Queen sails across Malta harbour in nostalgic tour of beloved island

28th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Cannon shots rang out across the harbour in Valletta on Sunday in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, who was sailing across the bay on the final leg of her state visit to Malta.

The 89-year old and her husband Prince Philip were aboard the "Maryanne", a boat from the early fifties and the period when the couple called the Mediterranean island home.

The trip on the dghajsa -- a traditional water taxi -- was the highlight of a nostalgic day, which saw the couple return to several of their favourite haunts from their youth.

Dressed in a bright turquoise A-line coat, the queen held her hat on in the wind as the red, yellow and green-striped boat, with the royal standard flying from its stern, sailed towards the HMS Bulwark, which was adorned with colourful signalling flags.

The monarch lived in Malta between 1949 and 1951 as a princess with her new husband, who was stationed on the island as a Royal Navy officer.

It was reportedly the happiest time of their lives and the pair have returned several times over the years -- most recently in 2007 to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary.

- A royal three cheers -

As a princess, she had a dghajsa commissioned by the Royal Navy to ferry her around, and looked pleased to be hopping back in one despite the overcast day.

As the cannons fired from the Barrakka gardens on the sea front -- where Elizabeth, then in her early 20s, used to come and wave in the navy fleet -- the crew of the HMS Bulwark performed a royal salute, holding their caps aloft and cheering "hip hip hooray!".

Security was heavy, with snipers on the rooftops and four patrol boats with armed sailors circling the bay for the ride, which wound up a three-day state visit which began Thursday.

The monarch had requested to landed at Customs Wharf, 72 years after her father King George VI landed there to award the island the George Cross for its bravery during a Second World War siege. It was the only time the award has been bestowed on a country.

Earlier in the day, Queen Elizabeth had rolled up her sleeves to plant a tree in the grounds of the presidential San Anton palace, an exotic oasis in the heart of the country.

The gharghar sapling -- a small cypress which is Malta's national tree -- is the first of its kind in the palace's private gardens and will grow next to an olive tree planted 10 years ago by the queen during her last state visit in 2005.

- Bygone age -

The couple also visited the Heritage Malta centre which conserves the country's historical sites, including ancient temples which folklore has it were built by giants.

The centre, where the national art collection is also preserved and restored, is housed in the former Bighi Hospital -- a major navy infirmary that served a vast area from 1832 until 1970, giving Malta the nickname "The Nurse of the Mediterranean".

The hospital tended to casualties of the first and second world wars, and the then-princess paid tribute to their service in 1949, visiting patients here on Christmas Eve.

It was a hugely independent time for the future queen, who used to beetle around the island in her own car and enjoyed shopping, partying and spending the day at the races.

The monarch spent her last hours on the island at the Marsa racecourse, where she reportedly used to come to ride but also to dance the night away at an on-site club.

The royals viewed trotting races and the final chukka of a polo match at the club -- the second oldest polo club in the world -- before awarding prizes to the victors.

They then set off for the airport in cars from the 1950s -- Austin Princesses with leather seats and walnut wood interiors -- in a final nod to a bygone age of liberty.


© 2015 AFP

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