Mellieha Bomb Shelters
If you come across a rare rainy day while you’re in Malta, or simply need a break from the sun, you could do worse than taking a brief but poignant visit to the World War II bomb shelters in Mellieha, not far from the area’s vast sandy beach.
OK, so perhaps it seems a little morbid for a happy summer holiday, but even those with an aversion to history are likely to find the shelters interesting and, most certainly, eye-opening.
Malta’s bombshellMalta’s history is long, turbulent and humblingly impressive. A quick visit to any number of historical sites on the island can leave you with a new appreciation and respect for this little Mediterranean archipelago and its inhabitants. Amazingly, in World War 2, over 17,000 tons of bombs were dropped onto Allied-aligned Malta. This was driven by Axis powers Italy and Germany who attempted to bomb and starve the Maltese into submission in a bid to gain naval control of the Mediterranean. At this time, the Maltese were forced underground into a network of bomb shelters that could reportedly house nearly half of the island’s population. The shelters at Mellieha have been preserved to give visitors a taste of life during wartime Malta. The father/son team who look after the shelters (at time of writing) provide a wealth of knowledge, including haunting first-hand accounts from the father, if you are lucky enough to run into him.
As you pass the anti-blast chamber at the entrance (designed so that the bomb blasts would not send balls of flames down into the tunnels), you take a dark journey deeper underground, tons of solid rock above you. The tunnels were dug entirely by hand, covering 500m in length with small rooms that had been created as maternity rooms, rooms for families or for protecting national treasures. You can only imagine how long it must have taken and what the conditions must have been like for people living down there for months on end.
Signs have been added to the shelters to provide snippets of information on life in the tunnels and the sudden sounding of an air-raid siren makes your heart drop to your stomach – you can only imagine how the tunnel’s occupants must have felt when such an alert sounded, of which there were some 3,000 during two and a half years.
Malta – one of the most bombed places on earth
Your trip around the shelters won’t cost you much or take very long, but it does leave a lasting impression. After a passionate chat with the guys running the place, you’ll realise why Malta was awarded the George Cross for its gallantry – the only time the George Cross has ever been awarded to an entire country.
You’ll probably be glad to emerge blinkingly into the bright sunshine and breathe in the fresh sea breeze – and that’s just after twenty minutes or so. During World War 2, Malta became one of the most bombed places on the entire planet and underwent some of the most extreme hardships bestowed upon a nation. If you let it in, you’ll feel a special little place in your heart for Malta and leave with a new determination and zest to tackle your own life head on!