What did Malta's traditional ghonnella really look like in day-to-day life?
The ghonnella was worn by Maltese women for centuries.

Joanna Demarco

In the 21st century, the ghonnella is nowhere to be seen, having totally died out merely a few decades ago. And, today, when it does make a rare appearance, it makes the headlines. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a time when Maltese women would wear one every day, and the streets would be filled with these hooded garments. However, it was actually a trend for centuries!


Jeff Hardwell - Valletta Photos / Facebook

The ghonnella was unique to the Maltese Islands in its structure, though it possibly shared similarities with clothing in other cultures. It was usually made out of cotton or silk and was dark in colour. In the early days of the ghonnella, it was mostly worn amongst members of the religious group, Il-Muzew, and by elderly spinsters. However, in the 16th century, women from noble families also sported white or coloured ghenienel. In later years, it became a bit of a commonly worn fashion item for women, who used to wear it on a daily basis.

It was known by a variety of names, and came in different styles and colours, some unique to particular places on the island. It was alternatively known as the Faldetta, Xurqana or the Stamijna.

A perfectly-designed sun shade for Malta’s never-ending days of sun, the item’s arch was mostly formed by cardboard stitched inside it. The ghonnella was multi-functional, and could also be wrapped tighter around one’s face to guard the face during colder weather.


Ernest Ferrante - Malta Through The Ages / Facebook

Although the locations are somewhat familiar, the pictures of daily life in Malta at the time of the ghonnella are close to surreal, though these scenes are very much a product of their time and ultimately a part of Malta’s historical tradition.


Giulio Zammit - Nostalgia Malta / Facebook


Ramon Pisani - Costume in Malta / Facebook


John Rizzo / Facebook

Joanna Demarco
Written by
Joanna Demarco
Joanna is a writer and a photographer based in Malta who spends most of her time seeking quirky spots around our islands or discovering and highlighting intriguing local stories.

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