Since ancient times, the island of Malta has been renowned for its splendid honey. There’s even some speculation that the country’s name has its origins in honey.
The ancient Greeks referred to Malta as “Melite” (Μελίτη), translating to “honey sweet.”
During the Roman period, the island was called “Melita.” In Latin, “mel” means honey.
It’s believed that the Phoenicians first introduced domesticated beekeeping to Malta. The Phoenicians, known for their maritime trade and sailing know-how, settled in Malta around 800 BCE.
Remarkably, several historic apiaries still exist in Malta. Apiaries are places where bees are kept for honey production. Originally, Malta’s bees were kept in earthenware jars. Some speculate that Malta’s existing apiaries might date back to the time of the Carthaginians or the Romans, who came after the Phoenicians. However, other apiaries are considerably newer.
The apiary pictured here is located on the Xemxija Heritage Trail in northern Malta. Other points of interest on the trail include prehistoric cart ruts, once-inhabited caves, a centuries-old carob tree, tombs, Roman baths, and structures that were used by farmers in more recent times. For more details, see this Xemxija Heritage Trail brochure, written by the Malta Tourism Authority.
This apiary, as well as others in the area, might have served varying functions during different time periods. First, it could have been used as a burial site. Later, it might have been transformed into human dwellings, an apiary, an animal shelter, and even a WWII-era bomb shelter.
When we lived in Valletta, Malta for one year, Shawn and I explored this trail several times. One day, we were even invited to a Maltese beekeeper’s apiary to see how honey is produced. We left the island with a greater appreciation for bees and the role they play in pollinating our food (by some accounts they pollinate about 80% of crops). The honey made from autumn flora was our favorite, for sure!
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.