Overlooking the idyllic bay of Ramla l-Hamra, on the ridge opposite the popular Calypso Cave, stands another grotto with its mouth yawning onto the reddish, fertile terraced fields below.

This cave, known as L-Ghar tal-Mixta, is reached by traversing northwards the plateau on which sits the ancient village of Nadur. By descending a small rock-hewn passage and some steps, one enters this enormous cave in which one still finds mangers and animal pens filled with straw bedding.

This is typical of many similar caverns all over the Maltese islands that were and are sometimes still used for this purpose. Yet, the name of the cave suggests the possibility of characteristics of such caverns. This place-name is curiously much more common in Gozo. Another cave simply known as Il-Mixta, near Ghar Ilma, limits of the tiny village of Santa Lucija, is known to have been anciently inhabited by a troglodytic community. Similarly, the origin of the name of Marsamxett in Malta is marsa, a port and mxett, meaning wintering.

On July 7, 1733, two Muslim vessels dropped anchor in Ramla l-Hamra and their crew ravaged the valley in search of supplies, taking a Gozitan family of eight captive. The vulnerability of the bay thus became evident and steps were immediately taken by the Knights of St John to rectify the problem. A wall made of rough stones was built below the water surface right across the width of the bay, a fougasse was excavated and an entrenchment wall constructed. Part of the latter incorporated L-Ghar tal-Mixta, which, apart from being sheltered, could not be seen from the open seas because its mouth overlooked the beach. Thus, two small openings were pierced through the sea-facing flank to accommodate cannon. It is said that within the cave there once existed a concealed staircase accessing the entrenchment wall and fougasse below.

• This series will appear every Saturday in collaboration with Miranda Publishers.


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