Is-Swieqi – A Brief History
Swieqi (Maltese: Is-Swieqi) is a town in the Northern Region of Malta. It is a residential area just 15 minutes by bus from Sliema and within walking distance of Malta’s nightlife and entertainment centres Paceville and St. Julian’s. As the town developed, residential buildings took over farmland. The town’s name means “water channels”, a reminder of the region’s past.
It has an official estimated population of 14,452 as of 1st January, 2019.
The municipality of Swieqi assimilates Swieqi, Tal-Ibraġ, Madliena and St. Andrew’s. Madliena and St. Andrew’s originally formed part of Ħal Għargħur. The hamlet of Madliena owes its origin to the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen, which was built in the 15th century. Tal-Ibraġ is a newly developed hamlet which, over the past decades, has almost reached its maximum development potential. St. Andrew’s is on the outskirts of Swieqi at the border with the locality of Pembroke. The town’s coat of arms features a red and gold zig-zag motif indicating the valleys and fields of Tal-Ibraġ, blue waves indicating the watering courses (swieqi in Maltese) and a silver saltire. Madliena is indicated with the red letter M. Swieqi has its own local council, and in 2007 it had its own postal code instated (SWQ….). The town fell under the jurisdiction of St. Julian’s, Birkirkara, San Ġwann, Naxxar and Ħal Għargħur at different times in its history.
The town’s parish church is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of the Church, celebrated on 8th December. However, the feast is not celebrated externally as in other towns and villages, save for a mass and small procession. Very few historical sites can be found in Swieqi. These are located in Madliena, consisting of the Victoria Lines, Madliena Fort, the Batteria San Giovanni and the Madliena Chapel. The church was built on land donated by the Aquilina family of Għargħur. It was situated in the limits of St. Helen’s Parish, B’Kara, in an area known as St. Andrew’s. In those days only a few families lived in the area and the majority of these were farmers and manual labourers. These people worked hard for the church to be built and so that they could finally have their own chapel where they could participate in the eucharistic liturgy and gather together in prayer. Archbishop Michael Gonzi blessed the foundation stone of the church on 7th May 1964. The building was completed within two years, and Bishop Emmanuel Galea blessed the church and consecrated the marble altar on 13th February 1966. The second Vatican Council declared Our Lady as “Mother of the Church”, and so the church was dedicated to Our Lady the Immaculate Conception Mother of the Church.
The first rector was the late Mgr. Stephen Borg, who dedicated much of his time and energy to raising funds. He managed to complete the church with plastering, woodworks, lighting, floor tiles, benches and other amenities, and also commissioned the titular statue of Our Lady, which was to be the focal point of the church. The late Emvin Cremona designed the splendid sculpture, which was carved out from a single block of wood by Vincent Moroder of Ortisei, Italy. A wooden tabernacle framed by four angels was also the work of Cremona. This tabernacle is now on the main altar.
Fr Vincent Demicoli was the second rector to serve in this church. It soon became obvious to Fr. Vincent that the community was growing very rapidly as more people took up residence in this now highly-sought area. During Fr Demicoli’s tenure, the number of families grew from around 20 to over 1,000 families. As the chapel could not accommodate so many people he started studying about how the church could be enlarged. Meanwhile, he began to collect funds towards this project. It was also during this period that the Way of the Cross was commissioned. Marco Cremona, Chev. Cremona’s son, undertook the task of creating the fourteen stations now adorning the Church. Fr Vincent organised various social activities and the eager response of the community showed the importance of the church as a social centre.
Fr Dennis Schembri was the next rector. During his tenure of office the church was separated from St. Helen’s parish, Birkirkara and became an autonomous pastoral zone. Fr Schembri was given the brief to construct a parish church in the centre of nearby Pembroke which meant that the Tal- Ibraġ church would remain a chapel. This decision was a disappointment to the local community who wished the parish church to be the heart of the area. Fr. Schembri moved to Turin, Italy after three years. His successor was Fr George Dalli. The Pembroke project was shelved and the original idea of enlarging the present church was revived. The land adjacent to the church was obtained by exchanging it for other Church-owned land. A house that would serve as the Rector’s residence was also acquired. In just under one year the excavation work was completed and three large halls and catechism rooms were built. On 2nd September 1994 the foundation stone for the church extension was laid and blessed by Archbishop Joseph Mercieca.
Within a year the building was completed and on Christmas Eve 1995 the Evening Vigil Mass was celebrated in the new church. The time and effort he dedicated to this project with much love is greatly appreciated.
Fr. George not only undertook the task of seeing to the building of the church, but he also embarked on building a very active community with many lay people involved in providing a service to the community. Various groups were formed and a pastoral structure was created whereby every sector of the community was catered for. It soon became obvious that every single room in the multi-storeyed Pastoral Centre would be put to use. Now it was truly a church made up of people and not just built out of stone. Fr Dalli commissioned the artist Marco Cremona to start work on a very large crucifix that would be affixed to the wall behind the altar. The Way of the Cross, which was damaged when vandals set the church on fire on 13th June 1995, was also restored. Two new Stations of the Cross – one representing the Last Supper and the other of the Risen Christ – were also commissioned. Bishop Annetto Depasquale blessed the project on 31st March 1999. On Easter Sunday, 4th April 1999, the church was declared a parish under the title of Immaculate Mary Mother of the Church. Fr Paul Camilleri was appointed as the first parish priest.
Today the parish of Ibraġ, has an area population of more than 14,000 people, and it comprises Swieqi, Tal- Ibraġ, Upper Gardens, High Ridge, Victoria Gardens and Madliena.
Culture and Characteristics
Swieqi Day is celebrated on 9th September, where the Local Council organises Swieqi Fest. This is a celebration of art, culture, music, sports, food and friends, and is spread over 3 or 4 days, over the first weekend of September after the first week.
In the Middle Ages, when the area of the Swieqi Local Council formed part of the Birkirkara Parish, Swieqi was just a stretch of public land void of any buildings. In the first few twenty years of the 16th century, a certain Augustinu Borg occupied a piece of land in Swieqi, in an area known as Nadur Callel. Apart from occupying this land, Borg also decided to build a house and a garden without a legal permit. Therefore, one could say that the first known inhabitant of Swieqi was an illegal builder called Augustinu Borg! A couple of Birkirkara residents, amongst them Ġorġ Lanza Zarb, could not bear to see public land stolen so selfishly. Therefore, they joined forces and filed a lawsuit against Augustinu on 9th September 1527. Justice was not served for six years. On 29th August 1533, the court decided that the plot on which Augustinu Borg built was public land and therefore it ordered that this be classified as ‘reduci ad pristinum publicum statum’, meaning that the land was to be restored to its original state.