Maltese Farmhouses: A Look Back in Time

The urban area of Malta is home to numerous houses of characters and townhouses that give the country its distinct famous appearance. But venturing far away from the busy metropolitan area and into the winding village roads which are usually old field paths, you will stumble upon different Maltese farmhouses. Don’t let the name fool you, although they are situated at the far corners of the country and were usually humble abodes of farmers from the past; these structures were mostly converted to look like a castle complete with different amenities inside and even has an outdoor swimming pool and huge open spaces. In contrast to house of characters and townhouses in the center of the city, these properties are beautifully converted look and feel like a mansion worthy to be called a dream house.

The designs of Maltese farmhouses bear no similarity on any European-based architectural design but are rather closer to designs coming from Northern Africa. The first floor of the houses called Ghorfa in which the bedrooms are usually located together with the storage rooms and stables bear striking similarity to architectural designs of houses in Tunisia. The use of stones and rubbles is also a clear indication of its North African influences. The Arabic influence of these houses is a good example of a vernacular architecture in which the design can be considered very simple yet unique on its own way and with deep consideration on the nature of the season, time and environment.

Farmhouses were primarily built by people whose livelihood depends on nature, deep assessment of the weather and season and a primary goal of survival. They don’t need to have fancy and grand ornate dwellings that don’t essentially served a purpose other than aesthetics but rather sturdy, durable and functional houses which is literally a rock rooted to the earth that would last for generations to come. The sheer forward-thinking of these kinds of architectural designs is what made these structures survive the ravages of time and unpredictable weather of Malta.

Observing from the outside, farmhouses in Malta easily blends to its surrounding that they appear to have been carved from a big rock that has been there for a long time. The façades are unadorned, plain and solid. As a striking contrast to wooden balconies of house of characters, Maltese farmhouses feature stone balconies with bold corbels on each side. Keystones and other ornate designs that you observe on modern iterations of farmhouses are considered later additions yet they all complement the otherwise bare and empty look of the façade.

The walls are mostly double layered filled with rock boulders, soil and stone chippings. This indicates that these structures are built to stand the test of time as these materials are known for its sturdiness, durability and practically weather-proof. The northern side of the building are mostly windowless to prevent strong winds and rain from entering inside. If they need to have an opening, tiny apertures are installed instead. The use of limestone in these structures is one of the reasons why these buildings has lasted for a long time; limestone walls when exposed to weather harden and form a protective crust which effectively slows down erosion and adds durability to the building. Limestones are also very abundant in Malta and are considered the only natural resource of this small Mediterranean country. The roofs are flat in order to catch rainwater which can be used to farm different crops during the dry season and can even house stone roosts for pigeons.

The interior of Maltese farmhouses are organized in cubical forms and has different functions such as providing shelter to the precious livestock. The ground floor is mostly dedicated to the invaluable farm animals that are all stall-fed rather than allowing them to graze. Smallair ventilators are used in animal rooms instead of large windows to provide air circulation and also as a protection to thieves and intruders. The occupant’s quarters are situated at the upper floors of the house which provides them cool wind in the summer season and insulation during the winter season.

With the rise of urbanization, farming has become an obsolete occupation in Malta that theses farmhouses were converted into huge mansions that even features large swimming pools in its front yard. Large gardens complete with beautiful flowers and plants can be often seen on the modern version of the Maltese farmhouses. The preservation of theclassic charm and simplicity of these structures is one of the best examples of the flourishingrenovation and restoration projects in Malta.

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