Dingli is a small village at the extreme end of Malta, quite remote from the centre. The distance was felt even more up to ten or twenty years ago when public transport could only reach up to Rabat. To arrive at Dingli one had to make the journey either on foot or by means of a rough ride on a farmer’s cart. Up to sixty years ago there was no telephone service for the private family. Nowadays it is considered essential for every household to have the facility of this service. It was then considered difficult to travel to other localities of Malta. Even nowadays almost everyone feels the need of his private means of transport.
If we glance far away through the ages, and precisely towards the beginning of civilization in Malta, we can notice, that notwithstanding the extreme poverty which depressed the whole of Malta, Dingli had the benefit of being situated near Rabat. In fact, from olden times up to the middle ages, the centre of Malta was not Valletta but first Rabat and then Mdina. The present capital city was built from scratch only during the second half of the sixteenth century.
The Popular Council which governed the Island had its headquarters in Rabat. Dingli for many centuries was part and parcel of the civil administration of both Rabat and Mdina. Dingli had the same representatives, the same mayor and the same doctor. Only with great difficulty, could one find a priest who was willing to accept to live at Dingli or at Hal Tartarni – a place which historical sources have always confirmed the intimate connection with Dingli.
But, when the Maltese Church initiated the process of dividing the Island into parishes, not only in the cities but also in the rural zones, the small locality of Hal Tartarni could not be overlooked and someone had to be found to shoulder the responsibility of the spiritual aspect of the people, thus making this small village one of the first parishes ever in Malta. Hal Tartarni, which was the only inhabited area, was in the vicinity of the small forest created by Grand Master Verdala towards the end of the fifteenth century. There was a very small church dedicated to Saint Domenica, which today does not exist any longer. Just before the year 1436, this church was elevated to the dignity of a parish.
And then, after various ups and downs, which from a historical point of view cannot be clearly verified, all the population moved towards that zone called Dingli. This can be assumed to have resulted from the fact that the noble family Inguanez possessed vast territories of land in that zone. The farmers employed to work the fields of the Inguanez family found it convenient to go to Dingli, thus abandoning completely Tartarni. This period can be said to represent the origin of this delicious village, noted for its pure and uncontaminated air.
But if we look further back, we note that this village existed and was populated way back to remote times. We can reach as far back as prehistoric times, and after much hesitation and reflection, today the archaeologists lead us to conclude that quite probably there were certain quarries from where stone could be hewn to construct rural abodes in various parts of the Island.
Suffice it to say that archaeology leads us as far back to the times of the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians. Graves dug out of the rocks were found and it can be assumed that cremation of corpses was already in existence. According to the custom of those times, before burial, wicks and various articles of earthenware and ornamental goods were placed inside the grave. From what was found, the objects certainly go back to the Carthaginian period. These can be said to go back to almost 2800 years ago. The Phoenician and Carthaginian tombs were also used by the Romans, who occupied our islands way back to 218 before Christ. At Dingli there is no clear distinction between one period and another. At Ghajn Handful, baths, swimming pools and some instruments of the Roman period were discovered. Even at the locality known as Ta’ Baldu, an area lying not far away from Triq Misrah Suffara, is rightly known for its Roman baths hewn inside caves. hewn inside caves.
The scarce historical information available about Hal Tartarni gives some ray of light on the periods when we were under the Norman, Byzantine, Angevine and Aragonese rule. In those times, the Popular Council, with its offices at Rabat, had the full authority to govern over both Dingli and Hal Tartarni. Justice was meted out by Capitano della Verga. At the beginning of the reign of the Knights of St John, the population of these villages did not exceed three hundred inhabitants. The name of ‘Dingli’ was probably derived from the surname of some Maltese families who owned the land in this area.
Dingli is a locality near the sea and is full of cultivated fields, but at the same time stands imposingly very high above the sea. The cliffs reach a height of around 300 metres – the highest place in Malta. Thus the inhabitants do not earn their living by going fishing, but by assiduously tilling their fields. Even if they never became very rich, at least they could earn their living by means of husbandry and also from the produce of the fields.
The Dingli Cliffs, in harder times than at present, were also sometimes beneficial. Century’s age, Malta was frequently devastated by sea pirates who wreaked havoc everywhere. Many people were robbed, carried away as slaves, or killed straight away. For several centuries life it was no longer possible to live in the Island.
Then, in the year 1530, Emperor Charles V bestowed Malta to the Knights of St John as a feud. The pirates besieged and took over Gozo in 1551, but were not content with their victory and so directed their attention towards Malta. Espionage existed even at that time. Just before launching a great siege on the island of Malta, the Turks sent to Malta in great secrecy a spy by the name of Piri Reis in order to explore well our Island. Without being noticed by anyone, he went as far as Dingli to see if the Turks could land in this area. When Piri Reis observed the Dingli Cliffs, he quickly concluded that landing in this area is to be absolutely avoided. As a matter of fact, in the great siege of 1565, landing was affected at Marsamxett.
This was only just a glance at Dingli of the past centuries. The inhabitants at that time struggled to survive in a very difficult environment. The sole pride that distinguished the inhabitants of Dingli was their devotion to the parish church dedicated to the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. But the dignity of the recognition of the Parish was suppressed several times. Afterwards, in 1678, the village had the satisfaction of having an established Parish Church with its own Parish Priest, and from then better times were in the offing.
Dingli is now a picturesque village looking towards the future with confidence. There is now a sense of well-being, which could not be envisaged in the not too-distant past. The population has increased in number fifteen-fold since centuries ago. Statistics reveal that a century ago, it was difficult to send children to school. The boys used to work in the fields. The girls, from a tender age, helped in the domestic work. On the contrary, nowadays, everyone goes to school, not only to the primary but also to the secondary schools. There are also others who continue their studies at the Malta University from where the best even attain a doctorate in their field of study.
Dingli is the birthplace of many eminent personalities who have honoured not only the village but also the entire Maltese Islands. In the literary field, one can mention renowned authors like folklore pioneer Dun Xand Cortis and playwright Francis Ebejer. The Catholic Church was blessed with the Dominican friar Walter Ebejer, who was ordained Bishop of a diocese in Brazil. In the political field, Notary Guze’ Abela was an outstanding minister of finance, who was widely respected for his sound judgment and above all for his integrity.