A la maltesa

[texto completo en versión original escrito por Salvator Mousu’]

The Traditional Maltese House

It is a well-known fact that the first habitation took place in a cave and quite naturally when man came out of it his first thought was to construct an abode. In Malta we have some extant examples of this transition i.e. from a cave dwelling to a “house” however primitive, that demonstrates how several aspects of this transition kept recurring for well over a millennium.

Added to this experience Malta has been, metaphorically speaking, ‘blessed’ with its primary asset: her globigerina limestone. Cut, sawn, carved and handled with relative ease it has been utilized and used, ever since the dawn of prehistory, in all architectural requirements, first and foremost in the construction of the ‘Maltese’ house. Emphasizing this appellative is for the simple reason that, in spite of its apparent fragility and subjugation to all temperatures, styles and fashions it has been the prime factor that retained the traditional tastes and amenities that withstood the test of time. Stone, stonework and the Maltese house have ingrained themselves in such an irreplaceable manner that it is impossible to try to deal with them in a separate manner when it comes to define or discuss the traditional Maltese abode.

Being a bad conductor of heat stone has proved to be the ideal building material to cope with the local environmental situation in the sense, that, if constructed with the necessary care and experience it proves to provide a relatively cool atmosphere in the hot summer months and quite a bulwark against the onslaughts of a wintry weather. Apart from this thermal amenity the traditional Maltese house has proved to be also a prime factor in developing and maintaining a pleasing aesthetic aspect, absorbing, as time rolled by, the style prevalent at the period without falling an easy prey to the exuberances of baroque, rococo` or even art nouveau.

Many to-day strive hard to seek the origins of this or that particular aspect of the traditional Maltese house but, what many fail to note and stress upon is that our traditional Maltese house in the past did develop a local stamp, the most renowned is perhaps the ubiquitous “Maltese” wooden balcony. Whatever the origins, after all as a philosopher has it “Nothing is new under the sun!” these very typical balconies took on and developed a totally local stamp. In a similar manner, though in a less obvious way, other minor aspects did acquire their ‘stamp’ such as the stone balcony, the doorway, the wrought iron balcony, the beautifully carved balcony corbels, especially of baroque Valletta, the inner courtyard, the cellar, the once upon-a-time also ubiquitous well and other minor aspects such as the keystones and wrought iron front door gates and the list may go further!

Seen at first sight one might get the idea that all such aspects of the Maltese traditional house is, or may have been, of continental inspiration. Inspiration might have had its part to play but on delving a bit deeper one soon discovers that a local idiom won over and one can safely say that an authentic local traditional house may truly be considered as ‘Maltese’.