A Corpus of Graffiti

29 Mar

Gozo Harbor, Mgarr Malta

There is nothing new about prisoners scratching names, dates, memories and dreams into the walls of their cells. On Gozo, the “other,” smaller and more rustic island in Malta, there is a old prison where prisoners graffitied the walls from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

The prison in Gozo began in the late Medieval times but did not really get going until the middle of the 16th century when Knights of Malta arrived with their code of law and built the a larger prison that stands to this day. The rowdy members of the sect were sent to the prison to calm down and contemplate their behavior. Among the people incarcerated was Jean Parisot de Vallette who would become the Grandmaster of Malta.


Duelling and murder were the common reason why knights were sent to the Gozo Prison. But it was not only knights that were locked up. Some local Malteze were also incarcerated for debt, brawling and murder. In some cases sentences were only for 10 days, in other cases they lasted for many, many years.

The prisoners were well treated. Their daily sustenance consisted of a substantial amount of bread and pasta, some cheese or salted fish and, occasionally some olives. A doctor was available and examined each prisoner on a regular basis. There were clean sheets once a week and a visit with family once a month.

And there was plenty of time to etch your loneliness and heartache in the soft limestone.

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