Discover Malta's
maritime history
etched in stone

Graffiti Contexts

Graffiti are etched into stones that form part of buildings, and the types of buildings vary in function from public buildings, places of worship, and fortifications to private homes, to name a few. Knowing the type of buildings that bear historical graffiti is important for research, providing a wider context that is essential to ascertain the value of these graffiti. These contexts, apart from stylistic considerations, also provide important information for dating. 


This ship graffito is an accurate depiction of a tartana dating to the Knights period.


This stone block frames more than one ship graffito.

In Malta, graffiti have been recorded on the following building types:

Similarly, the locality in which graffiti are found is also of importance for research. By having a geographical and statistical record, a more accurate understanding of the demographics involved can be ascertained. 

Ship graffiti tend to be found the most in places of worship. Perhaps when they are etched on churches and chapels, the graffiti are serving a form of remembrance, asking a higher power to keep the ship and crew in mind and to watch over them. A similar practice which has been studied is the commissioning of ex-voto paintings of ships, meant to show gratitude to a Christian deity for being saved from ill fate. 

A concentration of graffiti are found in prisons such as the Old Prison in Gozo and the prison at Fort St. Angelo. These graffiti are not only limited to ship graffiti. A reason for such a high concentration of graffiti could be that the inmates are depicting objects or icons that they identify with in a certain way. A person who is an avid musician in their time spent outside of prison would etch the musical instrument they play. Similarly, a person who formed a part of the crew on a ship would likely etch the ship they served on. This serves as a remembrance of a time spent out of prison and the imagery depicted as graffiti can serve as solace to the inmates.

Graffiti are located on both of the main Islands in the Maltese archipelago. The localities in which graffiti have been discovered are not limited to cities such as Valletta or Mdina. Graffiti have been found even in small villages such as Balzan. Please go to ‘Map and Galleries’ to discover the places in which graffiti are located.