Malta is famous for its prehistoric temples but it is almost unknown that the country also has the highest density of windmills in the world.
During my holidays on the archipelago I saw 36 mills (three of them complete with sails); that means there is one mill to every nine square kilometres of land. In The Netherlands, so famous for windmills, tulips and wooden shoes, there is one windmill to every 39 square kilometres.
In the bookshops of Valletta I found no publications about this subject and historian Michael Bonello assured me no studies are available. As far as I know there is also no association in Malta catering for the conservation of windmills. Yet, I noticed in various cases that people take good care of these monuments. I was very pleased to read that Heritage Malta is working on the matter and that a permanent exhibition about windmills was opened at the Xarolla windmill in Zurrieq.
The Knights of Saint John had introduced the windmills to the Maltese Islands, as they had done earlier in Rhodes. Most of their windmills were built in the period 1663-1773. The construction drawings are still in the archives of the Knights in Valletta.
In 1674, Grandmaster Cottoner ordered the building of five windmills. The builders were assisted by experts from Mallorca. Therefore, nowadays all Maltese windmills are of the same style as the ones found in the Balearics.
Nearly all towns in Malta and Gozo had one or more windmills. Of course, there were also a number of smaller mills, driven by horses or donkeys.
The Maltese windmills are all of the round-stone type. They are built on a mostly high substructure, also made of limestone.
Thanks to this very strong construction, a lot of the windmill patrimonies nowadays still exist. In addition, the substructures can be used for storage and other purposes.
The three windmills I saw in Malta which have sails are found at Tax-Xarolla, in Zurrieq, Ta' Kola, in Xaghra, and a mill in Qala. The complete windmill in Zurrieq is beautifully restored, both in the case of the interior and the exterior. Ta' Kola is a mill museum.
I did not hear of any plans for the restoration of the incomplete windmills. Yet, it is evident that some owners do look after these monuments. In fact, only a few incomplete mills are in a very poor condition.
The big question is what will happen in the future. It would be fantastic if the Maltese people could restore some very special windmills. These include, for example, the picturesque one at Ta' Ganu, in Birkirkara and the examples (unique for Malta) in Mosta and Ta' Kola (east of Victoria).
Of course, such projects cost a lot of money. It must be possible to get subsidies from the European Union for this purpose. The EU recently extended funds for a windmill project in the border-region of The Netherlands and Belgium.
It is important to make people aware of the windmill patrimony in Malta and perhaps this can best be done by Heritage Malta.
I suppose that more than 50 per cent of the original number of windmills still exist because most villages have still retained one or more. That is also plausible when you compare the number of mills with the number of inhabitants in former times. And bear in mind that a lot of bakers and other people had horse- or donkey-driven mills, often in the form of bowls, which were used for the manufacture of sifted white flour.
Finally, I would like to see more attention being given to the private museum situated in what used to be a garage, of Carmelo Hili in Xaghra. He has a lot of interesting machines and windmill accessories. Yet, it is a pity that the rooms are so cramped. It would be interesting for the local council of Xaghra or the Ministry for Gozo to turn this worthy collection into a tourist attraction.
This feature is a free translation of an article by Mr Staat, a Dutch journalist, which appeared in the latest issue of Molenwereld, one of two leading magazines in the Netherlands dealing exclusively with windmills.