Kercem, Hamlet Of Santa Lucija (Malta)
Kercem is a small village (1 700 inhabitants) on the mythical island of Gozo, which forms part of the Maltese archipelago in the heart of the Mediterranean. It is the closest village to Victoria, Gozo’s capital, and its name is most probably derived from that of a family living in the area in the 15th century.
The village of the old hamlet of Santa Lucija in Kercem nestles between the three hills of Ghar Ilma, Il- Mixta and Santa Lucija. Each has a natural water spring, making the surroundings one of the most fertile areas of Gozo. Kercem is the oldest inhabited place in the Maltese Islands, with the first settlements from Sicily dating back to around 5000 B.C.
Spirit and surroundings
Kercem was once very well-known for a traditional procession. On 12 March, the “Feast of Pope St Gregory the Great” procession used to make its way from the cathedral to an old church and, later, onward to the village parish church. Gozo bridegrooms used to promise their brides before marriage that they would take them to this procession every year.
These rural surroundings provide an idyllic backdrop to candle-lit evenings in this tranquil and enchanting village. The starry nights give an added touch of romanticism for those who choose to wine and dine there, carried away by notes from the traditional stringed instruments. The Rabat – Ta’ Kercem road offers a view of the Lunzjata valley. Cultural and historical monuments are also to be found on various parts of the road such as Ghar Gerduf, the site of a 3rd/4th century Christian catacomb, four chapels clustered together on this spot, and remnants of Roman baths revealed by excavations.
Parallel to the church, another road leads to the hamlet of Santa Lucija and its own parish church. The church building was started on the feast of St Gregory in 1846. Santa Lucija is the place where the oldest inhabitants of Malta settled. A characteristic pottery, claimed to be of a purer Sentinello variety, was found on the hill of Il-Mixta, brought there by the first settlers who also introduced stone tools, domesticated animals and seeds. On the Ghar Ilma plateau, visitors can feast their eyes on a settlement of late mediaeval houses. The 19th century aqueduct, connected to tunnels and reservoirs in Santa Lucija and a fountain in Kercem, is another proud local feature. It supplies natural spring water to Ghajn Abdun and Ghar Ilma.
Kercem and the hamlet of Santa Lucija organise cultural activities throughout the year to foster appreciation of the inherited traditions. Events centre around three main festivities.
Ikla tan-Nanna – meaning “seven-course meal”, is mainly a gastronomic event that consists of a traditional meal of seven courses. These feature traditional local food and are prepared using authentic ingredients from the surrounding fields.
Waiters and volunteers working for the event all dress in traditional costumes. From food to historical re-enactments, music to wine, Ikla tan-Nanna offers its many participants an unforgettable taste of Maltese culture.
The participants are given a menu that not only presents each course, but also explains the preparation and the tradition linked to the specific courses and traditional Maltese cooking. The entertainment consists of traditional music and songs performed by local bands and folk groups. The foundation also offers free transport services from the harbour to the village to encourage people from both near and far to participate.
The Bis-Sahha wine festival takes place around the streets of Santa Lucija. The event is held in cooperation with a local wine company that looks after the wine stalls.
The Fondazzjoni Folkloristika Ta’ Klula organises stands with local food and a barbecue for visitors as well as crafts and on-site painting activities. Prices are kept low to avoid any form of elitism and to ensure that as wide an audience as possible can enjoy the event.
The ‘Santa Lucija by Night’ light festival links spirituality and the locality. Candles are lit around the streets of the village. Cakes and local pastries are handed out as a young girl lights a bonfire. There is a common time for recollection and prayer as the village takes on a truly unique ambience.