Malta Diary Were beds as we know them today first used in Malta and Egypt? Could well be! The association between Malta and beds is lengthy and varied.
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The Maltese Islands have a history that is latent with its connections to beds, bedding and what goes on in beds – and that history goes back a long, long way!
Malta’s prehistoric story goes back a long, long way too and modern research has pronounced that in the Neolithic era, man either dug holes in the ground and embedded large leaves and rushes or otherwise found a flat piece of rock to sleep on and laid this with softer vegetable materials to provide a little more respite from the hardness.
This history defines that Malta has the oldest free-standing Neolithic Temples in the world, these being at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra in Malta and Ggantija in Gozo and naturally, the “priests” of the era fashioned their own temple beds which may explain mysterious scoops in the grounds in these zones.
Moving forward, the Phoenicians adopted Malta as far back as 1,500 years BC, not as a colony but as a valuable trading post and resting place. One of their first actions was to install a brothel in the south of the islands in the vicinity of what is now Marsaxlokk, a natural “resting” place for sailors away from their wives after having spent many days at sea. Later, this was inherited by the Romans who declared it The Temple of Juno. Today the area is still known as Juno Heights.
Without entering into the detail of what went on in the brothel, whatever went on, where and on what was it done? Were holes still being dug into the ground?
Last month, on 13th September, Professor Brian Fagan from Santa Monica, University of California, wrote in the lifestyle journal “The Conversation”, published by Associated Press that:
“The structure of the bed has remained remarkably consistent: We know that raised frames with mattresses were being used in MALTA and EGYPT by 3,000 BC which means that people have been using them for over 5,000 years.”
Apparently, these early Maltese and Egyptian beds were little more than rectangular wooden frames with legs and leather or fabric sleeping platforms. The upper end was often angled slightly upwards. Grass, hay and straw stuffed into sacks or cloth bags served as a scratchy mattress for centuries.
Thus, the history of Malta and beds stretches back a long, long way, as most heritage does in this one of the smallest inhabited islands in the world.
Of course, the use of beds and what actually goes on in them (besides sleeping, naturally) came very much to the fore when Malta’s capital city Valletta was built by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem and officially inaugurated in 1568.
Valletta was built on a parallel grid system and one of the vertical roads was named Strait Street, a street which in some places is so strait and narrow that one can almost touch both sides with outstretched arms.
The street immediately rose to notoriety as a Red Light district area used by unscrupulous Knights (who had all taken a vow of absolute celibacy) to house their courtesans – naturally on very comfortable beds! Down through the centuries the more “comfortable” aspect dissipated and the street gained greater notoriety as a magnet for military and merchant sailors frequenting the prostitutes who thrived there.
However, on the more positive side, Malta’s association with beds served a more nobler cause during World War I when Malta became known as “The Nurse of the Mediterranean” with several military hospitals nursing thousands of sailors and soldiers badly wounded during the conflict, particularly from Gallipoli and the wounded hailed not only from Britain, but also Australia, New Zealand, Canada and India.
Sadly, during the latter part of WWI, German submarines also attacked hospital ships ferrying the wounded to Malta and hospital care had to be relocated to Egypt.
Thus undoubtedly, Malta’s links to beds stretches back a long way and served multiple purposes – not overlooking one very important aspect. This is the Mediterranean and the all-year-round afternoon siesta is a sine qua non for many – including yours truly!
Unfortunately the pace of modern living and commitments nowadays makes this more difficult, but there is nothing sweeter that hitting the sack in the heat of a summer afternoon under the sweeps of a rotating fan or with a chilling a/c supplementing the comfort.
“Lay out your bed and go to sleep”
Used to chastise a person not following the conversation or whose mind wanders away from the topic being discussed.