I’m usually wary of any craft attraction. Shops are typically laden with unbearably mass-manufactured items, and vendors try to sell you ‘unique’ Christmas decorations, in March. On my final day in Malta, I had time to kill before my afternoon flight. Keen to continue the momentum of the group trip I had organised for 8 people, hiring a driver for the day, who could simultaneously drive us around the island whilst keeping our luggage in the boot was optimal. When he suggested that we went to the crafts village, I mentally rolled my eyes, thinking that he probably has some kind of commission arrangement with the vendors, otherwise why would you suggest such a thing? My mistrust of placing multiple crafts together in one place was deep-rooted in poor experiences. It reminded me of a souk tour in Marrakech, where I was sold a spice that turned out to in fact not be that spice, or any spice at all. As you can probably decipher from the fact that I am now writing about it, my opinion was ignorant, and I was left pleasantly surprised!
The Ta’Qali Crafts Village is an opportunity to see the craftspeople of Malta hard at work in their studios. From pottery to mosaic to glassware, it could be easy to leave with much more than your hand luggage can handle. Ta’Qali, just outside of Rabat, was once an aerodrome used by the RAF in World War II, and its transformation into a craft village to showcase and sell the work of locals is a wonderful use of space.
I was most intrigued by the lava tables at Bristow potteries, crafted from volcanic lava. The process of creating such a spectacular centrepiece for any room is four-fold, with a carefully considered high-firing process to create durable tables for indoors and outdoors. The tables are skilfully hand-painted with the most elaborate and ornamental lemony Mediterranean designs, and bowls to match. With a mission to revive the craft of ceramic-making in Malta, the eye-catching designs certainly draw you in. If you can be patient, you can order a custom-made table and have it shipped to any destination. A Bristow table lasts for decades, bringing a slither of the Med to your garden or kitchen.
Ta’Qali is also home to Mdina Glass, where they practice the Phoenician art of glass-blowing. The Phoenicians replicated the glasswork methods of the ancient Egyptians, but changed the process dramatically by introducing glass-blowing, which allowed for a variety of shapes to be created. They added different coloured powders to create vases, plates and goblets with unique designs. I, of course, couldn’t leave without taking something small and blue home for my living room.
In Malta, craftwork is seeing a revival. Yes, they make beautiful souvenirs, but the very fabric of the island can find its roots in craftwork. Around 870 AD, Arabs brought cotton to Malta, which saw the beginning of weaving and dyeing, remaining a vital industry to the small nation right up until the 19th century. Gozitan cotton, from Gozo, was much sought after. Craftwork became the bread and butter of the typical Maltese rural family, so to see it become a stop on visitors’ itineraries and watch the island benefit from it is wonderful - it is a shame that the craft village wasn’t busier.