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December 20, 2021
The door knocker in Malta – A classical embellishment for your front door
Traditional door knockers may be a rare find these days. They are hardly likely to adorn the front doors of the numerous blocks of flats that keep materialising in our villages. After all, doorbells and intercoms with video options are more practical when your flat is multiple storeys above ground.
There are still, however, quite a few older houses around our islands that retain this popular historic feature. Known as "ħabbata" in Maltese, door knockers have still not disappeared completely. A stroll around the more traditional villages around the islands will reward you with multiple sightings of these unique pieces.
How did door knockers originate?
In olden days, before the advent of door knockers, people who turned up at someone's house would alert the household's attention by scratching their front door. This strange habit later became a knock using the visitor's knuckles.
Eventually, door knockers were added to front doors. They not only made it easier on visitors' hands and nails, but they were also used as handles to open and close the front doors. These original features were made from brass or ceramic in various sizes and shapes.
The most common type were heavy rings hanging from a metal concave disc (a boss) fixed onto the door. However, designs often varied around the villages, with an assortment of marine creatures, land animals, human hands, heads – human or animal – and even angels or devils.
A large and shiny door knocker signified a wealthy household.
The richer the household, the more imposing their door knocker would be. These appendages were a symbol of status, prosperity, and power in those times. Rich homeowners took pride in making their door knockers as ornate as possible to assert their authority and show off their affluence.
Among the more common people, a dolphin-shaped knocker was a regular preference, a nod to Malta's first coat of arms after it gained independence. The Maltese Cross was also a prominent addition, while aristocrats would engrave the family's coat of arms on their door knockers.
The knockers on front doors were also traditionally used to convey messages to others.
When door knockers were removed from front doors, it signified that there had been a death in the family. As a sign of respect and support for the family in mourning, neighbours would also remove their own knockers and leave their front doors ajar.
The door knocker of a house was also targeted by village gossipers if it did not look clean or shiny enough. The discussion would centre around the efficiency – or lack of – from the servants of that particular household. A less than clean door knocker would, in fact, imply a lack of hygiene in the family.
Nowadays, door knockers are still available for a beautiful addition to front doors.
Souvenir shops sell miniature door knockers if you just want a small memento of this tradition. Flea markets and car-boot sales can also be great sources for vintage items at bargain prices.
The Birgu (Vittoriosa) market, open every Sunday morning, is extremely popular among the locals and can be an excellent location for discovering local treasures. Another option for traditional – and maybe even original – door knockers is the Gozo market in Rabat (Victoria). Open every morning, you may browse for a brass or copper door knocker, among other interesting finds.
The following specialised shops offer a diverse selection of full-sized versions of door knockers for anyone who wishes to add a traditional touch to the front door of their house.
The Artisans Centre
The Artisans Centre in Valletta has the largest selection of Maltese handmade door knockers on the island. Models to be found here include – but are not limited to – dolphins, seahorses, lion heads, and also ringed knockers, large and small. Some also feature the Maltese cross.
Visit their shop in Valletta's Republic Street and browse through the range of unique door knockers. Adding this element to your front door will ensure you retain a part of local tradition in your home.
Artisans Centre, 288, Republic Street, Valletta
Tel: +356 21221563
Fino Ferramenta, located in G'Mangia, is a prominent DIY and Home Improvement Centre in Malta. For over 50 years, the centre has constantly provided clients and businesses with high-quality products and services. The company's mission statement reflects their commitment "to offer the best solution for one’s home needs and provide an interesting range of products to all DIY enthusiasts."
Among the items on offer here, there is a vast range of DIY items and household products, such as kitchen utensils, recycling bins, walk-in products, and mini appliances. You will also find a hardware and ironmongery section which covers a large selection of fittings to be used in various jobs.
Fino Ferramenta also specialises in door fittings, including all kinds of locks, hinges, bolts, and other related items. Door knockers are available here, if you are looking to buy one for your front door. You will find a choice of two different styles of the classical ring door knockers: round or semi-oval. These come in assorted finishes, particularly bronze or brass, polished brass or chrome, or satin chrome.
You may order online and avail yourself of their delivery service. Alternatively, visit their shop and experience their personalised customer service and vast range of products.
Fino Ferramenta: 1, Ferris Building, Triq San Luqa, Gwardamangia
Tel: +356 2122 2257
Monday - Friday: 08.30-13.00 / 15.00-19.00
The best thing about local door knockers is that they can be seen wherever there are old houses. A stroll through Valletta, Mdina, Rabat, and many other villages in Malta, as well as most Gozitan locations, will definitely present you with an assorted display.
See how many different styles you can spot – and send us pictures of your favourites!