Marsaxlokk is a charming little fishing village in the Southeast of Malta where, until the 1970s, most people lived on or in close proximity to the seafront. The port is still the hub of the village with fishermen, their boats and gear, and the paraphernalia associated with boat maintenance much in evidence.
The sheltered Bay of Marsaxlokk has attracted seafarers for millennia – the Phoenicians arrived here sometime in the 8th century BC and by the 4th century BC there was a thriving port – but over the centuries it also provided a convenient landing place for pirates, slave traders and invaders.
In May 1565 part of the Turkish fleet of nearly 200 vessels, sent by Sultan Suleiman to conquer the Maltese Islands, dropped anchor in the bay and disembarked thousands of soldiers; similarly, in June 1798, French troops commanded by General Desaix landed in the bay during the Napoleonic invasion despite the determined resistance offered by the garrison at St Lucian Fort.
The Knights of St John, the rulers of the Maltese Islands from 1530 till 1798, went to considerable effort and expense to protect Marsaxlokk Bay. Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt personally financed the construction of St Lucian Fort in 1610, then in the late 17th and early 18th century a series of defensive towers, redoubts and batteries were built along the coastline of the bay.
In the last quarter of the 19th century the British extended St Lucian Fort and built forts and batteries along the Delimara Peninsula.
The present-day village of Marsaxlokk came into being in the 19th century but the area has been settled since the Neolithic period. Għar Dalam cave near Birżebbuġa was inhabited by some of the settlers who arrived from Sicily around 5200 BC. Not far from the cave are the remains of the Borg in-Nadur Bronze Age fortified settlement (c. 1500 BC) and an earlier Tarxien-phase temple (2500–2000 BC).
To the Northeast of Marsaxlokk lie the remains of the Tas-Silġ Sanctuary built c. 3000 BC and then successively reutilized and modified by the different peoples who colonized Malta: the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Byzantines.
The Tas-Silġ sanctuary was renowned throughout the Mediterranean world for a thousand years and would have played an important economic role in the Marsaxlokk area. The extremely significant archaeological site is currently being excavated.
In ancient times the area around Marsaxlokk was fertile and richly vegetated. Olives were cultivated: oil presses have been found among the remains of two Roman villas.
Remains of the baths of what archaeologists consider to have been a Roman sea-side villa were discovered in Marsaxlokk in 1932, not far from Vendôme Tower. As yet though, there is little evidence to confirm that a settlement existed in the area occupied by the present-day village.
The relaxed, friendly pace of village life, the boats and fishing-related activities and the glorious view across the bay make Marsaxlokk a very pleasant place to visit.
Remember to wear a hat and take water with you in the summer and please …. don't trespass, litter or walk too close to the cliff edge – the rock formations are very unstable and crash into the sea without warning. The best way to admire the coastline is by boat….