History of salt production
on the Maltese Islands
Martin Morana April
scientists as sodium chloride, salt is one
of the minerals most consumed in the world.
Although its use was radically reduced since
the invention of refrigeration, it is still
sought for various reasons.
Sea waves fill the crevices of the coastline
and slowly dry throughout the summer months,
thus allowing the crystallization of salt
into particles. This natural process was
noted by man just by gazing at the natural
salt pans day after day. The inhabitants of
Malta only needed to harvest the salt when
this became dry or almost dry, to make good
use of it. The hotter the temperature the
quicker salt would be available.
There are no less
than 40 sites around
Islands that contain salt pans. The village of
Mellieha was named after the salt – Maltese : Melħ -
produced in this manner, in Għadira Bay. Not too far
away at Salina Bay salt pans used to produce up to
two harvests a year with 2,000 tons of coarse salt
each harvest. Marsalforn in Gozo has a stretch of
one kilometer of different salt pan systems. Other
salt pans on Gozo can be found at Qala, Xatt
l-Aħmar, Dwejra, Ras il-Ħobz and Xlendi. On Malta,
salt pans can be found at Marsascala, Żonqor Point,
Delimara, Xgħajra, Xrobb l-Għaġin, Peter’s Pool, and
Birżebbuġa in the South. There are even salt pans on
The Order of the Knights of Saint John held a
monopoly over the production of salt in Malta, Gozo
and Comino and those who harvested salt without the
authorization of the Order would face a heavy
penalty. Realising its great potential, the Knights
constructed salt pans in Salina Bay and a factory
next to them. These salt pans were constructed into
sizeable pools separated by walls unlike all others
that are to be found excavated into small pans all
along the rocky coast line. Around the year 1620,
Salina Bay was producing enough salt to supply the
islands and export the rest.
Sea water that accumulates naturally in the pans is
channelled to others in the vicinity and left to
settle for some 8 days. Following that salt is left
to settle in smaller pans which are away from the
sea waves and warmer in temperature. After a couple
of days the water starts to turn into a pink colour
and salt crystals will start to appear. Northerly
winds tend to dry the water faster, while southerly
winds hinder the process. The salt was often carted
away on the back of a mule.
Few salt pans are harvested nowadays as most of the
salt is fine table salt that is imported. This
sounds quite strange when Malta is surrounded by all
the salt it requires from the Mediterranean Sea.
Bezzina Joseph, The ingenious
clock-maker turned salt producer’, Air Malta In
Flight Magazine, November, 2004.
Clarke E.V, Salt Pans in Malta. 1951.
Dingli Pauline, Salt-Pans in Malta: History,
Structure, Operation. Dingli, Pauline (dissertation.
Dingli Paulyne, Salini: Salt Pans of the Maltese
Islands’ Vigilio, October, 2004.
Mercieca, Simon The Production of Sea Salt in
Malta during Early Modern Times (2003)