The Feast of Santa Marija 2014 by Tony Gemmink

The Feast of Santa Marija 2014 by Tony Gemmink

2655

Vincent Koen filmed the very first video of Malta I ever watched. It was back in 2004 when he was filming some fireworks footage for our freakpyromaniacs.com website. From the moment I watched the footage, Malta was added to my bucket list. But since life is complicated (you know, with things like marriage and children, etc. happening) and the fact that MY bucket list just happens to be about 10 meters long, my 2004 desire to travel to Malta was delayed by 10 years.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get anyone to join me on my little journey, so I booked a single ticket to Malta and a modest hotel room there just for myself. Thanks to Derk, Chris, Martijn, Mats and Patrick, though, I never felt lonely during my entire stay in Malta. Really, bless these Dutch boys because they helped me from the very first moment I arrived on the main island. And since these guys visit Malta regularly (maybe 4 or 5 times a year), they knew everywhere I needed to go and everything I needed to see. Honestly, if it wasn’t for them, I’m sure I would have gotten terribly lost and would have missed most of what I went there to see.

Cobra Firing Systems

I readily admit being naïve about the islands, too. I thought (silly me) most festivals and fireworks displays were all fairly close to one another. Malta is much larger than most people think. The truth is, most of the shows you want to see there are a good 30-minute drive away—and that is only if you know exactly where you are going.

The first night there (August 13th) we all visited the village Qrendi, where the Santa Marija Fireworks Factory of Qrendi put on an awesome display with spectacular Beraq (“thunder”) shells and the Kulur (“color”) shells for well over an hour. I was somewhat taken by surprise when air raid sirens blared loudly at the beginning of the show right before they fired off their famous “lampare shells”. This created a very realistic impression of warfare. Actually, it was realistically scary enough to give me goose bumps. As their show continued, however (and I calmed down), I enjoyed the feel their world-renowned Beraq salutes gave me, and was amazed by the deep intensity of their Kulur shells. Then I thought, “What if this it? What if this is as good as it gets?” Fortunately, when I questioned them, the guys I was with told me not to worry: they said the next day (August 14th) would be even better because all the villages celebrated their individual feasts of Santa Marija that day and would display some of their biggest shows and best shells. In addition, they told me that on Friday (August 15th) they were certain I would see fireworks I would never forget. And they were right!

Before I tell you more about the next day’s fireworks, however, I want to share a little more about what I saw on the morning of 14th. Not to confuse you, but we saw the 15th on the 14th. What? I’m not kidding: the unusual name of the Maltese fireworks factory that displayed the wonderful Beraq shells at exactly 12:00 noon on August 14th is called: “15th August Fireworks Factory.”

This was my first daylight experience with these types of shells. Although I have seen shells somewhat similar in Italy many times, these were significantly different in ways that are hard to describe. It was their rhythm that made them unique, and their perfectly synchronized timing. Regardless, what fireworks fanatic doesn’t like huge bottom shots! KABOOOOM!

For the upcoming shows I decided to do something very different—I used all the GoPro cameras I brought with me. Since the plan was to visit the village of Ghaxaq where the Saint Mary Fireworks Factory of Ghaxaq were setting up some very large Irdieden (Maltese ground wheels), and since all of the preparation to shoot the 7:00 PM Beraq display was going on when I got there, I decided to outfit some of the pyrotechnicians with these cool little cameras and see just how the Maltese Pyro’s did their field work. We did see/feel some of the wonderful Beraq shells while we were there, and I was very excited to see what the GoPros had captured. That had to wait, though, because an hour after the Beraq shell display, we were invited up to the roof of the Church in Ghaxaq to watch the evening displays put on by the same factory. The St. Mary Fireworks Factory choreographed a truly exquisite pyromusical using a myriad of colored shells and Beraqs-a-plenty. Add to the mix a few 16”, 19”, 24” shells as well as a record-breaking 27” ball shell and (like my friends told me) you’ve watched a show you’ll never forget!

Cobra Firing Systems

It is interesting to note that at the same time St. Mary’s began its show in the village Ghaxaq at 9:30 PM, several other villages—Qrendi and Mqabba, for example—also began their displays. Since we were perched high above the town on the church roof, briefly we could see how all of the displays were unfolding. Amazing!

Hours of fireworks later, just when a normal person might think it is time to head for bed—you are wrong! After the main displays is when the Irdieden shows begin!

Finally, after an exhausting day and evening, I returned to my hotel room and had the opportunity to view the GoPro footage. WOW! This was exactly what I had hoped to see—every little pyrotechnic detail from start to end! Here were the Maltese grabbing shells from the magazine, running out to the display field, loading mortars with shells, lighting fuses and RUNNING to safety! Incredible footage!

On Friday, August 15th, the last day of the festival, we returned to Qrendi. I had been forewarned about some amazing 10” cylindrical shells that would be shot there that were supposedly almost 71” long (180cm). As soon as we entered the display field there, the guys from the factory handed me one of those monsters. Although I was leery of handling a shell that big, I did it anyway. Then they fired one. OMG! The break occurred only about 33 feet (10 meters) above our heads! The mortar was louder and more powerful than anything I have ever seen or heard in any other country (and that includes Italy!). Honestly, it was forceful enough to make my eyes water.

 

This was the reason I came to Malta in the first place: BIG breaks and quality shells! And the GoPro cameras captured it all! Be sure to watch our exclusive video of this:

Then, one hour after watching this amazing Beraq shell display, we got to see some Beraq Pront shells. Pront shells are similar to regular Beraq shells, but are quicker. We also got to see some beautiful colored shells as part of a very nice show punctuated by some very big ball shells.

So, August 15th, my first (and I’d have to say spectacular) trip to Malta officially ended. I sincerely want to thank everyone from the Saint Mary Fireworks Factories located in Qrendi, Mqabba and Ghaxaq for being so nice to me and for allowing us the freedom to film everything we wanted. One more thanks to the Dutch guys Mats, Derk, Chris, Patrick and Martijn, too, for helping make this trip such enjoyably memorable learning experience.

For some interesting historical information about the celebration of Santa Marija on Malta, be sure to read “Operation Pedestal” on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Pedestal.