The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

Ta’ Kola Windmill

Malta Independent Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

The Ta’ Kola Windmill, operated by Heritage Malta, is situated in the heart of the village of Xaghra, Gozo, and is one of the few surviving windmills on the Maltese Islands dating back to the Knights’ Period. Its origins go back to 1725, during the reign of Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena (1722-36), and it was constructed by the Manoel Foundation which took its name after that of the same Grand Master.

The history of Maltese windmills started during the sovereignty of Grand Master Nicolas Cotoner (1663-1680), who imported the design of the mechanism and structure from his native island of Majorca in the Balearic, and set up a foundation to build a number of such windmills. In due course, three more Grand Masters followed suit and created similar foundations to generate income for the treasury of the Order. The construction and ownership of windmills was monopolised by the Order, and in all these four foundations erected a total of 33 windmills, five of them in Gozo. These were rented out to private individuals for a substantial annual fee. The Manoel Foundation was the fourth and last of these foundations.

In 1838 the British government abolished this monopoly and invited private entrepreneurs to undertake the construction of windmills for their own profit. By the 1880s there were 15 windmills operating in Gozo. Within a few years, though, these windmills became outdated with the introduction of the more reliable and efficient steam-powered milling plants. Many windmills were forced to close down or started being used mostly for grinding cereals for animal feed or broad beans to be used as bait in fish traps. Eventually, during World War II, several Gozitan families exploited the surviving windmills to grind secretly their hidden supplies of wheat and barley.

Since its birth, Ta’ Kola Windmill seems to have incorporated bad quality stones and mortar and had to be dismantled and reconstructed during the 1780s. The first miller to run the renovated windmill was Marcello Scicluna. He was obliged to pay an annual rent of 400 scudi plus a total of seven roses to the president and two commissioners of the Manoel Foundation on every 1 May, and two healthy cocks to the foundation’s treasurer on Christmas Day.

Eventually, by the 1850s, Ta’ Kola Windmill passed under the hands of the Grechs, an established family of millers from Mosta, Malta. The Grechs continued to run the windmill up to the 1980s. Guzeppi Grech, the last of the Grech millers, was responsible for operating and maintaining the structure, and resided in this windmill together with his family until his death in 1987. He was an ingenious craftsman and many of the tools on display were created by him. Likewise, it is thanks to Guzeppi that one can still experience the way millers lived and operated these dominating landmarks. The windmill’s name Ta’ Kola is also synonymous with him since he was popularly known as zeppu ta’ Kola (Joseph the son of Nikola).

The construction of the Ta’ Kola Windmill complex follows a plan which is echoed in most Maltese windmills of the period, and consists of a number of rooms on two storeys surrounding the centrally-placed cylindrical stone tower lodging the mill proper. The first room to the right of the entrance houses the workshop. The operation and upkeep of a windmill required the knowledge of several trades like carpentry, smithing and stone dressing as the milling mechanism was subjected to high wear and tear, while the windmill’s antennae were often damaged by inclement weather. Likewise, when the miller was not operating the mill due to unsuitable weather conditions (strong winds or no breeze at all) he used to exploit his skills and tools in other secondary jobs like the sharpening of tools, repair of carts and wine barrels, and horseshoeing.

The next two rooms served as stores. The former features different types of scales and grain measures and various implements employed in the process of threshing the harvest, while the latter contains a number of hand-operated mills for the grinding of small quantities of wheat, and different sieves employed for the separation of the chaff from the flour. In the third room one can note also the wide door leading to the small backyard. Originally this yard was not screened off and the said door opened directly onto the street.

Likewise, this wide door opening was not part of the original building design, but was created at a later stage, possibly in the latter half of the 19th century when, due to the great competition between the several windmills operating in Gozo, the respective millers took the trouble of providing the service of collecting the wheat and related cereals from the respective domestic units and eventually delivering it back as flour and bran by a mule or horse-drawn cart. In this respect, the beast of burden employed could have been stationed in the small stable, presently occupied by the sanitary facilities of the building.

An item of interest is the Triton-shell (Maltese bronja) in the staircase of the building. Its pointed end was sawn off and when blown in a trumpet-like fashion from the roof of the windmill, it produced a sound that echoed all over the neighbourhood. All parishioners were thus informed of the favourable wind and were invited to bring in their cereals for grinding.

The rooms on the first floor served as the living quarters for the miller’s family. The first room as one proceeds upstairs comprises the dining room and includes some typical vernacular loose furniture. However, had the miller’s family been numerous, this would most probably have been used as an extra bedroom. The next room served as the kitchen, and the present display features a small selection of local vegetables, preserved foodstuffs and kitchen utensils. Moving on to the subsequent rooms, one encounters the bedrooms. Included in the display of the outer bedroom are a cotton gin, used to separate the seed from the cotton, and a weaving loom. Weaving was a very popular cottage craft and was taught to almost every girl in the family. Worth noting in the inner bedroom is a baby hammock above the double-bed and a Maltese lace motif on the pillow case.

The circular tower may be accessed either from the ground floor or from the kitchen on the first floor. A spiral staircase leads up to the upper part of the tower housing the milling device. The main set-up consists of two circular hard-wearing stones placed on top of each other to crush the grain forced between the two rotating surfaces. They are very similar to centimoli used in the Late Classical Period. Unlike the centimoli, however, the upper grinding stone of the windmill, also known as the runner stone, is powered by the robust shaft and external fanned antennae.

When in operation the sails must be facing the direction of the wind, and the main shaft and lightweight conical roof had to be turned around by the miller in the favourable direction. This awkward manoeuvre involved the removal of the heavy iron pins and brackets anchoring the roof to the milling tower and the skilled use of levers. For the spreading of the white canvas sails the miller had to climb up the respective antennae, while the rotational speed of these antennae and of the runner stone was controlled by a lever inserted between the grinding stones. When pressing down the lever, the runner stone is lifted and freed to rotate with relative ease. Conversely, when lifting the lever the runner stone is lowered, thus coming into contact with the stationary bed stone, and brakes down.

Ta’ Kola Windmill is one of six Heritage Malta sites on the island of Gozo. It is open from Monday to Sunday, from 9am to 5pm (last admission 4.30pm). Admission price for the Ta’ Kola Windmill is Lm1 for adults and 50c for juniors and senior citizens. However, visitors may purchase a Xaghra multi-site ticket for Lm2 and visit also the Ggantija Temples. For further information call on 2156-1071, 2156-4188 or visit www.

heritagemalta.org.

Article provided by Heritage Malta

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