As part of their Numbers that Count campaign, Malta’s Planning Authority have delightfully highlighted number ’36’ as the sum of historic Muxrabija structures that have been listed since 2016.
Muxra-what, you ask?
It’s okay, we’ll forgive you for falling behind on this particular bit of local history. The Muxrabija is a typically wooden, projecting box said to have been conceived in North Africa as a means for women to keep a watchful eye on the streets without being seen themselves. It’s also known to have eventually made its way to Malta, with the earliest version appearing on the islands during the late Middle Ages (1300-1400). Its influence on the appearance and function of what we know as today’s beloved Maltese balcony is sometimes contested, but it’s hard to argue with the visual similarities.
A Muxrabija is a rare Mediterranean architectural feature consisiting of a window-like element. The Planning Authority granted protection to 36 structures of this kind.
For more information visit https://t.co/8b0SUcYntl pic.twitter.com/0BUVMHQaCm
— Planning Authority (@pa_malta) June 3, 2019
So, during 2016, the Planning Authority awarded a Grade 2 protection schedule to 36 properties incorporating the mysterious Muxrabija
The covert structure is a creation of the Islamic culture, where Mushrabiya in Arabic translates to the idea of a peep hole.
The lineage of Maltese Muxrabiji is shrouded in mild mystery – most scholars/historians/people who are generally interested are not entirely settled on whether they arrived in Malta as a direct Arab influence, or indirectly by the Spanish or Sicilians. Either way, there were more than a few peppered around the islands, hovering over urban passageways and being used as immobile spying vessels.
What we do know for sure is that these little structures are a pretty awesome addition to the general make-up of the Maltese architectural story
Most remaining examples of the Muxrabija are made of timber, and even older stone versions still exist on the islands.
They each have distinct characteristics – they’re small and often don a cubic or rectangular shape with a simplistic design, which was likely a measure taken to make these structures as least conspicuous as possible.
Typical muxrabiji would jut out of the first floor of domestic facades, with their peepholes taking the form of holes in the front, sides and bottom of the box. There are also examples of the peeping boxes using louvre-like slits instead of round punctures.
So thanks Planning Authority for reminding us that these guys exist in the first place, and that they have been dutifully protected.
Also thanks for pointing out that – as a nation – we have been up in each other’s business for literal centuries. What can we say; it’s who we are!