Malta’s Traditional Door Knockers

This is not one of my traditional photo blogs, but I feel it’s time to dedicate one of my articles to the Maltese door knockers. It is after all very important part of the Maltese heritage and one of the most iconic features of the Maltese architecture. And I would like to tell you a little bit about the tradition and history of the door knockers, Il-Habbata in Maltese.

Did you know, that prior the invention of door knockers, people used to scratch the door to attract the owner’s attention? As strangely as it sounds, the more I research about it, the more it seems to be true.

Even though I mostly spent my free time exploring the Maltese countryside, I also like to get lost within the old villages. They just have this special atmosphere, innocence, like the time has stopped and your worries are no were to be found.

On one of these walks I started taking pictures of the beautifully crafted Maltese door knockers. Sometimes the townhouse or the dwelling door only had a ceramic or metal knob. The knobs simply helped the resident to either open or close the door wing more easily.

Very often, instead of the door knobs, you can find a stunning pair of door knockers. These door knockers give more elegant look to the main door. Back in the day, these door knockers were very important as they symbolized the status and wealth of the house owner. The most extravagant and elaborate knockers were a sign of prosperity and power. The wealthier the household, the bigger the door knocker.

In Malta, there are different types of knockers. The traditional type consists of a ball or boss with holes at the side from which a heavy circular ring hangs. Usually, but not necessarily,  in the middle of this ring, there would be a small ball which would hit against a round boss fixed to the door.

These types of knockers, often coloured black, can be found on all types of urban or rural building, even farmhouses. Just like the one in the picture above. Spotted in one of the side streets of Rabat.

Maltese door knockers come in all shapes and sizes. And of course numerous motifs. They often feature maritime mofits such as dolphins with a trident-shaped tail, sea horses and fish.

Other animal motifs are also very popular among the Maltese. Arguably, the most popular would be a door knocker in a shape of lion’s head, but I also came across a stunning door knocker in a shape of horse’s head.

And then there are the door knocker in the shape of a head – man’s head, woman’s head, God’s head even slave’s head!

One of my followers shared with me, that if someone of the household/family passed away, they would remove the door knockers and would leave their doors shut for several days. Neighbours would do the same but left their doors half shut.

Door knockers served another quite interesting function. They basically advertised the level of cleanliness of the maid of the house. The shinier they were, the better. As you can imagine, the highly polished brass knockers would be the talk of the town back in the day.

Still in production, a door knocker can make an original but rather heavy holiday souvenir. So if you don’t know what to bring to your loved ones back home, and you got extra space in your luggage, here is an idea. 🙂