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Straight into the sea: What are these rock cut stairs at Bahrija’s Blata tal-Melh?
Mysterious!

Melanie Drury
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Il-Blata tal-Melh, loosely translated as "the rock of salt", lies on the coast of Bahrija behind the area known as L-Imtahleb. The stretch of coast lies just south of Ras ir-Raheb, just off Fomm ir-Riħ Bay. The only access is on foot via a 30-minute trek down steep uneven ground, closer to 45 minutes on the way up. The trek gets particularly tricky nearer the bottom.

There you’ll find a marvellous landscape of weathered rock layers creating oddly shaped boulders and rock formations. And, engraved in that rock, you’ll find some very odd stairs leading straight into the sea. Who made them and why are they there?

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First we need to consider that Malta’s geological layers are five, starting at the top: Upper Coralline Limestone; Greensand; Blue Clay; Globigerina Limestone; and Lower Coralline Limestone. Some of this rock is softer and some harder. The stairs are cut into the harder Lower Coralline Limestone, with a pickaxe! That must have been quite a mission, which indicates that the reason for making them must have been a worthy one.

So it turns out that Il-Blata tal-Melh was so named due to the salt-pans there. Some say it was an Italian businessman who produced salt there and he had commissioned the work. The stairs would enable workers to carry salt down to a waiting boat that would take it to Gnejna. Figures, as can you imagine carrying sacks of salt up that hill, right?

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Apparently, the staircase was also used as easy access for people working on the salt-pans, as using a boat was easier than walking, even if there were no sacks of salt to carry.

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While it may be tempting to use the stairs to go for a swim in the deep blue (the water is reputed to be 100 metres deep at the shore!), it is not recommended. If the sea is even slightly choppy, it gets very difficult to climb back up. Two men went missing for two days after being trapped there during rough seas in August 2017. There is also no mobile reception in the area in case things get difficult.

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A little distance away from the stairs, you can also find a hole resembling a well that leads down to the sea. It is likely that this was used to haul up buckets of seawater to fill the salt-pans. There are more holes, but they are filled with debris. 

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While they certainly have a very interesting history, these rock-cut stairs are not the only ones you’ll find in this area of Bahrija. Look at these others so skillfully crafted into the rock! 

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And these.

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Of course, you want to see this place. It is certainly off the beaten track but well-worth the effort. Apart from the interest created by the human footprint, the location has very unique characteristics that give it a unique beauty on the whole island.

24th September 2019


Melanie Drury
Written by
Melanie Drury
Melanie was born and raised in Malta and has spent a large chunk of her life travelling solo around the world. Back on the island with a new outlook, she realised just how much wealth her little island home possesses.

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