The traditional Maltese balconies are generally the first thing most tourist notice in their first day in Malta. For the locals, these structures are considered a national asset; they easily dominate the streets with its bright and vivid colors that can easily set a positive ambiance to anyone. In Valletta, where this trend has originated, you can find the most colorful and lovely collection of traditional balconies that dates back centuries. The spread of Baroque-style architecture in the 17th century is one of the main driving force in the traditional design of these structures and in 18th century, almost every house in Malta already features balconies.
Closed wooden balconies satisfies the human need for refuge and protection. Constructing protruding balconies in existing houses requires advances in architecture, craftsmanship and also the availability of right materials and resources. The hot and humid climate of the Mediterranean also contributed to the widespread use of balconies all throughout Malta. The choices of color back then were quite limited as compared to today’s standards. The most popular color for wooden balconies was Vienna green since it is the most widely available at that time. Two coats of paint were the ideal mixing and varnishing is shunned as it is insufficient in protecting the wood especially when not done properly. Builders of traditional Maltese balconies often emphasize the use of old-styled materials in their craft. Marine plywood and other non-natural materials are also avoided as these were not considered a traditional material. This is how Malta has preserved the cultural heritage of traditional balconies that survived up to the present times.
Although there are many types of balcony designs, in Malta you will only two distinct models: Open stone balconies and closed wooden balconies. Open stone balconies are the oldest type that can be seen in Malta. Since the Maltese environment is poor in wooden resources but abundant in soft, workable limestones, it is cheaper and easier to choose limestone materials rather than importing expensive wood for the construction of balconies. Gozo, the sister island of Malta boasts many beautiful and intricately designed stone balconies where working with limestone is considered a major craft.
Wooden balconies started to appear in Valletta in the middle of the 18th century and was considered a fashion statement. It started to gain popularity amongst the locals when it was first constructed in the Grand Master’s Palace as part of its new contemporary designs. The ruling class at the time were the first to employ wooden balconies in their homes since timber are considered an expensive commodity. This mainly due to fact that Malta has not yet transformed by the British as one of the main Mediterranean ports in the area. This type of design was not originally conceived in Malta but rather derived from Moroccan wooden balconies from North Africa. During this time, Malta was home to a large population of Turkish slaves where most of them are master craftsmen that helped in spreading the basic design of wooden balconies that you can see in Malta today. Mostly made of red deal, wooden balconies are often matched with the designs of the main wooden door thus complementing the overall pattern of the house. Because of the climate in Malta that makes wooden structures susceptible to the elements, builders use paints and oils on the wood to protect them from the sun and the rain.
The facade of old-fashioned Maltese houses brings together a good combination of dull, yellow-colored limestone walls in contrast with bright and vivid-colored wooden balconies, doors and windows. Although steel and aluminum are already frequently used in Malta, wooden doors and wooden balconies are still very popular and frequently used in most houses. Almost all Maltese traditional have special pillars situated at the bottom part called “saljaturi”. There are many designs that were employed in the past such as flowers, dolphins, lions, dragons and terrifying faces. Grotesque faces are considered a good-luck sign (contrary to common beliefs) by the people who commissioned them since they believe that these sculptures ward off evil from their houses. During this time, people believe in witches casting evil spells causing illness and disease to unfortunate people. Dragons, gargoyles and other terrifying beasts are sculpted in the pillars of these balconies to protect them from such harm.