The Door Knockers of Valletta, Malta

A collage of 9 Door Knockers in the city of Valletta Malta

The Mediterranean island nation of Malta may be diminutive, but its limestone buildings’ distinctive door knockers and knobs make a big impression.

Known as il-habbata in Maltese, the knockers largely feature maritime motifs such as dolphins, sea horses, and fish, but I have also spotted a plethora of Maltese crosses, even delicate brass hands, which reminded me of those I saw during past travels to Morocco and Tunisia. I collected this bunch of door adornments in Malta’s capital city of Valletta.

I’ll be featuring a lot more of Malta in the coming months, as Shawn and I moved here two weeks ago. I had a special five-day visit to Malta about one decade ago, but I am looking forward to getting reacquainted with the island and the lovely people I met here last time. For now, we are immersed in bureaucratic tasks like securing visas and official paperwork, and finding an apartment. Please wish us well. :)

On one of my trips to Marrakech, Morocco, before I met Shawn, I sought out a hardware store, and purchased a traditional brass hand knocker for my future home’s door. Shawn and I have been so nomadic these past years that we haven’t yet had a home to install it on. I’m curious – what cities’ door knockers or architecture have stood out from your travels? Have you ever been to Malta?

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • If you are Malta-bound, peruse Malta’s Official Tourism Site for details about this delightful island, which has a plethora of attractions, despite being quite small.
  • Do you fancy collages? From windows of the world, to brilliantly-coiffed German horse tails, and fanciful Moldovan water wells, I have many more cultural offerings in my collage series. Please enjoy!

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

59 thoughts on “The Door Knockers of Valletta, Malta

  1. I suggest to travelers that they look for unique things about a place in my workshops on preparing to travel and journaling before, during and after a trip. You have done this with your lovely collage of door knockers. I will use this as an example in my future workshops, as an idea travelers can pursue. I like doors and windows. I have noticed of late that I take photos of what I can “graphics” of a place, like tile patterned floors or walls, designs on a house or simply the colors put together in a stack of sweaters in a store. It is fun to find ideas as they present themselves to me in my travels. I’ll be back to visit you again.

    1. Greetings Rhonda, I’m happy to hear that I’ve sparked an idea for your travel-writing workshops. Thanks for passing that along! I agree that quite often, it’s the details (and the people of course) that really make a destination shine. My Collage series does feature other details – like Bulgarian lace, windows, Croatian jewelry and Moldovan water wells, if you’re looking for more examples.
      How long have you been facilitating such workshops?

      1. Professionally, I’m an adult educator, conducting training and staff development for decades. I have facilitated journal writing workshops since the 1990’s, but the travel journal writing workshops only for the last 4-5 years.

      2. We have a bit of a similar background, as I also previously conducted training & staff development. :) It’s nice crossing paths with others who’ve incorporated their love of travel into what they do. In what state do you facilitate your workshops?

      3. I conduct my workshops in Texas most of the time. I also have facilitated them in Ames, Iowa, at the Iowa State University Alumni Assoc. where I used to work for 20 years before retiring. Rhona

      4. While from Illinois, I also did my undergraduate studies in Iowa, but at Iowa State’s rival university in Iowa City. :) Wishing you Happy Holidays, and many rewarding workshops in 2016, Rhonda!

    1. Greetings Alexis, and that you for dropping by! How did we choose Malta? Well, my husband, Shawn, is doing a 1-year Master’s program here, which greatly interested him. I had been to the island 10 years ago, and enjoyed the sunshine, the warmth of the people, the scenery, and the history and architecture. English is one of Malta’s official languages, which makes settling in easier too. I do hope that you may someday soon be on a road, or flight, leading you to the Mediterranean. We have not gotten much of a chance to explore Malta yet, but we cannot wait to visit the fish markets, Malta’s neighboring tiny sister island of Gozo, etc. If you do end up coming this way in the future, I should be more well-versed on settling here by then, and would be happy to give pointers. :)

      1. I follow your blog, so it was a hard post to miss. :)

        Sounds exciting. I’ve always wanted to study abroad, and what better place than the Mediterranean?

