Meet Malta’s Popeye Village — A Film Set-Turned-Town

Built as a backdrop for the 1980 cult film Popeye, this seaside village is a quirky time capsule of a cinematic past.

PAPPADEMAS
Feb 11 · 20 min read
Sweethaven Village, viewed in all its glory.
A scantily clad day at Popeye Village.
At Mgarr ix-Xini bay in Gozo.
The prawns from Carmen’s Bar & Restaurant.
Sunbathing with a view of Valletta.
At the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta.

FOR A ROCK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN THE SIZE OF LUBBOCK, TEXAS, MALTA HAS A SURPLUS OF PAST.

It’s 12 and a half by 16 and a half feet of exquisitely composed torment, executed by a master whose understanding of brutality transcended the philosophical. Everyone in the painting is having their own separate experience of the execution, from the horrified old woman holding her head to the weary jailer pointing to Salome’s gold head platter like “Let’s get this show on the road,” but your eye goes to the executioner, who’s just finished sawing open John’s neck, and the loving detail with which Caravaggio renders his rippling back muscles. He looks like he teaches CrossFit on weekends. It’s the most lurid thing I’ve ever seen in a place of worship — a Tarantino murder playing on the big screen inside God’s house.

Shrine detail from a church in Gozo.

“WHEN WE WERE IN MALTA, WE WERE ON EVERYTHING BUT SKATES,” ROBIN WILLIAMS WOULD LATER RECALL.

When we arrive at Popeye Village the sky is a brilliant blue, but the wind is blowing hard, and the blue-green waters of Anchor Bay are white with chop. Today’s boat tour of the harbor is canceled. Swimming out to the inflatable trampoline that bobs a few hundred feet offshore is also out of the question. But none of this matters, because we are in Popeye Village, and the wonders begin the moment we step onto the main and only street, where a 30-something Maltese man in a Popeye sailor suit is making a movie.

Maltese Popeye poses with tourists as Bluto looks on.
Maltese Popeye and Olive Oyl.

Malta Beyond Popeye

An incomplete but quirky guide.

Winston Churchill once referred to Malta as the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” — it was bombed more than 3,000 times by the German Luftwaffe and the Royal Italian Air Force during World War II. These air raids — and the underground tunnels the Maltese built to escape them — figure prominently in V., the debut novel by Thomas Pynchon, who’s believed to have visited the island in the 1950s as a seaman. Duck into the maze of tunnels beneath the Malta at War Museum in Birgu, across the Grand Harbour in Valletta, for an authentic air-raid experience complete with sirens and re-creations of the tiny chambers where Valletta’s life as an underground city unfolded.


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Airbnb Magazine celebrates humanity wherever it exists: across borders, time zones, languages, and skin tones.

PAPPADEMAS

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thanks I'll eat it here

Airbnb Magazine

Airbnb Magazine celebrates humanity wherever it exists: across borders, time zones, languages, and skin tones.