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Zebbug


Żebbuġ is one of the oldest towns in Malta, with a population of 12,892 making it the 12th largest town in Malta. The name of the town means "olives" in Maltese and it was derived from the large olive groves that stood in and around the current location of the church and the centre of the town. In 1777, the town was bestowed by the title of Città Rohan by Grandmaster Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc. As was the custom in such events, the people of Ħaż-Żebbuġ built an archway at the entrance to their hometown to mark the incipiency of its status as a city. This gateway, known by the locals as "Il-Bieb il-Ġdid" (the new gateway) still stands today. A scattering of Punic and Phoenician tombs were found together with a small number of cart ruts and other remains.

During the Arab occupation of Malta, three small communities, namely Ħal-Dwin, Ħal-Muxi and Ħal-Mula, were developed and eventually joined together by building a church dedicated to St. Philip of Agira to form the village as it is known today. Filippo de Catania, a wealthy entrepreneur owning land in Ħaż-Żebbuġ, funded part of the construction of St. Philip’s Church. This parish church was later rebuilt in the late seventeenth century. The Church boasts a magnificent titular painting by Luca Garnier and two spectacular murals by the Maltese painter Francesco Zahra, which critics consider to be his best works. Among other treasures the Church possesses an artifact attributed to Guido Reni and several others by Antonio Sciortino. The statue of St. Philip, by sculptor Luigi Fontana, was created in 1864 and is regarded by many as the most beautiful of its genre in the country. 

Under the sovereign Order of St. John, Ħaż-Żebbuġ was considered among the main towns after Valletta and Mdina, mainly because of the presence of leading corsairs among its inhabitants and also due to its major role in the cotton industry. When the Revolutionary French took Malta, the local churches were plundered for their riches in order to fund Napoleon's campaign. A local legend says that the Żebbuġ locals opened the main door to the church when they heard the French were coming and hastily hid the gold and silver religious iconography. When the French saw the open doors of the church they kept on going and the Żebbuġin retained their religious riches.

Ħaż-Żebbuġ is renowned for its spectacular feasts dedicated to the St. Philip of Agira, celebrated on the 2nd Sunday of June, and that to St. Joseph, a secondary feast which is celebrated on the last Sunday of July. Zebbug is also well known for the Good Friday procession as it is the only Good Friday procession held in Malta that make use of horses.

Żebbuġ is the birthplace of various prominent Maltese personalities who have adorned the national cultural history across the years, such as Mikiel Anton Vassalli (father of the written Maltese language), Dun Mikiel Xerri (a Maltese patriot who was executed by the French for his leadership when the Maltese fought against the French rulers), Dun Karm Psaila (Malta's national poet), Antonio Sciortino (sculptor), Lazzaro Pisani (painter), Frans Sammut (leading contemporary author), and Alfred Chircop (foremost contemporary painter).

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