Could you imagine yourself standing in the square of a small town of 18,000 people in the heart of a luscious valley bristling with flowering Valencian orange trees, under the watchful gaze of towering mountains, and calling out loudly the Maltese surname ‘Mifsud’?Would you believe your eyes if at least half a dozen people turned their heads to see why you were calling out to them?
This is the surprising case of the town of Tavernes, one of four municipalities along the impressive Valldigna – literally translated, a worthy valley – in the Comunidad Valenciana in Spain, which also has famous beaches washed by the Mediterranean Sea.It must have been the spirit of adventure which fires many of us, at some stage or other of our lives, that would have made a certain Lorenzo Mifsud Borg from the town of Żejtun in Malta to make the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea to seek pastures new in the small township of Tavernes around the end of the Eighteenth Century, and where he eventually married a Spanish girl.The Mifsud generation has, since that day over two hundred years ago, increased and multiplied, and the surname still survives today and carried in composite with other surnames by Spanish citizens in the town.
The town’s current mayor is D. Eugenio Pérez-Mifsud who, as you would have rightly guessed, proudly sports his Maltese lineage too.To commemorate the connections between this Valencian town and Malta, and to honour those members of the town community who are descended from the first Maltese settlers, the Local Council of Tavernes approved a motion to name the widest and most modern street of the town for Malta.The Ambassador of Malta in Spain, D. Gaetan Naudi, and the Mayor of Valletta, Dr Paul Borg Olivier, accompanied by their spouses and a number of other delegates from Malta, travelled to Tavernes de la Valldigna, with the assistance of the Fundació Jaume II el Just, a Foundation set up by the Generalitat of the Comunidad Valenciana, to officially inaugurate the street, Avenida de la República de Malta, on Friday 17th March 2006.
After speeches by the Mayors of Tavernes de la Valldigna and of Valletta, and by the Ambassador of Malta in Madrid, a plaque with the street’s name proudly written in Valencian was uncovered.All speakers highlighted the linkages of Malta with Spain, which, as history would have it, date back some centuries.The town’s web site could not have expressed it better when it promotes Tavernes as a ciudad que ha sabido prosperar y mirar hacia el futuro sin olvidar su pasado.The short ceremony was rounded off by the letting off of fireworks, in what can only be said to be the traditional Valencian – and Maltese – style of keeping up the festive spirit of the occasion.
The Maltese delegation was subsequently also invited to visit Valencia where the festivities of the fallas – intricately manufactured caricatures made of wood and papier maché – which are always held close to the feast of St Joseph the Worker (and the carpenter!) herald in every year the beginning of spring.A special Sunday Mass dedicated to the Republic of Malta was celebrated in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Vulnerable (Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados) in Valencia.The Maltese flag was given a place of honour near the altar, and the Maltese delegation joined the congregation crowding the Basilica.At the end of the Mass, the wife of the Ambassador presented a bouquet of flowers to the Virgin Mary in the name of Malta, whilst holy pictures showing the image of the Virgen de los Desamparados, the work of the Maltese craftsman Wiġi Muscat, who had been commissioned in the beginning of the Twentieth century by the Maltese owner of Villa Macedonia in Balzan, the current official residence of the Spanish Ambassador in Malta, were given out.The cult of devotion for the Virgin Mother as protector of the ‘defenceless’ was promoted by Valencian Grand Master Ramón Perellos y Rocaful in the last decade of the 17th century in Malta.
Gaetan A. Naudi
Ambassador of the Republic of Malta