Why the boats in Malta have a Norwegian design?

A colourful walk by the sea in Malta, an unexpected encounter, and a curious story about the local boats with Norwegian design.

The best way to get to know a place is to get lost in it.

With this belief, I started walking down the sea promenade in Buġibba, without a map, internet connection, or even a direction. Armed with less than 15 euros and a camera, I set off on an expedition on the last day of my week-long trip.

Malta trip - Why Maltese boats have a Norwegian design?

I felt like time had stopped, or at least slowed down, just like life in summer resorts during the winter season. Thus, I could take note of any tiny detail that drew my attention. With my scarce like a continental breakfast knowledge about the island, I could not explain all the British influence around here. The cars were going “the wrong way”, the traffic lights and the taxis were identical with the ones I used to see in London, the sockets had three wholes and so on. It turns out that Malta was part of the British Empire for more than 150 years, becoming independent only in late 1964.

Often, a peculiar terrace or a door would lead me into a labyrinth of narrow streets. Later, I’d eventually find my way back to the sea promenade, going straight ahead. I came across a small dock, crowded with colourful boars. As I was taking them a photoshoot, I heard someone asking: “So, you like boats?”. Honestly, no, I just enjoy pretty shots and I had seen potential in the abundance of bright colours.

Malta trip - Why Maltese boats have a Norwegian design?

The Maltese man who was asking had little to no interest in photography. Boats were his passion. In the girl, enthusiastically taking photos by the dock, he saw a soul mate. I could not speak about boats, but I thoroughly enjoyed his story about the “Maltese boats with a Norwegian design”.

Back in 1091, Malta was mainly populated by Muslims. Christians were considered “second rate” kind of people and they had no right to own property. That disturbed Pope Urban II who sent a reputable Norwegian general and his army of Crusaders to the island.

Although the Knights of the Cross were used to battles, in Malta they were supposed to deal with the situation in a non-violent way. Therefore, the Norwegian man bought off all land from the Muslims, paying them several times what it was worth. Left with no place to live and enough money to start a new life, the followers of Islam moved to Africa, settling in Morocco and Libya. Christians bought cheaply the newly freed land and started working it. To this day Malta is a Catholic country and its population is quite religious.

Malta trip - Why Maltese boats have a Norwegian design?

The army of Crusaders stayed on the island to keep things in order. Probably, most of them married Maltese women. “Poor guys” – said my tour guide, his voice heavy with sorrow. Norwegians were skilled in shipbuilding and they loved fishing. For this reason, they started making boats, just as they did back in their homeland. However, when they tried to hammer together all the wooden pieces, they would crack. The timber on the island was a lot softer than the one they had up North. So the Maltese people showed Norwegians how to build their boats, laying one wooden strip on top of another. The foreigners adopted the local technique, but they kept the Norwegian design. Nowadays, Maltese vessels look identical to the ones found in Scandinavia.

After sharing this lovely story, my tour guide had to go as his wife was waiting for him. “Is she local?”- I asked. He nodded. “Poor you.” – I said apologetically and we parted with a smile.


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