By the mid-14th Century, Birkirkara was already very densely populated, and by 1436 it was established as one of the first twelve medieval parishes of Malta with extensive limits. The city’s motto is In hoc signo vinces, which translates to ‘In this sign thou shalt conquer’. Birkirkara means ‘cold water’ or ‘running water’. This attributes to the valley in the town. Birkirkara is also one of Malta’s oldest cities, with a recorded mention in 1402 with The Cappella of Birkarkam, which is understood to be an error for Birkirkara. The town’s central religious feast is that of St Helen at St. Helen’s Basilica, celebrated on 18 August or the first Sunday after that date. The celebration’s main event is a procession with a wooden statue carved by the Maltese master-sculptor Salvu Psaila. Notably, this is the only procession on the island carried out in the morning.
In recent years, this town has expanded further with the building of new and modern residences. A tiny garden separates this unique area from the traditional core, characterised by alleyways, narrow streets, and houses typical of small villages.
The Parish Church of Saint Mary, commonly known as il-Knisja l-Qadima (the old church) is a Roman Catholic parish church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. It was built in the 17th century, and it has a Renaissance design attributed to the architects Vittorio Cassar and Tommaso Dingli. The church fell out of use when St Helen’s Basilica replaced it as Birkirkara’s parish church in the 18th century. Its roof and dome collapsed in the 19th century. The church remained in ruins with doors and windows barred until it was restored in the second half of the 20th century. It became a parish church once again in 2005. The Parish Church of St. Mary is located outside the historic centre of Birkirkara, and it was built on a hill to be protected from corsair attacks. In the medieval period, a church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and St. Helen existed on the present church’s site. A cemetery and two small chapels were found in the vicinity.
The church’s façade has Corinthian pilasters, and the central bay has an arched main doorway flanked by columns on either side. The door is topped by five escutcheons containing coats of arms, including King Philip II of Spain, Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, Bishop Baldassare Cagliares, and the parish priest Don Filippo Borg. The stonework around the doorway and the coats of arms are very ornate, and the Spanish Plateresque style probably influences it. Each of the two side bays contains three empty niches. The church’s interior is ornate, with sculpture forming an integral part of the building.
St Helen’s Basilica is an 18th-century Roman Catholic church. It is built on the baroque design by Salvu Borg and created by Mason Domenico Cachia. The plan was inspired and is similar to the Mdina Cathedral by Lorenzo Gafa. It eventually became the Collegiate Church and then a Minor Basilica.
In all, Saint Helen Church’s two belfries house seven bells. They are the work of local bell founder Gioacchino Triganza and donated by the local patriot of the French blockade, Vincenzo Borg popularly known as Brared.
The largest bell, weighing nearly 7.8 tonnes, is the third and successful attempt to meet the Birkirkara people wish to have such a large bell. It was cast in the Barigozzi foundry in Milan in late 1931 and hoisted in the belfry early in the following year.
The clock mechanism was installed in 1782. It is the work of master clockmakers Francesco Pace from Valletta and Gio. Antonio Tanti from Ħal Tarxien. It uses three bells to strike the hours and the quarters.
Beneath the basilica’s nave and transepts extend a spacious crypt and was used for burials instead of directly beneath the church floor or in a separate cemetery. Various important persons lay to rest in this crypt, including Salvu Psaila and Vincenzo Borg (Brared). The public can visit this crypt during November and on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
In Birkirkara, precisely in the garden near the station, Ġnien l-Istazzjon (Station Garden), one can find the only surviving third-class carriage of the Old Railway, which has been recently restored. The train used to follow a single line from Valletta to Rabat and was later extended to incorporate Mdina. In 1931 the railway was closed. The former station in Birkirkara is currently in use as a child care centre. Plans are underway to turn it into a museum known as the Birkirkara Historical Malta Railway Museum. Once the station is converted, the garden will also be refurbished, and the carriage will be restored and repositioned. At the beginning of April 2017 the carriage has been taken to renovation.
Ta’ Ganu Windmill (also known as Tal-Maħlut Windmill) is an 18th-century windmill. It was built in 1724 by the António Manoel de Vilhena Foundation. “Maħlut,” the alternative name also used for it historically, is the Maltese word for a mixture of wheat and hops used for making bread.
After a long period of abandonment, in 1990 the windmill was entrusted to a Maltese artist who renovated it and turned it into a well-known art gallery.
The Wignacourt Aqueduct is a 17th-century aqueduct in Malta built by the Order of Saint John to carry water from springs in Dingli and Rabat to the capital city Valletta. The aqueduct remained in use until the 20th century. Most of its arches still survive today and can be seen in various localities such as Attard, Balzan, Birkirkara, Fleur-de-Lys, and Santa Venera.
Birkirkara is one of the most significant towns in Malta and is a very central town. Property in Birkirkara comes at all shapes, sizes and prices. While being slightly cheaper than the coastal cities, Birkirkara can also offer some substantial houses, villas, and apartments. The bus passes through Birkirkara very frequently, as in most other places, and can take you to Sliema, St. Julians, or Valletta in approximately 20 minutes. Birkirkara’s property is enriched by bars, supermarkets, shops, and take-outs on almost every corner due to its dense population.
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