus.   In centuries gone by, the salt was harvested by man.  Old maps indicate the area as saline vecchie: Italian for “old salt pans”.  The salt production in the area dates at least to Arab times given that the name of the village within whose confines the lake stands is Mellieha: which derives from the Arabic melh for salt.  Mellieha actually translates as the “salt producing place”.

Over the years the place silted up and the lake disappeared.  As a child I remember the lake bed being used as a car park by people going to the beach: a huge expanse of sand which looked like the endless Sahara to my untrained eyes!  Then the Malta Ornithological Society (now Birdlife Malta) took up the challenge to restore the Lake to its natural state.  With a little mechanical help and the healing powers of nature, it morphed into the natural oasis it has become today.  A birdwatcher’s paradise.  A rare wetland environment which we could only dream of a few decades back.

I took this photo a few years ago on an early February morning from 150 metres above in Qammieh.  The sun rising over the heights of Selmun, the calm waters of Mellieha Bay, and the lake with its plethora of tiny islets shimmering like a pot of molten gold. A truly magical moment over our only lake, the Ghadira at Mellieha Bay.

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