        English as an official language certainly makes all the difference. It’s not easy moving to somewhere where you don’t understand anyone and what’s going on around you.

        I have my sights set on Italy, Greece and Spain but Malta is beginning to look like an interesting option as well.

        And thank you! I would like that. :)

    1. Hi again Marica! Everyone I have spoken to has given Gozo high marks. We have not yet had the chance to go there, because we’re still looking for an apartment in which to live, and getting settled in, but I am eager to explore Gozo. Are there any particular attractions or activities that you most enjoyed on Gozo or Comino? I’ll look to your post as well.

  2. Malta is just one of the most beautiful places ever. A part of my boyfriend’s family is from Malta and we visited it a few times together. And I will definitely go back there as soon as I can! :)

  3. I haven´t been to Malta but will be there October 21st from 7:00 am – 1:00 pm as our cruise ship will stop there. It isn´t very long but I will get a taste. I love the door knockers!!

    1. Darlene, it’s always lovely to get a sampling of a place, and then have an excuse to return! It would be fun if our paths could cross on the 21st, but I understand that your time is extremely short. Even with only 6 hours in Malta, you’ll certainly catch a glimpse of many such architectural features! :)

      1. We loved Malta! I really wished we had more time. I even found some of those amazing door knockers. Should we return, we will be sure to search you out. I hope you found a suitable place to live.

      2. Darlene, I’m thrilled to hear that you enjoyed your whirlwind stop-over here. What spots were you able to visit? Presumably you spent most of your time in Valletta?

        The door knockers continue to surprise me. Yesterday, just when I thought I’d categorized most of the motifs, we spotted a pair of elephants gracing the door of one of the town-homes in our temporary hometown of Luqa. We are moving to Valletta in a few days, no doubt thanks to everyone’s kind well-wishes in finding an apartment. I’ll be looking forward to seeing the reports about your various Mediterranean stop-overs! Are you back in Spain now?

  4. We (husband and I) are planning a 9 month sabbatical of travelling in Europe. As an American – how did you get by the 90 day Schengen Zone maximum stay? Thanks a million for your input. Janine

    1. Hi there Janine, I can appreciate your dilemma about how to legally work around the Schengen Zone limit. It is a lucky challenge for us to have though, isn’t it? :) First of all, congratulations to you on your upcoming sabbatical. Having done one in parts of Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe, I can say how rewarding it was! As far as the Schengen is concerned, you probably know that Americans can only remain in Schengen countries for 90 days in a 180-day period. We stayed in Schengen countries for just under 90 days, then hopped over to non-Schengen countries such as Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Serbia, Ukraine, etc. for at least 90 days. In the end, we were glad that the Schengen rule nudged us to explore these countries. Croatia, in particular, had a lot of good value accommodations available during the low season, and the weather was quite pleasant. We hopped between Germany, Greece, France, Italy and Spain, and the non-Schengen countries. If you want more inspiration on those particular geographic spots, you’ll find some posts in my Destinations top-level menu. Feel free to send any more questions my way too & happy travel planning.

  5. What a superb idea and topic to take up, Tricia. Its always amazing to see new things come up from your posts. Fascinating information about knobs, we see them often but dont even pause a second to admire them. Thanks for this eye opener as it were :)

    1. Kamal, you know that windows are often the focus of my collages, but I found Malta’s door accessories to be an irresistible topic. I’m happy that you enjoyed the collage. What architectural details would you say are the most remarkable in your corner of India?

      1. In my parts today I’d say the roofs and elevation of buildings that’s most striking. Then of course there’s windows, and the rest. But it’s not doorknobs for sure. That’s unique in your post ☺

  6. Tricia, what a wonderful subject, door knobs and door knockers, they are fascinating to me too. And the thought of what treasures and history is hidden behind those doors, yet door knockers open doors, you never know if once you will be let in. Love Pablo Neruda, one of my favorite authors. Can’t wait for your next adventure you will share

    1. Cornelia, I sometimes feel like a child walking Valletta’s streets, peeking through the cracks of abandoned townhouse doors, and seeing what dust-covered treasures are waiting inside to be reawakened. Two nights ago, Shawn and I peered in to a once-glorious entryway, complete with ornate, hunter-green crown moulding over its main door. The outside door was padlocked shut. Your Pablo Neruda quote was a fitting accompaniment to this post; thanks for sharing it here, Cornelia!

