Malta and Gozo streetscapes present a very particular scenario to the new visitor who has never before experienced the islands’ character and lifestyle. The similarities and diversities from street to street are very obvious, yet they are sometimes so subtle that they become hard to pin down. It all boils down to tradition, practicality and a way of life that accentuates island living, Mediterranean temperaments and lots more besides.
Take doorways of Malta Property. Keen photography enthusiasts will find food for inspiration here. The older doors can be pokey little affairs that lead into decades-old Houses of Character in Malta, just as they could become huge and imposing prima donna affairs equipped with gigantic brass knockers, shoe mud scrapers, dainty bell-pulls and fronted by complexly decorated wrought iron gates. One particularity linked closely to the country’s religious ties is the proliferation of holy niches, religious figurines and Christian emblems that are usually embedded next to the house name or door number and very often also lit up with a miniature lantern. House names of real estate in Malta can be quite entertaining – ranging from that of the village patron saint, to the name of the Australian city from where the family repatriated, to bizarre combinations created out of the owners’ names. And then there is the ‘hasira’, very often placed right in front of the main door – a kind of curtain made of spliced bamboo reeds that is used to keep the sun out and retain the cool ambience indoors.
Then there are the windows. Now in a country that has been through such a lot historically speaking, it is not surprising to see windows that have a Moorish slant, others that seem to pop out of a Spanish hacienda and still others that emulate those very English bay windows. A general rule- the older the piece of real estate in Malta is, the smaller the windows. One can virtually trace the island’s history just by observing the architectural nuances. For instance – observe the balconies. The closed wooden framed balconies are a traditional characteristic harking back to the very ancient ‘muxrabija’ or peep box of Middle Eastern origins. Naturally the large balconies are now a far cry from the small peep boxes but the concept is very much the same.
Open balconies are good excuses to utilise as makeshift green areas with pots of plants and flowering species to beautify a façade. This perhaps harks also back to the age-old tradition of placing a flowering geranium in a pot on a windowsill visible from the street to announce that the house has a daughter of marriageable age and available for proposals. Now the flora has changed somewhat and whilst geraniums remain strong Mediterranean favourites preferred for their colourful hardiness, the wide variety of plants makes for a very diverse mix and match of natural embellishment.
Modernity has slowly seeped in to influence architecture as well and encourage change. Even balconies, front doors, and windows have moved on with the times and at times one will be faced with a façade that encompasses a number of characteristics as diverse as all the different influences that they echo. Yet the total look remains surprisingly one of homogeneity and interest.
Buildings are now becoming higher and apartment blocks are the order of the day. Yet even the Maltese know full well that nothing beats a typical Maltese house of character or townhouse for uniqueness in design, key features and a homely feel and look to a house. Whatever the style, age and character of a building, the strong favourite characteristic remains good old globigerina limestone which is that milky cream stone that is the be-all and end-all of Maltese constructions. Whilst man-made concrete bricks have stepped in to replace limestone, the soft indigenous stone had kept its stead and is still quarried in different parts of the islands and appreciated for its flexible characteristics.
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.