Discover the bleak unspoken history that lies behind the Nix Mangiari Stairs, which connect the Grand Harbour and the city of Valletta at Victoria Gate.
Valletta 1950s - The Nix Mangiari Stairs.
Photo by Anthony Scerri
Heading up or down these stairs connecting the Grand Harbour and the city of Valletta at Victoria Gate, who would guess the bleak history that gave them their name?
Joseph Piccinino, who supplied this photograph by Anthony Scerri from the 1950s, explains:
"For several decades, during the early British occupation, these steps were the haunt of all sorts of Maltese beggars. Strictly those in a terrible hurry braved these steps, only to be pulled and prodded by eager hands and shouts of 'Nix mangiari, nix mangiari' (Nothing to eat, nothing to eat); the others preferred to walk the extra 200 meters around in order to walk in peace."
Frank Lea-Ellis, who took the photo below in 1865, wrote, "Idle men are seen on a rooftop outside Marina Gate, Valletta, Malta, 1865. The Nix Mangiari stairs are located on the upper left of the photo; these stairs went down to the harbour and were a well-known haunt for beggars - unemployment was a real fact of life with no recourse to social benefits like there is today. This photo was taken at the end of the cotton boom in Malta."
A little online research brought me to an article by Giovanni Bonello, published by the Times of Malta. It is an exceptional historical account of the state of affairs of the island in the early 19th century when the stairs became known by the name Nix Mangiari which, quite simply, was the beggar's call, "Nothing to eat!" while hoping for grace.