  7. Thanks for great photos of the small things that are so intriguing! Once in Mexico I was taking a photo of a door knocker, and the woman who lived there opened the door! I pointed to the knocker and said, “muy interesante,” and we both laughed. For me, it’s an example of how interactions with people are the most memorable. I’ll have to search through old folders to see if I can find the photo of that knocker, as I can’t remember it at all!

    1. Marilyn, your anecdote illustrates the point well since you vividly remember the playful woman, but not the architecture that led you to meet her. :) We had a similar experience in France’s Burgundy region a few years ago. My eye was drawn to a cream-colored, vintage Citroën car, parked in front of an old stone home. As I snapped a picture of the timeless scene, the resident inside stepped out to say hello. He eventually invited Shawn and me in to enjoy a 1980s bottle of Cabernet. What a fun afternoon that was, and we’re still in touch. Speaking of Mexico, even though this is off-topic a bit, I was wondering if you have Prickly-Pear Cactus plants there? We’ve taken a liking to them in our new home of Malta, and I heard they may be plentiful in Mexico as well?

  8. Great knockers, the aquatic theme ones I think are what I would have on my door ~ what a place Malta must be, and I think you guys are going to have quite a few adventures there and look forward to hearing, reading and seeing more. Enjoy the weekend.

    1. Randall, why thank you! We’ve already had quite a few adventures, but of the administrative (think visas), and apartment-hunting sort. It’s certainly a seller’s market here right now, and the supply of apartments to rent in Malta’s capital city of Valletta are quite low. With that being said, we’re delighted to have found a place in Valletta, and we move there in a few days. We had a few days of few-kilometer-bus-rides that took 3 hours. I suppose such struggles ultimately make one appreciate a new place – and one’s triumphs there – even more. :)

    1. Tanja, given you blog’s name, I think you’d especially enjoy Malta because of all the red phone booths that are still here. Hope you may someday soon be Malta-bound; thank you for stopping by!

  9. Tricia, these are gorgeous and you found a wonderful variety! They fascinated me too when we were there several years ago. So glad to hear that you and Shawn are settling in – it’s such a special place to spend some quality time. ~Terri

    1. Terri & James, I continue to stumble upon more gems – most recently, a pair of elephants! Did you two make it out to Gozo when you were here? We haven’t been able to get out and see much yet, because we’ve been doing the bureaucratic stuff, but Gozo is one place that we’re especially eager to see.

      1. I am thrilled to say that we’re now settled in to our new place in the heart of Valletta, locally known as Il-Belt. :) It’s quite a challenge finding any apartments in Valletta, so we feel super lucky to be centrally-located now. If you remember the city, we’re sort of just around the corner from the Opera House that was bombed during WWII, not far from the bus terminal.

    1. Charmaine, we’re new on Malta, and so I hadn’t yet heard that. Grazzi ħafna for sharing such an interesting detail! Do you know when the family members eventually replaced the door knockers? Perhaps once a certain period of mourning was over?

      I see you have family that hails from this beautiful island. How often do you make it back to visit, and what corner of Malta is your family originally from?

      1. I’m not sure how long it is.. My aunt told me this after roaming Valletta with her and taking photos of all the unique door handles 😊 Never ceases to amaze me with all its little secrets 😊

        Mum is from Gozo Xaghra and dad is from Rahal Gdid (Paola) Malta…

        I’ve been 4 times. Once when I was 7, again in 2012, 2013 and this year in April.

        No concrete plans on when I’ll be coming again, but hopefully soon!

        Where abouts are you living?

