N: From Natural Habitat To Built Environment

Globigerina limestone is possibly the most salient feature of Maltese architecture. This yellowish stone has been used for centuries to build practically anything on the islands. As a result of the stone’s soft and porous nature and the proximity of important buildings and monuments to the sea, limestone walls and sculptures often show very visible signs of severe weather damage. Yet the use of this material remains widespread, and the contribution of the construction industry to the GDP is considered, by political and other interested parties, to be high. On a small island, the impact of this industry on the notion of public space and the importance of environmental sustainability cannot be overemphasized, but the building activity in towns like Sliema seems unstoppable, making Malta one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries. Traffic jams remain a perennial subject of discussion, something most locals love to hate. Life on the island is characterized by a spatial horror vacui: Can the Maltese even imagine themselves inhabiting clean, unobstructed spaces?

Maurice Tanti Burlò, Stairway to Heaven, 2006. Cartoon showing overbuilding in Malta.

Richard Ellis, Picnic in Malta, early twentieth century. Courtesy Richard Ellis Archive Malta / BDL Publishers

Small “house” made of Maltese limestone placed at the corner of an actual house to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits. Private collection.
Photo: Alexandra Pace.

Idyllic country scene in Malta. Vintage photograph.