The Maltese Tile - Old Houses Malta

The Maltese Tile

By Old Houses Malta | The Deal

A very typical feature found mostly in traditional Maltese townhouses is the traditional cement tile.  One just can’t not appreciate the geometrical patterns and colours of this unique work of art, which surely left its signature on our islands’ architectural identity.

Heritage Preservation

Originally, this art of tiling was inspired from Turkey during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, where their passion for decorating their mosques, palaces and mansions was truly remarkable.

Surprisingly enough, these traditional tiles haven’t been used for more than 300 years on the islands. In fact, in much older houses including medieval farmhouses and dwellings, one can notice that stone slabs were used instead of tiling. Decorative tiling became then popular by time, mostly during the British era.

These traditional tiles were at some point in our modern period not being appreciated enough. Well, unfortunately this can be said to most of our heritage to be realistic. However, nowadays at last we slowly started to appreciate the importance of restoring and protecting what we have left of our ancestors. Architects and designers are also introducing the traditional Maltese tile again into our homes. Their retro style contrasts beautifully with today’s contemporary designed interiors.

If you’re lucky enough to have original Maltese tiling, which is more or less in good condition, please do preserve it! You can leave them in their original state, since naturally they would have built a gradual lustre from repeated cleaning. However, some polishing works wonders, and will bring those outstanding colours back to life. These kind of tiles are quite durable and improve with age, so it will be a shame disposing of them.

If on the other hand, you’re not lucky enough, you can always install new cement tiles. In this case polishing is a must, since new tiles of this kind are porous and so very prone to stains and discolouration. Also, damp proof underlie is very recommended to limit the risk of dampness rising to the surface and so staining the tiles.

Unfortunately, nowadays the number or artisans still doing these tiles are very minimal. It is very difficult to find the right dedicated people who are patient enough to take on such a time and physical consuming job.

Unlike other mass-produced tiles we find on the market, Maltese tiles are individually hand-made, but comparatively they are not too expensive. One should take into consideration that since they are made to order, the customer can customise the designs and colour combinations to their liking.


The Art of Tile Making

The traditional patterns used years ago, are still in demand nowadays, together with the colours used, with the most common ones being green, red, grey and black. The original ingredients used to produce a Maltese tile were beach sand, white cement and colour pigments. The only ingredient that has been altered in today’s practice is the beach sand, which is now replaced with powdered marble.

The main tools an artisan needs are:

  • ‘Il-Plakka’ – a mould with a particular design and pattern.
  • ‘Il-Kwadru’ – a support used to keep the colour mixtures together as they set.
  • ‘It-Tampun’ – a smooth back plate which is placed over the mixture where pressure is applied.

The consistency of the colour mixture must be just right, in order to achieve the finest result. The temperature, humidity and mixture variations can all lead to alteration of the final result.

Each colour is carefully poured individually from the ‘Sasla’ in each section of the designed mould. It is then covered with a substance known as ‘Putraxx’, which is a kind of fine cement to help soak up any excess water to prevent colours from running into each other. It is also covered with another kind of cement known as ‘Milanc’, which unlike the ‘Putraxx’ is damp enough to help the tile to set. A level is then used to scrap off the excess, and finally placed under the pressing machine, this replaced the original method, by which pressure used to be applied manually.

Maltese tiles were also given very interesting names, by which the artisan could distinguish between one design and another. The most common ones are:

  • ‘Sieq it-Tigiega’ (hen’s leg)
  • ‘Ghajn il-Baqra’ (cow’s eye)
  • ‘Il-Bettiegha’ (the melon)

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