      2. It’s certainly special having a family member passing down such traditions to you. We’re fortunate to have just moved to Valletta. The rental market is pretty slim right now, and we weren’t sure we’d ever find an apartment in Valletta. For the first five weeks in Malta, we lived in Safi and Luqa. We enjoyed seeing the smaller town way-of-life, but the heavy traffic made it difficult to get from those two towns to Valletta. One day, our commute of a few kilometers lasted 3 hours.

        We’re looking forward to visiting Gozo in the coming weeks, and this Saturday, we’re set to harvest some olives. Since you have family on Gozo, do you have any recommendations for what to experience there? Finally, I hope you’ll someday soon be headed this way; it sounds as though the island rightfully holds a special place in your heart.

      3. I have a cousin in Safi :)

        But wow, 3 hours. Traffic is terrible there, for such a tiny island, you would think you can zip in and out of anywhere!

        Ahhh, you will absolutely love Gozo! Much more slow-paced than Malta, peaceful and relaxing. If I had to choose where to live, I would choose Gozo, over and over. I do love Malta just as much though :)

        Where do I start?! Lol. You HAVE to go to Id-Dwejra (Azure Window). If you’re into historical sites, the Ggantija Temples and the Windmill not far from there in Xaghra are a good spot too. If you do go there, and Xaghra’s church is open, you must go in and see – it’s so beautiful, and I am not being bias!

        Ramla Bay is a nice beach to go to, that’s where the sand is red… However, there is a secret beach, my favourite beach in Gozo, that has sand that is more red than Ramla’s. It’s called San Blas. You have to visit San Blas! It’s a little secluded beach, down a really steep hill – amazing!

        There is a yummy little restaurant called Fat Rabbit in Nadur that you need to try, loved it there.

        Marsalforn is the place to be for nightlife and food. Amazing food and wine :) There is also Is-Salvatur, which is a statue of Christ the Saviour (pretty much the same as the one in Rio Brazil) on a hill that you can treck up to, amazing views and a feeling of serenity when you’re up there :)

        And of course, Rabat (or Victoria)… There are markets there called it-Tokk (thought I think they have changed the location of these recently)… You can do more historical site-seeing at the Citadella, you will see a 360 view of Gozo, truly amazing. You can see Is-Salvatur from up there! In the Citadella there is also the old prison you can go in to see also (you have to pay… you can get a Heritage Malta ticket that covers that, the Ggantija Temples and the Mill :)).

        Haha, I better stop there… Definitely holds a very special place in my heart! x.

      4. Charmaine, thank you so much for these Gozo pointers! We’re off on a day trip today, though I don’t think it’ll be to Gozo. It sounds like there’s so much to experience there, that we might need to make a long weekend trip there, or just keep coming back. :)

  10. Beautiful collage, Tricia! Malta is on my list. I also hear that Malta is a medical tourism destination, so I might save it for when I’m old and rickety and can combine travel with a knee replacement or something… ;)

    1. Ruth, we’ve also been reading about how Malta’s trying to position itself as a medical tourism destination. It’s fitting given that Malta’s associated with the Knights of St. John, who were known for having state-of-the-art hospitals – even more than 400 years ago! I had to smile reading your comment about saving Malta for later. Don’t wait too long to come, though, because the capital city of Valletta has lots of stairs, and much worth exploring.

    1. Kiitos, Matt! It’s no wonder they market replicas of these classic old door knobs and door knockers to tourists visiting Malta. What distinctive architectural features is Finland known for? (Alas, I almost visited Helsinki for a weekend trip years ago, but the trip didn’t materialize. Would love to visit someday.)

  11. Hello Tabby. Just read your post on the door knockers of Malta. Very nicely done. The New York Times is yearning to hire you.

  12. I was just doing some research on the door knockers of Malta and your blog post came up in google. Nice pictures, and nice to see that I am not the only one who has been writing about this. :-)

    1. Johnny, the vibrant doors (and door knockers and balconies) complement the golden limestone so nicely, don’t they? We’ve been away for a few months now, but I haven’t forgotten the cheeriness they exude. How much time did you spend on the island?

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