The Locality

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History

Żejtun, lying in the south-eastern part of Malta, covers the top of a hill that dominates the  bays of Marsaxlokk, St. Thomas Bay and Marsaskala, popular ports of call for all Mediterranean sailor since Phoenician times. They also provided convenient landing beaches for invaders.

 

The origins of Żejtun go back to Phoenician and Roman times. Orginally Żejtun, known as Terra Santa Catarina, covered the whole south eastern part of the island extending to the outskirts of the walls protecting Cottonera and included Żabbar, Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk and St. George's Bay. The inhabitants of Żejtun proper till 1680 formed two separate communities huddled in residences protected by narrow streets (which of themselves provided protection) known as Bisqallin referred to till today as the Lower Village (Ir-Raħal t’Isfel) and Ħal Ġwann and Ħal Bisbut, known today as the Upper Village (Ir-Raħal ta’ Fuq). Development during the eighteenth century and the construction of the new parish church in between the two communities formed the present centre and linked the two to form one community.

 

In the old days, the residents were sentinels against invasions which landed in the southern bays of the island. Because of this and the fact that they were furthest from Medina, the old capital, they developed an independent self-reliant spirit, often lauded in in their impromptu folk singing (għana), still prevalent today. The separate communities in the lower village and the upper village, with diverse mentalities still prevalent today, could not agree in the site of the new parish church in 1690. In typical Żejtun fashion, agreement was reached to construct the new monumental church on a site in between and equidistant from the two old quarters, integrating them and providing the town with a new imposing, vibrant centre, which is today the focal point of the community of Żejtun.

 

The name Żejtun originated from Phoenician and Semetic Arab meaning the fruit of the olive tree. In Arabic 'zaytun', Turkish 'zejtin' and in Spanish and Portuguese where Arab culture flourished found as 'aceituna' and 'azeituna' respectively.  Of course the word 'zaytun' is prevalent in North Africa and the Middle Eastern countries. In Maltese itself the word is now only as a place name, and the word 'żebbuġ' is now  used both for the olive tree and its fruit. Indeed the motto of Żejtun is “Frott Iż-Żebbuġ Ismi”, literally means 'My Name is the Fruit of the Olive Tree'. 

 

As in most Mediterranean countries, olive tree cultivation and the production of olive oil were prevalent in Malta, especially during Roman times. Over the years this activity declined especially when cotton cultivation became popular around 200 years ago. There has been a renewal of interest in olive tree cultivation during recent years.


Archaeological remains of such activity indicate that the area around Zejtun was already inhabited in Punic and Roman times.

Towards the end of the 18th Century, villages in Malta vied for township status. Thrilled with the presence of Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch for the Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, in November 1797, Żejtun villagers requested from him the symbolic tribute. His Eminence, convinced by the engaging arguments of his loyal subjects, granted their request. He honored Żejtun with the title of Città Bylandt (in Maltese 'Beland'), after his mother’s surname.

As in most Mediterranean countries, olive tree cultivation and the production of olive oil were prevalent in Malta, especially during Roman times. Over the years this activity declined especially when cotton cultivation became popular around 200 years ago. There has been a renewal of interest in olive tree cultivation during recent years.Archaeological remains of such activity indicate that the area around Zejtun was already inhabited in Punic and Roman times.

 

Coat of arms

 

A shield with a green cross on a silver background mounted by a crown with four towers (of which 3 are visible). The crown indicates the status of town and the cross a symbol of the Christian heritage in green because of the association with the olive tree.

 

The colours associated with Zejtun are olive green and red the colour of Saint Catherine of Alexandria who is the patron Saint of Zejtun. Indeed on some ancient maps Zejtun is referred to as Terra Santa Caterina. Week long festivities in honor of the Saint are held during the week preceding the third Sunday in June.

 

Eventful dates

 

The recorded history of Zejtun goes back at least 800 years. As indicated earlier, Zejtun was the first inland point of call when North African corsairs invaded Malta and frequent attacks that used to take place during the summer months. The last incursion was in 1614 when hundreds North African pirates where met and defeated by the inhabitants of Zejtun.


After that the inhabitant enjoyed relative peace since the Knights of Saint John had not only constructed the fortifications of Valletta, but also the Coastal Towers of Saint Thomas and Saint Lucian to guard the south coast, thus providing better protection for the town. These served little hindrance to the forces of Napoleon, and Zejtun was the first town to fall to the invaders. The inhabitants were very active during the two year revolt against the French occupiers.


During the British occupation the majority of the inhabitants were employed with the British services. Still political leaders from Zejtun were in the forefront in the movement for independence from Britain.


During World War II Malta was in the centre of the Mediterranean war saga and was heavily bombed. The imminent German invasion in 1942 was halted when Hitler turned his attention to the Russian front. During these dark eventful years, the inhabitants of Żejtun were actively involved in the war effort against the Nazi and Fascist forces, and tragedy struck on the 2nd May 1942 when a German anti-personnel bomb fell on the town centre killing 27 people instantly.


The end of the war brought much unemployment, and emigration between 1950 and 1970 forced the population of Żejtun down. The last thirty years marked significant progress and Żejtun is now a thriving town with good prospects for the future.


It is administered by an elected Council responsible for local affairs. The Mayor is Maria Dolores Abela.