Malta is very well known for its traditional village Festas, celebrating local Parish Patron Saints. One of the most important features which characterise a Maltese Festa, are surely its fireworks or ‘logħob tan-nar‘. These pyrotechnic displays, full of colour and expression, serve as precursors to the celebration, as well as accentuating it, and performing during its climax.
It is commonly believed that fireworks in Malta first originated during the medieval period, when the Order of the Knights of Saint John used to fire their muskets, as well as explosives lit from mortars (‘maskli’) as an expression of acknowledgment, respect, and rejoicing whenever an important dignitary arrived on the island, whenever a new Grand Master of the Order was elected, to celebrate a military victory, or to mark other important occasions. Later on, such displays started to take place during village feasts in honour of Patron Saints. During the 18th century, the ‘maskli’ were replaced by fireworks, since by that time the tradition had become part and parcel of the religious feast celebrations.
During most feasts, there are generally four types of fireworks (‘ġigġifogu’) on display. The so-called ground fireworks (‘nar tal-art’) is the culmination of the celebratory period, taking place during the last evening of the feast at around midnight. This usually consists of the setting off of a number of large Saint Catherine Wheels (irdieden), which are spiral tubes or angled rockets mounted on poles with a pin through their centre. When these are ignited, they rotate quickly, producing sparks and coloured flames. Another type of fireworks, which are usually set off from rooftops, are referred to as ‘musketterijja‘ or ‘trikki-trakki’. These are light fireworks mainly used to signal the beginning of certain activities such as the start of the band programme or the feast procession. Nowadays ‘stoppini’, that is, light coloured bombs which carry a silver or gold ‘tail’ when displayed, are used as well.
The third, and most well-known type of fireworks, are the air fireworks, which include several variations, such as ‘murtali tal-kuluri’, which produce multi-coloured flower or fountain-shaped patterns when set off. Popular colours include gold, red, blue, and green. The ‘murtalun’ is another type of air fireworks. It produces no colours or actual display, except for one single loud noise, like that of a cannon shot. In the past, these were used to mark the start of the festivities on the first day.
The most popular type of firework is surely the ‘kaxxa infernali‘, which roughly translates into ‘infernal box’ or ‘box from hell’. This consists mainly of different types of bombs all of which are fired at once, creating a huge furore. The size of the ‘kaxxa infernali’ is determined by the number of bombs displayed in continuous sequence, and is considered to be the village or town’s main fireworks display. There are many other types of bombs used throughout village the festa, like ‘serpentelli’, which produce serpentine lights, and ‘murtaletti tad-dahna tal-kulur’, which are displayed mainly during the day and give off coloured smoke.
There are more than 35 firework factories (‘kmamar tan-nar’) around Malta and Gozo, many of them found at the outskirts of particular localities. These hold special licenses and are governed by very strict rules, since safety is a very important aspect to consider. Firework-making is a cherished craft and skill, and many particular firework-makers have their own closely guarded manufacturing secrets.
The Malta International Fireworks Festival, which takes place yearly and commemorated its 16th edition in April 2016, is an awesome opportunity to view and experience the best of this craft. Many local and foreign fireworks factories participate during this event, and provide a lively and colourful entertainment with their different pyrotechnic displays, often combined with music. This year, the festival consisted of different displays taking places at different venues; mainly in Marsaxlokk, the Grand Harbour in Valletta, and Xaghra in Gozo.