Located at the corner of Triq it-Torri Cumbo and Triq Durumblat in Mosta lies Cumbo Tower, or Torri Cumbo. This historic medieval stronghold surrounded by extensive gardens today hosts a water reservoir which receives water through an underground channel, however it is primarily known because of the role it played in one of Malta’s most famous legends – that of the Mosta Bride.
The Mosta Bride, or l-Għarusa tal-Mosta in Maltese, is a very old ballad and local legend, one which every Maltese child learns about at primary school. The legend tells the story of an abduction, while being a love story and one which highlights Maltese valour. No wonder it was, and continues to be so popular!
Although there are different versions to the folktale, the most well-known tells the story of Marianna Cumbo, a maiden from the Cumbo family who lived at the tower. The family had a Turkish servant who was very enamoured of Marianna, however she thought nothing of him, being in fact in love with Toni Manduca, the son of a neighbour. When the Turkish servant heard of her intention to wed her lover, he escaped from the family house and left the island on a ship bound to Turkey. Some months later, Marianna’s wedding was finally taking place. The bride, resplendent in her white dress of Maltese lace and bedecked in all her finery, was preparing herself for the ceremony. Suddenly, a pirate ship from Turkey arrived on our shores, and the pirates targeted Mosta, taking a number of slaves. The Cumbo’s disgruntled servant was among these pirates, and he made it a point to storm through Cumbo Tower, seize Marianna and take her on the ship as a slave.
Marianna’s bridegroom was broken hearted, as were her mother and the rest of her family. They tried to discover her whereabouts in order to perhaps be able to pay a ransom and so to save her, but could not find where she was. It is then that true love distinguished itself. Toni disguised himself as a wool merchant, sailed on a ship to Turkey and vowed he’d find Marianna and save her. After weeks and months of strenuous search, he realised that his bride was being held in the Sultan’s harem. One day, while looking up at the Palace walls, Toni heard a sweet voice singing a traditional Maltese folk song, known as ‘għana’. Thoughtlessly, Toni sang together with the female voice, and this was how he realised that he had indeed found Marianna. Meanwhile, the poor girl had befriended the Sultan’s daughter who, hearing that help was near at hand, pledged her aid in smuggling Marianna out of the Palace. They garbed the girl in the robes of a eunuch, and she escaped through the gardens and reunited with her beloved Toni. Togather, they raced towards the docks and found a Venetian ship heading towards Malta, where they were finally reunited with their families and got married.
While this legend of love and abduction has no actual historical basis, it is documented that during the middle of the 16th century, around 400 prisoners were abducted from Mosta and taken by Turkish corsairs. A woman dressed as a bride, it is documented, was one of the taken.
The oldest written version of the ballad of the Mosta Bride was first printed in 1895 and written by Annibale Preca. Different versions of the tale change some of the points in the story. Some say that the Turks offered the Cumbo family Marianna’s life for ransom, but that the family refused as it was too high. Others maintain there was no servant in love with Marianna determined to steal her, and that she was simply part of the number of slaves taken against their will. Still another version recounts that Marianna had been greatly weakened by her enslavement and captivity, and not being able to withstand the voyage back to Malta, died on the ship. Mad with anger and grief, Toni spent his life fighting the Turks and died in battle.
Today, Cumbo Tower belongs to the Contessa Preziosi, the daughter of the late Barone della Quleja.