Maltese sign safari

‘You want drinkie?’

A Maltese mother offers her toddler a bottle of water in the middle of Valletta’s high street. She’s communicating in fluent English, a linguistic heritage from back when Malta was British (they achieved independence in 1964).

Five minutes later I overhear a conversation between two young shop attendants at fashion shop ‘Bershka’. They are talking in a language that sounds totally alien to me. A very pretty language, but nonetheless incomprehensible – with a different ring to it than anything I’ve ever heard before. Maltese it turns out.

Valletta. Beautiful from the outside, and interesting once you start prying into her back alleys.

Valletta main street

Hearing the Maltese talk is one way of understanding that Malta is quite a different place.  Another way to approach and appreciate Malta’s multi cultural past is by taking a stroll down Valletta’s back alleys and do a sign safari.

A sign safari? I hear you say. Well, it’s one of those things you end up doing when a myriad of type faces, a wide variety of shapes and sizes and faded colors alongside vivid neon grab your attention wherever you turn your head. Most of all however,  it is the exotic names that speak to me.

To me, it looked like a film still.

Spice up your life at George Zammit's hole in the wall

Mr. Zammit’s shop facade displays spices.  When I get closer, I realise the shop is long closed, and that what I thought was a tempting assortment of cinnamon, cardamom and star aniseed, is nothing but a piece of paper full of images…

V. & F. Fortelli & Sons have been selling, well.. it’s difficult to tell what really,  from a pale blue door. I google them upon my return home, and it turns out the Fortellis are still going strong – in a modern building far away from the one I photographed.  They sell all sorts of imported goods, from Christmas trees to safes and party hats! Their company has been passed down from father to son for a whopping 104 years. And as it turns out, today they even have a place on the web:

Who would have thought this company is still going strong?

This is when I realise that my improvised sign safari is more than just a stroll. By reading and admiring Valletta’s signs I learn something about a city and a culture I knew nothing about upon arrival. Once I returned home I started researching these signs, and much to my amazement, I discovered that I am not the only one who has found them interesting. Check out Matthew’s wonderful images at:

Below are more signs. Mostly because I found them charming, but also because they have stories to tell. About a bakery (pastizzeria) where loose change is enough to buy you the Maltese specialty called pastizzi (small pastry parcels filled with a sweet or savoury filling) . About a barber who ran out of clients. And about a watch maker who lost his eye sight.

Valletta's old shop fronts display an insight into linguistic as well as colonial history.

If you like Valletta’s signs, maybe you’ll also like the grafitti we’ve covered here:


10 comments on “Maltese sign safari

  1. Maltese sign safari, what a great subject! We don’t read that much about Malta. You not only captured signs, but also the beauty of decay: history, long forgotten successes, deteriorated buildings. Great post.

    • That is an incredible first photo – Emiel, thanks for tweeting this so I could see it. The photo is so dreamy, so out of this world (and I come from the Middle East and the ancient parts of the world too ;))! Thank you so much!

      • Hi Farnoosh! Thank you for the nice comment on the photo of Valletta. She sure is beautiful! Wish I’d had more time to wait for the sunset. Hope you get to go there one day!

    • Hi Emiel, thanks for your comment. That’s exactly how I felt – not much is written about this spectacular place. I must admit I never imagined Valletta to be so beautiful! You’re spot on. The beauty lies in crumbling facades and stories written in stone.

  2. I sort of stumbled across this after clicking through your webpage link on the Blogsherpa google group (you gave me some advice re: getting a publisher to final pay), and now I’m homesick! I left Malta about a year and a half ago and visited just once so far. Thanks for the beautiful images.


  3. Great to hear from you Denise! And great news about your employer who faced up to his debts. Well done! Never knew you’re from Malta. What a beautiful place:) xx

  4. Pingback: Cruise baby! | Photito's Blog – a travel journalist's confessions

  5. great photos – the third picture down does look like some sort of Mexican Casbah or something 🙂 Once you get used to the language, it gets a lot easier to distinguish all the individual words, and then suddenly, as if by magic, everyone makes sense and you wonder why it sounded so strange initially …

  6. My beautiful Malta. Valletta really is a gem. The best way to discover it is true its back streets, I totally agree. I have just posted something about Valletta what a coincidence, you may like it 🙂 I am sure if you revisit Malta, you will find new spots and gems. It is a small but unique country with a blot to offer 🙂

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