Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A pirate's cave

The 12th century legend goes that a Turkish pirate by the name of Ħassan, madly in love with a beautiful Maltese girl, abducted her and took her to live with him in a cave in the southern cliffs of Malta. The villagers soon realized this and were immediately off to rescue the girl, then give the Turk the punishment he deserved. Upon hearing their shouts, the defiant Ħassan pushed the girl down the cliffs to her death, and leapt after her before anyone could catch him.

The locality where this tragic tale is supposed to have taken place is, fittingly, called Għar Ħassan (Ħassan's Cave). It lies between Bengħisa and Ħal-Far, punctuating the Lower Coralline Limestone cliffs making up most of the area. Like many other caves in the Maltese Islands it is a phreatic tube formed by the dissolution of limestone in water, and this is very evident in the smooth appearance of the cave walls.

Għar Ħassan consists of a central large chamber, the accessible part of which measures about 60m. Two main paths intersect with the main one at about 20m into the cave; the one to the east (above) leads to another opening in the cliff-face while the one to the right narrows down, eventually becoming inaccessible. Some parts of the main tube are perennially wet and mainly soft calcite deposits can be seen in several places on the walls of the cave. Clayey soil, consisting of the insoluble components of limestone, covers the entire floor of the cave and is sometimes cemented in place by calcite from hard water dripping from the ceiling. Soil has prevented stalagmites from forming over the limestone floor.

A fault running along the main chamber, quite visible on the roof of the cave (above), probably contributed to to the formation of the cave by fracturing and therefore making the usually firm Lower Coralline Limestone far less resistant to water flow.


  1. Have they opened this cave to the public again?? I thought it was no longer accessible.

  2. I took the photos about a year ago, not sure about its present status.

  3. That's a delightful introduction to Maltese caves! Indeed, Very different from those in Malaysia as most of the karsts here are made of marble.

  4. Thanks Junn! I'd like to explore some of the Malaysian/ Bornean karst firsthand, some day. There is no real metamorphic marble here in Malta, just a type of highly crystallized limestone which is sometimes called 'marble' by locals. I will post something about it sometime soon.

  5. A 12th century legend featuring a Turkish pirate? Turks didn't begin to enter eastern Anatolia until the beginning of the 12th century. This Hasan guy, if he was a historical character, must have been a true pioneer for having traveled so far west in such a short time.

  6. Many thanks for the valuable contribution, Aydin. The 12th century, locally, is characterized by the start of 'European' Malta as opposed to a Muslim one. The name Hasan is Muslim and may be a historical metaphor/ personification that shows how any Muslim influences were starting to be seen as 'sinister' (much unfortunately), this antipathy was of course brought to its peak during the 16th century siege, with Turkey under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent.

    The sources I have for the legend say Ħassan is a Turk, but of course these could be erroneous, my bet is that he was either an Arab or that he never existed (more likely).


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