The mapping of the Contrada di Sta Caterina

Joseph Schirò

Maltese historical cartography offers not only maps which show a geographical reality transformed by mapmakers to a reduced visualisation and orientation on a flat surface, but illustrate various sociological, anthropological and historical aspects linked to the geographical space that they represent. Besides being a mine of information and knowledge, historical maps are also works of art, sometimes sporting the most exquisite and elaborate cartouches and embellishments both on the sea surrounding the islands of Malta and on land. Although separate printed maps of the contrada of Sta Caterina, Żejtun do not exist, yet the district was represented in very early maps because of the significant population cluster in the south-eastern region of Malta mainly due to its proximity to the harbour of Marsaxlokk with all the commerce and trade that harbours bring, and that of the Castrum Maris only a few kilometres away at the Grand Harbour, in case of retreat and shelter from sporadic enemy action.

Hydrogeology: its influence on the dynamics of settlement and agriculture in the south of Malta during the Late Medieval period

Dr Keith Buhagiar


Hydrogeology is the branch of geology involving the detection of surface or subsurface water deposits in a given landscape. This session seeks to contextualise principal differences in hydrogeology, settlement location, typology and agriculture between the northern and southern sectors of Malta between AD 1000 and the early 1600s. In north and north-west Malta, settlement and cultivation was predominantly located in a series of carefully selected river-carved valleys which provided shelter and easy access to perched aquifer deposits. An entirely different geological stratification makes Malta’s southern and central plains more water deficient, making settlement and agriculture a more challenging ordeal, especially in the absence of rainfall. Recent field and archival research has brought to the fore the resourcefulness and resilience of the medieval period inhabitants of Malta’s southern plains and their ability to detect a series of localised water-bearing strata in an otherwise semi-arid landscape. Research is ongoing, but preliminary data indicates a closely-knit association between hydrogeology, medieval period settlement location and agriculture-related infrastructure.

The evolution of domestic space in the Maltese islands during the Middle Ages

George A. Said-Zammit


This paper investigates the evolution of domestic space in the Maltese islands during the Middle Ages. It uses the available sources to analyse the type of dwellings that prevailed locally in the late medieval urban and rural settlements. Domestic space analyses throw light not only on how typical dwellings were spatially configured, but also on the daily life of their occupants. This study includes aspects of space syntax, through which the configuration of a late medieval dwelling is studied syntactically to acquire interesting observations in terms of visibility, integration, movement, communication and privacy. This paper consists of four sections. Its first part provides the historical parameters in which late medieval dwellings are studied, while the second section focuses on the characteristics of these houses. The third and fourth sections examine simpler forms of vernacular dwellings and troglodyte habitations, respectively. The next part uses a typical late medieval house to be studied through access analysis. The last section provides a potential reconstruction of domestic space development in late Medieval Malta.

The Impact of the Baroque Parish Church on the development of the Maltese village

Prof Denis De Lucca


Baroque parish churches, in their final form and in all their exterior and interior aspects, represented a unique and indelible landmark in the physical and social development of Maltese village environments in history. The aim of this paper is to discuss how these powerful symbols of the Baroque age not only introduced dramatic changes to the scale and quality of rural settlements in the Maltese Islands, but also served as models and goads for the widespread identification of ornamental features with Tridentine spirituality, dazzling spectacles and aesthetic preferences where the ‘bland’ was now replaced by the ‘ornate’. It will further be argued that the presence of Baroque parish churches in Malta (and in other Catholic Mediterranean islands) not only tended to regulate the life cycle and moral fibre of the villagers they served, but also managed to unleash sentiments of loyalty to authority but also pique with neighboring settlements. More than any other building in the village, the Baroque Parish church displayed an unmatched communicative force, perhaps best reflected in the silhouette of many a village skyline, before modern mind destroyed it.

The British influence on our villages and the post-Independence era

Perit Ruben Abela


Common talk about Maltese architectural history is very often structured on categorical classifications such a “baroque”, “vernacular” or “British period ‘ta’żmien l-Ingliżi’; the latter many a time uttered in a derogatory tone. Yet how accurate are these terms? In architecture, certainly locally, one should look beyond dates and try to appreciate the language a building or street speaks. Lately however whilst the appreciation of architecture of post 1800 Malta has increased healthily there is still much skepticism on the British influence on our urban landscape and settlement pattern. In the context of Maltese villages, these movements happened with arguable success, both being the means through which the post-war building boom and again the 1980s urban growth were in part expressed.  The purpose of this paper is to understand how villages across the Maltese Islands changed during British colonialism and beyond until recent times, and what was the impact on that which today would be defined as being of cultural heritage significance.

The Maltese village – a locus of collective memory

Perit Veronica Micallef

Tal-Hniena 3

There is a close relationship between memory and architecture. Memory is essential for the identity of individuals, societies and nations.  Charters and Urban Conservation Areas are part of the process whereby an identity, culture and collective memories within the context of the built fabric are conserved. An individual building can enhance or distort the image of a collective whole.  This paper seeks to understand better this mutual dependence and how these evolve in the Maltese towns and villages, by means of a case study of Paola’s urban conservation area.

Transformations in the urban form of Maltese towns and villages – some case studies

Prof Conrad Thake


The presentation will focus on the urban morphologies of various local towns and villages, and their shifts and transformations over time. The urban structure and form of our towns and villages is not static but in a continual state of flux changing in response to changes in the economy, technology and the aspirations of the local population. The author will consider a number of case studies to illustrate these physical changes over time, particularly the impact of vehicular accessibility and the irreversible changes this brought to the traditional form of the local towns and village. But even today, with unparalleled economic growth there is an unbridled thrust towards maximisation of development potential and how the re-development of peripheral new neighbourhoods is engirdling and encroaching upon the historic village and town core. The presentation will explore the dynamics of this process and the issues arising thereof.

Malta’s Villages: Origins and Evolution

Prof Brian W. Blouet


The paper provides an overview of rural settlement on the island of Malta (Gozo has a different story) from Prehistory to Present. Major emphasis will be placed upon rural places in the Arab era, late medieval times, and period of the Order. During the time of the Order the tight-knit, compact, Maltese Village, around a cathedral-like parish church, emerged to take a distinctive place on the landscape. Since 1800, the compact villages have responded to social, economic, and technological changes. The results, overall, have diminished the coherence of village built environment.