Fleur-de-Lys

When the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of Saint John were driven out from Rhodes in 1522, Charles V offered them the Maltese Islands as a perpetual feud.   The Knights sent a fact-finding mission to Malta to report on the state of the islands.   The mission found that the island lacked fortifications, and that the water situation in the island was unsatisfactory.

Reluctantly the Knights took over the Islands in 1530.   The 16th century was characterised from heavy skirmishes between the Knights and the Turkish Islamic forces.   After the heavy losses of the 1551 in the hands of Dragut the knights hurriedly started building fortifications around “Xebb-ir-Ras”, the promontory on the Grand Harbour, which later became the Capital City of Malta.   After the great Siege of 1565, Jean de la Valette the greatest Grand Master of the Knights hurriedly started the construction of the Capital City which would bear his name.

Unfortunately Valletta was dry and the supply of water was a problem to the Order as it could not meet the demands of the growing population.   It was a top priority which worried the Order.   Until in 1596 the Council of the Order decreed that a project to convey spring water from the western hills of the Rabat plateau located on the perched aquifer,to the City had to be carried out.   However the funds to embark on the project were insufficient and delayed its implementation.

Another great benefactor,French Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt was determined to carry out the project.   He even offered his own funds to this end.   The construction of the aqueduct, almost 10 miles long took five years.   It started in 1610 and was completed by 1615 when it was inaugurated with great pomp.    And it is precisely due to the aqueduct which borders the hamlet, that the land of Fleur de Lys owed its name.   As it is well known the Fleur de Lys is the coat of arms of Wignacourt.   Indeed, while the fleur-de-lis has appeared on countless European coat-of-armsand flags over the centuries, it is particularly associated with theFrench Monarchy. According to French historianGeorges Duby, the three leaves of the lily represent the medieval social classes: those who worked, those who fought, and those who prayed.

 

A triumphal three-door archway which spanned the junction to Notabile was a tribute to the great aqueduct project, its sponsor Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt whose determination and enthusiasm saw the completion of the much needed project, and to Bontadino de Bontadini the hydrologist from Bologna together with the 600 Maltese workers who laboured incessantly to complete the project in five years.  The Arch was designed in the form of the fleur de lys itself with a large arch and two smaller oneson each side.   It was a continuation of the aqueduct.In a totally exceptional manner Grand Master Wignacourt recorded Bontadini’s name on three inscriptions.   One in marble on the destroyed Fleur de Lys Arch, had the following words in Latin:   So far Valletta lay as a corpse.   Today the spirit of water has brought life to her.   The primordial spirit floated on water.   Now water has been drawn to her and that spirit reappears.   Bontadino de Bontadini from Bologna is he who delivered the waters 1615.The Arch was demolished in 1943 and it was only through the Committee’s efforts that development permission for a replica of the Arch was granted last month.

The shield of Arms of the hamlet of Fleur de Lys is derived from the Arch of Fleur de Lys.   It is elegant by its simplicity and effectiveness.

The Wignacourt arms are formed of three red fleur-de-lys which are blazoned as being ‘en noriture’ in other words their roots are invisible as they are in the ground. These are usually shown with the lily plant above a small base indicating the part that issues from the ground.

The arms are an example of ‘canting’ or singing as ‘fleur-de-lys’ is the name of the place. The shield is framed within a border of the colours. This bordure is the normal manner of indicating an Administrative Committee.

 

For many years Fleur de Lys remained a typically rural area with a couple of farmhouses and large streches of cultivated lands.   It formed part of the largest and one of the oldest and thickly populated towns in Malta – Birkirkara.   Indeed Fleur de Lys is still part of the electoral district of Birkirkara.   When the hostilities of World War II were on the horizon the hamlet suddenly developed into a safe haven receiving a lot of refugees from the areas around the Grand Harbour which were particularly vulnerable.

During the War, not only was the civil population seeking refugee in Fleur de Lys, but the seat of the Secretary for the Government itself was transferred to Fleur de Lys.  Vincenzo Bugeja Institute, a large edifice built in 1876 was requisitoned to house the Police Headquarters.   It also housed the Offices of the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, the Councils, the Treasury and transport.The Fire Brigade was also stationed here.   A number of emergency medical centres were also set up nearby comprising casualties, gynecology, ophthalmic, and surgical wards.

 

Being relatively secluded during the war there also existed a Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery which, although small was very effective and used to take enemy attacks by surprise on their way to attack the harbor or the Ta’ Qali airfield.   It also had a strong radar base.   The site has now been developed by the Bank of Valletta as its Head Office.   The battery was nicknamed Flury by the British Military.  German prisoners of war are also said to have been housed at this battery.   Thus from a quiet typically rural district Fleur de Lys sprang suddenly to life.

 

The advent of the Carmelite Order at Fleur de Lys was also neither so casual.   The Dominican Fathers housed in Vittoriosa had their convent destroyed by enemy action, and they were accommodated in Fleur de Lys.   Here they started carrying religious services which soon made them popular with the community.   The Carmelites which were in the neighbouring Parish Church of Santa Venera felt threatened and soon bought a plot of land to build their own Church and Convent in Fleur de Lys.  The church dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel was blessed in 1946 and in 1975 it was elevated to an independent Parish.   In 1994 the Carmelite Family Centre was inaugurated.   The new building proved to be very popular and caters for drama, sporting disciplines, and meetings of the various religious bodies.

 

 


Today Fleur de Lys, apart from its continuous growing population, is a commercial centre with large private and state schools, banks, industries, medical services, markets, and other commercial outlets.   It is well serviced with a public transport even though it lies less than 5 kilometers from Valletta and three kilometers from the University of Malta.

 

 

 

One cannot miss mentioning Farsons Brewery which lies predominantly on the outskirts of Fleur de Lys.  Simonds Farsons Cisk has been in operations since 1928. It has carefully nurtured a quality portfolio of international brands in the beer, soft drink, fruit juice and table water sectors. Wide experience and a first class product range have made Farsons synonymous with quality and dependability, both at home and abroad. Farsons’ products are now being developed with the international consumer in mind.

Farsons is today a large organisation with diversified interests, on a par with other European organisations. It is
renowned both as a brewer of fine beers as well as a producer of unique and innovative beverages.

Antoine Attard

18 November 2012