Gozo Domestic Architecture – A dwindling heritage

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Gozo Domestic Architecture - A dwindling heritageUpdate: On every street and alley of Gozo, it is possible to detect an interesting house or more in the vernacular architecture that developed under the pressures of the Mediterranean climate. With the dominating domes of the parish churches, they proclaim Gozo’s heritage in stone.

The physical characteristics of buildings depend on available building materials, the surrounding environment such as climate and terrain, technological know-how, and such cultural determinants as the social status and economic resources of the owner or owners. In local buildings one thing is common – they are all built of stone, specifically the globigerina limestone one of the five strata of sedimentary rock of which the Maltese Islands are formed.

It was found out as early as prehistoric times that this is best rock for construction. It is excellent for building purposes as it is freestone, which means that it can be cut in any direction unlike many other rocks that can be cut only along the grain. It is known locally as tal-Franka due to the ease with which it can be sawn and chiselled. When quarried it is pale yellow in colour, but a few weeks after being cut it weathers, becomes harder, and turns into a light reddish-brown colour as one can observe in old houses. This stone is the protagonist of an exhibition: Gozo Domestic Architecture – a dwindling heritage • L-arkitettura domestika f’Ghawdex – wirt dejjem jonqos that opens today 7 October at the National Archives, Gozo Section, Triq Vajringa, Rabat-Gozo. This stone proved itself to be Malta’s saving grace. The impressive Ggantija temples, the massive fortifications, the renowned churches, and the magnificent palaces were raised with stone.

So were the centuries-old giren, the remarkable farmhouses, and the imposing town houses that are the theme of this exhibition and that grace the island of Gozo to this day. The globigerina limestone even proved excellent for sculpture and for decorative work. Besides, as very little timber was available, even the roofs were made of xorok, long strips of stone. These usages and characteristics all emerge clearly from this exhibition. The vernacular buildings are a silent but eloquent document of the ability of masons of Gozo past.

The building and modification of dwellings have been controlled in one form or another since early times. The first section of the exhibition consists of documents related to the granting of building permits from 1575 onwards. The second section is made up of first-class photos that demonstrate the dwindling domestic architecture of bygone times.

The exhibition is sponsored by Dr Victor Bajada LL.D, Managing Director, VB Holdings Ltd. A full-colour catalogue of the exhibition, in a limited edition, is available from the National Archives. A souvenir postcard (No 4) has also been issued for the occasion.

Due to the long last weekend of October and a general request, the opening of the exhibition Gozo Domestic Architecture – a dwindling heritage • L-arkitettura domestika f’Ghawdex – wirt dejjem jonqos at the National Archives, Gozo Section, Triq Vajringa, Rabat-Gozo, has been extended up to the 30th of October.

Entrance is free. It is hoped that this exhibition will further spur the authorities to safeguard this dwindling heritage that is certainly an enhancement to a more eco-Gozo.

The Gozo Portrait Gallery was also inaugurated recently. The National Archives Malta donated six photos of six Gozitan persons which will hopefully increase to become a portrait gallery for well-known Gozitans.

Photograph: This early eighteenth century balcony in the Il-Mandragg area of Rabat-Gozo is embellished with a beautiful floral design sculptured on its fronts. This watercolour by Vittorio Boron (1909) was printed in colour in the book by Frederick W. Ryan, Malta, London 1910. Ryan wrote that "Gozo, even more than Malta, presents its people and its buildings a distinctly Oriental appearance."

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