Walking down a street in any village or town centre in Malta and Gozo, usually offers the sight of several older townhouses belonging to the pre-war or post-war era, sitting neatly in a row. Whichever period they originated from, they are usually characterised by a series of features which render them typical of these Mediterranean islands. Once you become tempted to purchase a townhouse in Malta of your own, in whichever part of the islands you fancy, do keep in mind that certain aspects of the townhouse are particularly appreciated and would make your investment that much more special.
Here is what to look out for:
- Townhouses in Malta are generally small, having not more than two bedrooms. A townhouse with extra rooms is therefore extra special.
- Wooden apertures in good and original condition are a bonus – the front door complete with brass knocker; the original ‘persjani’ alias louvred windows; the traditional wooden balcony. Wooden balconies were typically painted, cream, green, white, red or light blue, all colours which complement the natural limestone facade.
- A curiousity are the shoe scrapers sitting at one or both sides of the front doorstep. Made of wrought iron, these served to scrape goat and dog poo, or mud from the bottom of shoes before entering the house.
- Front door gates when included, are made out of wrought-iron and generally topped by a brass bar and brass handle.
- Apart from the door number (occasionally in brass) and a door name, facades were typically complemented by a ceramic or maiolica plaque depicting a religious saint, the Madonna & Child or the Holy Family.
- – Indoors, look for original floor tiles, handmade, colourful, intact and ornamental. The true Maltese townhouse usually boasted a different design and pattern of floor tile in each individual room. Today these original tiles can be reproduced at quite elevated prices, but of course nothing beats the original.
- Wrought iron balustrades are a staple feature along the indoor staircase.
- Most townhouses in Malta include a garden at the back. Some of the loveliest gardens can be reached via a roofed verandah shaded by vine on trellis. Gardens were not particularly large but some included a shed in the back and a separate toilet. The grander houses could have a garden large enough to allow the eventual inclusion of a pool. An alternative is the courtyard with its lone citrus tree.
- In the garden watch out for curiosities such as hand-hewn stone seating, sun dials, old plants and stone-cut planters. A well is usually present and the older ones would be have been dug out of the stone in the form of a bell (qanpiena) – a highly prized inclusion with ample water storage capacity.
- Townhouses in Malta are generally well-lit and some may sport a skylight overlooking the stairway, for daylight to spill into the house all day long.
- The cherry on the cake would be the inclusion of a spiral staircase somewhere on the rear part of the house, perhaps leading up to the roof.
The above features are a great guideline on what to look for when checking for authenticity. Keep in mind that many townhouses that were threatened during the war have today been restored. Townhouses in Malta are treasures and can be appreciated any time you look down a road and see a beautiful picture of a row of typical homes available in real estate in Malta. Fortunately many are still around to this day and have survived over time, however on the downside these houses in Malta are sometimes destroyed in favour of new developments. The Malta Planning and Environment Authority is continuing to implement protection measures for this type of property in Malta in certain locations, so as to preserve the heritage and legend of the islands.
Written by Marika Azzopardi
Marika Azzopardi is a freelance writer and journalist. A frequent contributor to national English language papers and magazines, she writes about a bevy of topics including art, people and life in general. She is also the author of children’s books and short stories, delving into adult fiction from time to time.