In the old days there were at least 69 windmills on the islands: 15 in Gozo and 54 in Malta. Today only two of them still have wings. The history of the Maltese mills began with the Knights coming there. These were them who built the first dozens of windmills, the major part of which was constructed in 1663-1773. Approximately at the same time 4 windmills in Malta and 1 in Gozo were also built by the descendants of the Lascaris family who were not connected to the Order.
In 1530 the first windmill appeared in Malta, in 1565 – the second one. These constructions belonged to the kind of post mills which were the first prototypes of the modern European windmills. They were constructed so that the machinery compartment was mounted on the vertical stroma and would go around it to bring the wings into wind. This mechanism was brought by the Knights of St John’s Order from Rhodes.
A lot of mills were also constructed in the times of the Grandmaster Nicola Cottoner in the 17th century. He introduced another mechanism of windmills, which was brought from the Balearic Islands this time, as this was Cottoner’s native land. The Grandmaster together with his brother Rafael initiated the mill’s construction first in Floriana, Bormla, Naxxar, Xebbug and Zurrieq and then in Lija, Gudja and Zejtun.
After that the Grandmaster Antonio Manoel de Vilhena charged construction of 5 windmills more. Their location was in Birkirkara, Ghaargur, Rabat, Zurrieq and one between Zejtun and Ghaxag. In subsequent years some more windmills have been built on the islands, but at a much slower rate already.
The main principle of the mills’ locations was that each of them was positioned so that the neighboring one could be well seen from the other. Thus, the miller could check whether the other mills worked well. It is possible that the mills were also used as a certain defense and communication system.
Initially there was a Government’s monopoly on winds building. After it was ended in 1838 and anyone could build a mill, a lot of other new constructions appeared. Anyway, by the 1900-s most of them stopped their functioning as steam driven mills appeared. They developed with great speed around the Grand Harbour. Almost all of the steam driven mills had the same mechanism: the tower of 3 meters in diameter and 15 meters high was surrounded by the square building. Inside the building there was one room for grain reception and the other – for the flour storage. To enter the tower one needed to pass about 50 circular steps upstairs. The miller with his family usually lived in the special room on the first floor.
As to the millers’ lives they had to have several jobs except this one to be employed when the weather was unfavorable for mill’s operation. When the wind came and the mill could work, the miller would blow through the Maltese bronja, a triton shell, and the locals would come and bring their cereals to be floured.
Being in Malta, don’t miss your chance to see those few still surviving windmills of the Knight’s period. There you will have a possibility to know about the traditional rural life in Malta and the way the Maltese people cultivated, collected and stored grain. You will also see collections of the tools the millers manufactured for themselves and some of their household items and furniture. This is a great chance to understand better the Maltese history. There are at least two windmills which preserved in good state till today and can be recommended for tourist visits. These are Ta’Kola and Xarolla Windmills.
Ta’Kola Windmill is situated in Xagħra, Gozo. It was built in the times of the Grandmaster Manoel de Vilhena in about 1725. Due to the poor quality of the construction materials it had to be rebuilt in the 1780s. Probably this is the reason why it saved in such good state till today.
Another windmill, the Xarolla, situated in Zurrieq, can even still grain the wheat. It was constructed in 1724 and then it was several times restored. The latest restoration was held in 2011. This mill has a two-storey square building around it where the miller lived with his family.