A local perspective on Maltese culture

Discover the art of Maltese tile making and Maltese culture

Patterned tiles are a quintessential part of Maltese culture and heritage. Typically seen in traditional townhouses, the Maltese tile features bright colours and satisfying geometric designs. In recent years the traditional craft has fallen by the wayside, more likely to be made in factories than by local artisans. Not so for Robert Lia, a builder specialising in stone restoration, who founded his own business, Malta Tiles, to keep the craft alive. 

Meet Robert Lia

Robert Lia used to be a builder before he fell in love Maltese tile making. Today, he is fighting to keep the fading artisan industry alive, a mission that he says comes from his love of Malta.

‘The nice thing about [Maltese tile making] is that it is considered as an art,’ Robert says. ‘When you are creating a tile, you are bringing a piece of art to life by hand. That’s the beauty of it. My main profession was as a builder, specialising in stone restoration. But I fell in love with traditional Maltese tiles and I decided to try to keep this craft alive.’

Robert says tile making can be a challenge due to the amount of labour involved, from sieving that is done by hand, preparing the cement and pigments, and stacking the tiles.

‘A tile consists of three different materials,’ Robert says. ”Mastig’ is the first layer that consists of white cement, pigment and marble powder. The second layer, ‘Putraxx’, is there to absorb the material of the first layer, which consists of dry fine sand and cement to absorb the water. The third layer of the tile consists of damp sand called ‘Milanc’ which prepares the tile to be pressed.’

All traditional crafts should be preserved and protected, according to Robert, who says that many have already been lost. Increasingly, he warns that traditional crafts are being replaced by machines. Indeed, Robert’s traditional tile-making business is one of the last remaining that completes the process manually.

“We continue working manually, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. It’s a tactile, hands-on experience, and this is our passion.”

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