The Eye of Osiris

24 Mar

Marsaxlokk has been a port since the ninth century BC. It is in this bay the Phoenicians first landed and plied their trades. Fishing was probably here before the Phoenicians. The protected natural harbor makes a safe, calm place for boats to moor and fish feed in the rich waters.

When we visited on a clear blue sky morning we found a harbor dotted with traditional Malteze fishing boats, luzzus. Luzzus are pointed at both ends and are usually brightly painted with primary colors and most notably bright blue. The color of each prow indicates the home port.

This stable and sturdy marine design dates back to the Phoenician sailors. It is found in seaside towns on the south and east sides of the island today. The boats used to be built using wood, but builders today often use fiberglass. During the earliest times, the luzzu was smaller and used sails. Nowadays most luzzus are slightly larger and motorized with diesel-powered engines.

We were not in Marsaxlokk early enough on this Sunday morning to watch the local fishermen bringing in their catch. But their freshly caught fish were in the stalls of the Marsaxlokk Sunday Fish Market. One walk through the market tells you why seafood is served daily on Malteze tables. Fresh octopus, mussels, clams, sardines, grouper, sea bass, l’angoustines, squid and more are laid out on the ice for careful selection by knowledgeable cooks.

Folklore and superstition surround these small ocean-going boats. The “Eye of Osiris” or “Eye of Horns” is a carving mounted on both sides of the prow of the luzzu. The eyes are a continuation of a Phoenician belief that the eye protects the boat and the boatmen from evil when at sea. They are a sign of good health in Malta.


Luzzus are usually passed on from father to son. And the color scheme for each boat is passed on as well. The superstition goes that evil will befall the fisherman and his family should the colors be changed. Every five years the paint is completely scraped off the entire boat, down to the bare wood. The boat is then repainted exactly as it had been for generations and the family is protected.

We’ve seen luzzus carrying tourists in the main harbors of Valletta and Birgu sometimes six or seven portly passengers to a little boat. The boat rides so low in the water it looks like it is sinking. Since the passengers return to port dry one can only suppose it is an optical illusion created by the sunlight on the sea. Or it could be the Eye of Osiris really does protect all who ride.

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