7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Malta’s Ħajt Tas-Sejjieħ
Between the red telephone boxes, the charmingly-uncomfortable wooden promenade benches, and the patchwork fields that dot the (as-yet)-unbuilt areas of the Maltese Islands, we do have a surprising number of eye-catching icons that make you scream “Malta” the moment you happen to lay eyes on them – and the same can be said for the ħajt tas-sejjieħ.
While it may not be a purely Maltese creation in its own right, the traditional take on the rubble wall has its own characteristics and carefully thought out structure that have made several older structures stand the test of time.
1. They’ve been around around for a while
Given the similarities of the ħajt tas-sejjieħ and similar specimens in Sicily, it is thought that the Maltese rubble wall as we know it today originated around the time of Arab Dynastic rule, dating as far back as the 9th century AD, when both the Maltese islands and Sicily were part of the Arab Dynasty.
2. The walls are held up without any concrete
Also known as dry-stone walling, the ħajt tas-sejjieħ at its most basic level relies solely on the the irregular but careful layering of different-sized rocks over each other, allowing gravity to do its job and keep the wall up without the need for any concrete. Of course, more modern versions of the ħajt tas-sejjieħ employ the use of concrete for more aesthetic purposes.
3. Building a rubble wall needs some well-laid planning
There’s an art to building a proper ħajt tas-sejjieħ and this is clearly seen in the different stones that are used to build the wall. Larger rubble stones constitute the peripheries of the rubble wall and are what most of us have come to associate with the traditional ħajt tas-sejjieħ, but the interior of the wall is filled with smaller stones called maskan that help give the wall substance as well as serve a number of functions listed below.
4. Soil-sieving 101
Part of the irregular structure of the ħajt tas-sejjieħ means that there are several air pockets and channels within the wall, helping it act as a reservoir for soil, preventing severe farmland erosion during heavy rainstorms.
5. Their tilt helps keep things upright
In taller versions of the ħajt tas-sejjieħ, you can appreciate the thought that went behind building these walls in the first place. The walls are never built perpendicularly but instead taper upwards, with a wider base and a narrower top. This is to prevent a wall collapse as lighter and smaller rocks are used as you go higher up the wall.
6. Rubble walls make great habitats
The rubble walls serve as their own microbiome being home to everything from lizards and skinks to beetles and hedgehogs.
7. They’re protected by law since 1991
Rubble walls in Malta are protected by law, particularly because of their role in acting as a habitat as well as for their cultural and historic value.