When you next fancy a walk in Malta, skip the greener areas and instead opt for a stroll in one of Malta’s seaside cities, like Marsaxlokk. You’ll inevitably be enthralled by the abundance of boats everywhere – boats that you might only have seen before on postcards.
We’re not talking about luxurious yachts and speed boats, but rather Maltese traditional boats. This article is going to delve into the common types of traditional boats you’ll find in Malta, but if after reading you find yourself craving a bit more knowledge, there’s one event you really need to get to.
That event, organised by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, is taking place on the 9th of February, and is a talk aptly titled ‘The Boats of Malta’. Delivered by Professor Anthony Aquilina, the talk is the result of research by world-famous anthropologist Desmond Morris, who actually resided in Malta for 6 years. Morris’ study was lost for decades and rediscovered recently, which makes the February event a special one indeed.
Professor Aquilina’s talk, which will be held at the Palazzo de la Salle, is guaranteed to be a fascinating insight into the tradition and deep history of one of Malta’s national icons, so for more information about how to reserve a seat check out new.faa.org.mt/events and www.ticketengine.faa.org.mt.
Before deciding if that talk is for you or not, though, read through this article. Consider it to be an informal introduction to Maltese boats of sorts! There won’t be a test afterwards, but you will be able to impress your friends and family by schooling them on everything you know a-boat the subject! Your main interest at this point will be to learn how to distinguish between the following types of boats:
Luzzus are probably Malta’s most well-known boat, which is not surprising considering their unique appearance. This traditional fishing boat is always coloured in bright shades of blue, yellow, green and red, and its bow always dons its most distinctive feature: a pair of eyes. The eye, known as the Eye of Horus or the Eye of Osiris, is traditionally said to protect fishermen at sea.
Luzzus are commonly used as fishing vessels, although you might be lucky enough to find one that is also used as a passenger vessel. These boats are believed to have been around since ancient times, so it’s not surprising that some changes can be noted throughout history. The most obvious one of these is that luzzus are now motorised, whereas in the past they would have sails. Nowadays, in fact, it is quite rare to see a luzzu with a sail!
Though the double-hulled luzzu itself predates the language, the name derives from the Sicilian guzzu, which is a type of transport and fishing vessel in itself. The Maltese luzzu is its own creation, though, with unique customs associated with it. For example, when a member of a fishing family passes away, this is marked on the boat itself as a small homage.
Though dgħajsa is actually the general Maltese word for boat, when one talks about the Maltese dgħajsa then he is referring a kind of water taxi that is specific to our islands. Like the luzzu, the dgħajsa is believed to date back to Phoenician times. Truly a Maltese symbol, the dgħajsa appeared on the coat of arms of Malta from 1975 to 1988.
In many ways a take on the gondola, the Maltese Dgħajsa was mostly used in the Grand Harbour area, but of course could be found all over Malta. Such is the case that the different colours used to decorate the boats were often chosen based on the different harbours they were used at. Today, few remaining dgħajsas (or dgħajjes in Maltese) survive as functioning water taxis, but some are still used as transportation between Birgu and Valletta.
Other kinds of Maltese boats
Though not as common as the Luzzu and Dgħajsa, there are a few other Maltese boats that are certainly worthy of mention, including:
- The Kajjik, which is in many ways a smaller luzzu but has a square transom instead of a double ended-hull
- The Gozo boat (now largely extinct) which is more or less a larger luzzu with lateen sails
- The Dgħajsa tal-Midalji, a more modern version of the Dgħajsa which is often used in the local Regatta rowing race