The girna or Maltese corbelled stone hut, an important feature of the local landscape, is slowly and sadly disappearing.
These structures, located mainly in the northern part of Malta, provided shelter to farmers and herdsmen or their livestock in days gone by. Many of them have collapsed over the years due to the elements or simple neglect.
Some, however, are still well preserved and should be considered a subject of architectural, cultural and ethnic value, having been passed from one generation to the next.
Giren were often constructed on rocky outcrops, with the largest number found in the area between the Red Tower and Paradise Bay.
A similar distribution can be encountered in the area known as l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa.
Another chain of giren is found in the region starting from the old road that leads to Selmun Palace and where it forks into two directions, on the left towards Mġiebaħ Bay, and on the right of the palace itself stretching as far as Għajn Ħadid.
The stretch of land near Manikata, part of which is known as Għajn Żnuber and part as Ix-Xagħra l-Ħamra, is one of the areas that really teems with giren.
These interesting structures can also be found in other parts of the island, namely in northern and western regions, including but not limited to, Żebbiegħ, Bidnija, Dingli, Baħrija and Mtaħleb.
There are next to no giren in the south and east of Malta and in Gozo.
The girna has a double-wall built out of undressed stones that are left unplastered. Internally the concave ceiling is dome-shaped, while the external wall is usually circular, although it may sometimes be square or rectangular.
Should be considered a subject of architectural, cultural and ethnic value
The roof is constructed by corbelling such that each stone extends slightly beyond the one beneath it, until the opening becomes small enough to be closed by one to three fairly large flat stone slabs.
Whatever the shape of the girna, it has one door usually facing east.
The door has two or three stone slabs serving as lintels, laid next to each other across the entire double wall which normally is around 90cm thick.
The girna was built using stones found in the vicinity of the place where it was actually erected.
It is important how the hollow space between the double-wall is filled up; it is this thick wall which provides the main support for the entire structure. When this wall starts cracking and is not repaired, it is only a matter of time until the structure collapses altogether.
Unfortunately, this is the destiny of the corbelled stone huts.
All giren resemble each other, however, some have particular features that distinguish one from the other. Some circular giren are buttressed by a rubble wall all around, while others have a staircase or ramp around the external walls to enable their owners to access the roof.
There are a number of giren with mangers inside, mainly used to raise livestock such as goats and sheep.
In addition, there exist giren with a ‘ċagħqija’ (something made out of pebbles) on their roof. One example can be found at Tal-Kalkara on the way to Dingli, while another one is located near the Red Tower and a third outside Bidnija on the road to Żebbiegħ.
The fifth innovative example, the rarest, is giren built on top of each other.
It appears there are only two such complexes − one near the Għar ta’ San Martin and the other one, more attractive, in the limits of Ta’ Berqu near Ras il-Wied tal-Wardija.
It is indeed sad to think that as multi-storey constructions keep rising, our beloved giren are falling down with no prospect that new ones will be built in their stead.
Leander I. Thomas is a photographer and school librarian at De La Salle College.
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