Je ne sais quoi (How cool is it?)
Anchor Bay is found on the other side of Mellieha Bay from the popular tourist area. The area is more commonly referred to as Popeye Village. The bay has been re-named after the disastrous 1980 film starring Robin Williams in the title role. More important than having Robin Williams join the long list of stars with a connection to the Maltese Islands, the movie left behind their elaborate set, which was used as Sweetheaven Village in the movie.
Located in the village of Mellieha, this abandoned movie set is known as “Popeye Village”. It is currently an amusement park in Anchor Bay for families with young children. It claims to be a landmark for Mediterranean vacations. While it is true that tourists flock here and maybe even visit to see this site, the park itself is not that impressive. Visually Anchor Bay, featuring Popeye Village, is absolutely amazing and it is a top dive spot for all experience levels. Popeye Village looks like it jumped straight out of a fairy tale.
Where is Anchor Bay (Popeye Village)? 35°96′N 14°34′E
It’s still possible to get away from it all in Malta
Surrounded by boulders and rocky slopes, the picture perfect green-blue clear water of Anchor Bay is a pleasing surprise. The inlet is between two cliffs, and is a great swimming area. Scorpion Cave is on the left side of the bay. For the first couple meters, the entrance is completely submerged initially. Another entrance to the cave is available for snorkelers. This cave is a lot cooler than the amusement park.
Even better than the cave, is the huge anchor and enormous chain the bay is named for. It is found on the right side of Anchor Bay. A number of old anchors are on display at the Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa that were found on the sea floor in this bay. When you check out the area here, you will see a lot of fish. Expect to see groupers, octopus, parrot fish, scorpion fish, and maybe morays while you explore the Anchor Bay’s underwater life. I really did enjoy diving here on a few occasions, even though diving outside of the Caribbean is not my favorite activity.
Anchor Bay is a famous dive site
Anchor Bay is less popular with both tourists and locals than other Maltese beaches like Golden Bay or Gozo’s Ramla Bay because it is secluded and a hassle to get there. It is primarily a dive spot because of the caves, even though the water is basically perfectly clear and scenery is spectacular. It is relatively easy to say that in Malta.
This part of Malta is generally undeveloped. The roads are particularly rough. It is a dry inhospitable region on this gorgeous island. It is only a little more than 10 miles (21km) from Sliema (civilization), but it can easily take an hour to get there, moving along at a snail’s pace. One morning while I was playing around on a scooter, I drove to Popeye Village on windy deserted back roads. My path took me through the countryside on a circuitous route, as I wanted to avoid the furious Maltese traffic and crazy drivers as much as possible. It took all morning, but was a great trip along the coast, away from the beaten path around the Dingli Cliffs and up.
It seems impossible that the land is largely unspoiled in this region of the island. The other coast with Sliema and St. Julians is one of the most densely populated places in the world. The outskirts of all the little villages now blend into the neighboring towns. My Maltese friends said there used to be giant fields separating one town from the next. Regrettably, I never knew that Malta. My Malta is a great place, but it rapidly devours all resources without regard for the future, planning or laws.
Because the whole set of the Robin Williams movie was left behind and is still standing is the only reason people visit, even though Anchor is incredibly photogenic. Known as Sweethaven Village in the movie, this seaside attraction attracts primarily families with kids. In the summer, it doubles as a lido and has umbrellas and chairs for rent. You can play with a bouncy trampoline in the water also. Trampolines in the water, have always looked so much cooler than they are. An exception might be at a water park in Austin, Texas, opened by a friend from Malta.
Maltese History: from Cavemen to men who lived in caves
Initially designed by the Danish architect, Hans Munk Hansen, Popeye Village consists of post-war and modernist buildings and pathways. Over the years, the Christmas village and water park have been added, but you still get his vision pretty clearly. The movie might have been horrible, but the set is amazing and surrounding area is amazing. Partly due to Hansen’s work, but also the remote section of the island, this location is wonderfully peaceful. Like all things in the Mediterranean, there is a rich history to this coastal area. It goes a lot deeper than cheap family beach spots.
As far back as 3000BC, in the Neolithic era, there was inhabitation here. Fragments of pottery and tools have been discovered in local caves and tombs. Including the Għajn Żejtuna temple, several megalithic structures have been found predating Stonehenge.
In the area’s many caves, troglodytes started to live during the Roman era. Through the Byzantine period, the cave dwellers continued to exist. In the early medieval era, these early inhabitants of Malta disappeared.
The Mellieħa caves are mentioned in the Bible, in the Acts of the Apostles. It is told that St. Paul was shipwrecked in Malta around 60AD, while en route to Rome to be executed. St. Luke was traveling with St. Paul and painted the figure of the Virgin Mary on the rock in one of the caves. The cave was consecrated as a church in 409AD. Today it is known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieħa.
It is known that the parish still existed in 1436. Not much later, it was abandoned. Raids by Muslim pirates and slavers made the north of Malta unsafe and was largely given up. For the first few years of the Knights rule over Malta, the area was still abandoned. It was not until the end of the 16th century for the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieħa to be restored.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 17th century, for Malta’s north coast to be fortified. The area was protected by a series of towers and forts starting in 1649 with Saint Agatha’s Tower. Also known as the Red Tower, it overlooks Mellieħa Bay and has a tremendous view of Comino and Gozo. Two later towers were added to the immediate region in the following years.
Malta does not have any forests or many trees for that matter. In order to build Popeye Village in Anchor Bay, the wood needed to be imported all the way from Canada! It took 165 construction workers seven months to build the 19 wooden buildings for the movie.
“The all-wooden village was constructed to give it a 1920s look and feel. 8 tons of nails were used to make the structures stand, and 2000 gallons of paint to make them look cartoony.”
Anchor Bay is just a couple minutes away from Mellieha Bay by bus. It’s possible to walk, but not recommended during the hot summer months even though it looks like it is so close.
Boat Trips around Anchor Bay
When the weather is good, there are quick boat rides around the bay. The trip is only 20 minutes, but provides some cool picture opportunities. It’s always nice to get on the water anyway.
The Popeye Village complex has a short movie detailing the construction of the set and the filming of the movie. I have never seen it, but it sounds interesting maybe. I like Robin Williams.
There are a bunch of other uses for Popeye Village, but it is certainly unique. If you are in the area, why not? But if you are a diver, definitely check out the bay.