Malta Diary Which country has the largest concentration of windmills in the world?
“Granite jaws that look down on fields of grain and devour them!”
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In his poem ‘The Windmill’, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:
“Behold! a giant am I!
Aloft here in my tower,
With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
And grind them into flour.”
“I look down over the farms;
In the fields of grain I see
The harvest that is to be,
And I fling to the air my arms,
For I know it is all for me.”
The famous pop singer Max Bygraves had a great hit with his ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’ in the days when pop music was really music with meaningful lyrics and not today’s hip-hop, mish-mash, rap rubbish, when he sang:
“Like the windmill keeps on turning
That’s how my heart keeps on yearning
For the day I know we can share these
Tulips from Amsterdam”
In his novel the Spanish writer Cervantes had his hero Don Quixote attacking a monstrous windmill.
Windmills are of course synonymous to The Netherlands. If people around the world were asked “which country has the largest concentration of windmills per square metre?” – without a shadow of doubt 99.999% would reply “The Netherlands of course – everybody knows that”.
Well, they would be wrong!!!!!!!!!
Per square metre, Malta has the largest concentration and density of windmills in the world with a windmill in every nine square kilometres – and that is just today because in the past a number of others either crumbled or were demolished.
With the Maltese Islands isolated in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, since Neolithic times the provision of food and drink have always been an enormous priority requiring growth, preservation and storing for more lenient times. Among the more precious were wheat/flour, olives and olive oil and grapes and wine. During the Phoenician era, the price of olive oil often exceeded the price of gold!
Hence the proliferation throughout the islands of windmills and ground mills to grind wheat and barley into powder, and olives and grapes into oil and wines. Winds around Malta’s coasts have always been strong and hence ideal for windmill sails. Sadly, the grounding of olives and grapes often fell on poor elderly horses, donkeys and mules which were blindfolded, tied to a pole bored into a large grinding stone and made to walk continually around and around the grinding apparatus, prodded by a sharp stick to keep them moving. What a life and by today’s standards, totally unacceptable cruelty.
The majority of windmills were built during the times of the Knights and then further propagated by the British and at one period in time it was estimated that Malta and Gozo contained at least 70 windmills of which 48 have survived, although sadly, many have fallen into disrepair and have lost their splendid sails.
Thankfully, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and Heritage Malta have been taking these historic mills in hand and carrying out restoration and then opening them for public visits. Much later still, Malta witnessed a proliferation of American wind/water pumps to pump up water from underground reservoirs. These were also mistakenly labelled “windmills” by the Maltese – but they are not. These too have now largely fallen into disrepair and only a few remain as the majority have been replaced by electric pumps.
In some localities, the preserved windmills have become iconic and synonymous with their locality – particularly in Gozo. The Xarolla Windmill is iconic with Zurrieq in Malta and the Ta’ Kola and Xewkija Windmills iconic in Gozo, with the Xewkija Mill the oldest in Gozo.
Interestingly enough when a windmill tower was constructed it would be within sight of a neighbouring mill, similar to military watchtowers and the sighting would relay whether the mill was working on the day as well as the wind strength. In addition, each mill had a hole at one end that when blown would emit a considerable noise calculated to reach the next village and thus indicate to villagers the wind was blowing and wheat was being ground on the day.
Catastrophically, four years ago Gozo faced a calamity when the Azure Window at Dwejra collapsed during a violent storm and was lost and gone forever. The Window was Gozo’s icon and attracted thousands of visitors annually. Now there are plans to fully restore the Xewkija Windmill to replace the window as Gozo’s new icon.
This is centrally situated as one mounts the hill from Mgarr Harbour and heads for Rabat, Gozo’s capital which is centrally located. Now Heritage Malta has taken the mill in hand for a total restoration and renovation. The machinery in the mill had been destroyed by a fire but has been reconstructed from five different types of wood. The stonework has been emplaced and now all that remains is the completion of the crown, the main shaft and the ceiling tower cover of the mill. Within the next month the sails will be put in place.
So there you have it Dutch Netherlanders! You thought that Holland ruled the roost where windmills are concerned. Now, think again!
A traditional joke constantly passed around by British military personnel during their 150 years in Malta – “How do you make a Maltese Cross?”
The glib answer – “Stamp on his toes!”