Sand and Fire

24 Apr

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It is believed glass was discovered by accident. Mediterranean traders, like the Phoenicians, settled on a beach for a length of time and used the same bonfire for cooking. The heat from the fire on the mixture of sand and volcanic stone melted it into a flexible medium. By experimentation, the traders discovered the combination of materials and heat required to make glass. And glass became a precious commodity to be taken to markets from Marrakesh to Constantinople.

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The main ingredient needed making glass is silica sand. This sand is found in many places, but not in Malta. Venice became the center for glass making.

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Originally the fire was in round-shaped furnaces using coal and wood as fuel. Many glass workers died from tuberculosis as a result. Eventually the traditional round furnace was substituted for a continuous furnace tank furnace using  light oil.

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There are three artisan glass companies here, Valletta, Mdina and Gozo Glass, that create fine glass in Malta to be shipped worldwide. We were lucky to be able to visit one of their workshops and watch the process of creation.

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Today the process has been tamed and mastered. But among the paperweights and vases there is still some of the wild creative spirit that were found in the embers of Phoenician beach fires.

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