Memories from Malta – from an old and former Horsted Keynes resident  The status symbolism of door knockers in Malta

By Albert Fenech

Would you ever imagine in your wildest fantasies that before the days of high-rise apartments, front door-knocking and door-knockers had a whole history unto themselves in Malta and Gozo and reflected your status symbol in life?

Well, they did have!  

In pre-mediaeval times neither existed; one either shouted, scratched the surface of smaller and lighter doors to attract the attention of those resident or otherwise, if a larger and heftier door, a good kicking. 

By mediaeval times a modicum of greater respect prevailed and knocking at a door became the order of the day. However, that was classed to be unseemly and direct knocking, particularly hard knocking, numbed the knuckles.

                                         A varied selection of Door Knockers

Dolphins and an insignia Maltese Cross

Then somebody hit on the bright idea of introducing a door-knocker, a fixed boss-piece attached to the door and a looser piece to act as a clapper thudding on a plate – which after all resembled the church and alarm bell systems – these also acting as a time piece to relay the hour of the day. 

Naturally enough it was the nobility and the well-to-do that immediately took up the fashion and being noble and well-to-do they had to be a cut above the run-of-the-mill.

A ceramic elegant symbol of mythology

The larger and more splendid houses had impressive and lavish facades and a door-knocker had to follow in line with a resplendent facade attachments.

Hisilicon K3

Imaginations ran wild and naturally what one did, the other had to do better. Hence sprang a varied assortment of door-knockers in different motifs, shapes and sizes, and of different materials. The eight-pointed Maltese Cross insignia (used by the St John’s Ambulance Brigade) was immediately popular.

However, an enormous variety of knockers ensued. The traditional type consisted of a ball or boss with holes at the side, from which a heavy semi-circular knocker hangs. Usually in the middle of this ring, there was a small ball which hit against a round boss fixed to the door at a lower level. These types of knockers, which were often black in colour, could be found on all types of urban or rural buildings, even farmhouses.

With time, more elaborate door knockers started to be crafted or imported. Sometimes the knocker ball was transformed into the head of a slave, an animal, a gargoyle, or a family crest. These would have holes in their faces or main part, from which a semi-circular ring hung. The sea-faring nature of the island was reflected in many of the most recurrent motifs like dolphins, seahorses, and sirens.

Knockers were made mainly of brass, but metal in general as well as ceramic. 

In time, something as simple and straight-forward as a door-knocker began to symbolise power and wealth, the larger the better, the more elaborate the more impressive and the more symbolic of wealth and power.

The nobility, the wealthy and upper class families went in for massive baroque style knockers to denote authority.

In time, the more humble followed their leaders and door-knockers became a feature of every house door in every town and village, naturally of a lesser imposing nature and some as simple as a mere clapper attached to a metal stud affixed to the door – and naturally, all knockers came in pairs.

Those who could afford brass and metal ensured these were highly polished and became a routine household chore for maids and housewives. 

The tradition continued to be borne down through the centuries and a walk around any town or village today will still see a splendid array and display of knockers. 

Sadly enough however, traditional houses are rapidly making way for high-rise apartments and consequently the tradition is greatly in decline. 


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  • Albert Fenech

    Albert Fenech was born in Malta in 1946. His family moved to England in 1954 where he spent boyhood and youth before in 1965 returning to Malta. He spent eight years as a journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking a career in HR Management Administration with a leading international construction company in Libya, later with Malta Insurance Brokers, and finally STMicroelectronics Malta, employing 3,000 employees, Malta’s leading industrial manufacturer. Throughout he actively pursued international freelance journalism/ broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel. He has written in a number of publications both in Malta and overseas, as well as publishing two e-books. For the last eight years he had been writing a “Malta Diary” with pictures for Lyn Funnel’s international travel magazine.

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