The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

Early Malta guide books – A historical survey

Sunday, 15 May 2022, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Anthony Zarb Dimech

Early Malta tourism poster
Early Malta tourism poster

Malta has always been known as an island of beautiful views and the panorama of the Grand Harbour, as seen from Barrakka Gardens is one of the magnificent sights in the world. Before the fully-fledged art of guiding, guide books, throughout the ages, have been published about Malta, containing much useful information about towns and villages and objects of interest. These books were mainly about Valletta and the immediate neighbourhood. With the advent of fast travel, Malta's prime attraction as a tourist destination came to the fore

According to, Medieval Christians developed a "pilgrims' guidebook". The earliest such extant guide is the "Itinerary from Bordeaux to Jerusalem" (known alternatively as Itinerarium Burdigalense), composed by an anonymous traveller in 330 AD.


Detailed information was provided for places where pilgrims could refill on water and in lieu of an oil change, they could change horses and donkeys on the long trek to the Holy Land.

Although some of these early renditions included crude maps, it took nearly a thousand years for these early "tour guides" to be produced in map form sometime in the 13th century - a welcome and familiar sight for travel weary eyes.

For small islands like Malta and Gozo difficulties were experienced in exploring outlying districts from the Valletta region, which were also well worthy of a visit.

Difficulties also of language, insuperable to the stranger, further hampered his/her investigations and one was consequently very much dependent on those who act as guides and whose acquaintance with the country extended beyond Valletta.

To meet this want and assist the tourist - whatever his/her mode of transport - in selecting his/her trips inland, to provide him with ample directions as well as a brief descriptive account of the places en route, guide books were published.

A first guide book

The first guide book in the English Language was titled, Historical Guide to Malta and Gozo by G. Percy Badger (improved and augmented by N. Zammit M.D. (6th edition), published and sold by P. Calleja (1879) - Printer P. Bonavia, 23, Strada San Cristoforo, Valletta.

This convenient easy to carry pocket-sized guide book contained the latest information as to trade, commerce, laws, festivals, public buildings, churches and other things and places of interest to "gentlemen" visiting these Islands. The guide book also contained statistical tables and was intended for travellers, the public in general, students and others.

Malta, being in the direct route from England to the East via the Suez Canal was strategically placed for ships calling for provisions, coal and to undergo any repairs that were necessary. Also Malta had considerable trade despite its small size.

With the development of steam navigation, Malta was continually visited by English travellers who were going and coming from the Levant, either on pleasure or business, and on their route, made a shorter or longer stay at Malta.

Some assistance was provided by guide books in providing knowledge and investigation of these islands. Malta was not only experiencing an increase in the number of foreigners visiting but also an increase in the facilities to accommodate them. Spacious and modern hotels were being built where travellers could repose after a long voyage at sea and restore their health. In their hours of quiet and solitude, they could also occupy themselves with a cursory examination of the things which Malta's history pointed out.

A tourist's guide

In 1898, V. Busuttil, headmaster of the government school at Vittoriosa published, A Tourist's Guide to the Maltese Islands including a History Summary (the Malta Printing Office, 16, Strada Zecca, Valletta). This guide book also contained a large section dedicated to advertisements. Notably, the advertisements were intended to the traveller and included information about hotels, steam navigation, tourist and general passenger agents, photographic studios and other commercial advertisements.

Proof of Malta's increasing popularity as a tourist destination was the number of first class hotels at the turn of the 20th century:

  • Dowdalls, Birzebbuga
  • Great Britain
  • Modern Imperial, Sliema
  • Osborne
  • Point de Vue, Citta' Vecchia (Mdina)
  • Royal
  • Savoy Hotel, Sliema

Also, a number of shipping agents had set up representative offices in Malta. Some of these agents are:

  • Arturo Kohen
  • Ellerman & Papyanni
  • De Mattos & Sullivan
  • Knott's Prince Line
  • O. F. Gollcher
  • P. & O. Steam Navigation Co.
  • T. C. Smith & Co.

There were also local shipping agents such as Tabona Ship Suppliers, Tanti Bellotti and Forwarding Agent & Co.


Government tourist bureau and tourist guides lecturers

By the late 1940s, Malta had its own tourist bureau that made arrangements at very short notice for providing cars and guides and for making up tours that included visits to various places of interest, according to the tastes of groups and individuals.

Legislation was also put in place for tourist guides as per the Regulations and Tariff for Licensed Guides. For instance, in the 1950s, fees payable to licensed guides were the following:

1.      In respect of a half day's excursion - one shilling and three pence per person conducted - minimum charge fifteen shillings

2.      In respect of a whole day's excursion - two shillings per person conducted - minimum charge one pound five shillings.

The duration of a half day's excursion did not exceed four hours and a whole day excursion was eight hours inclusive of the time allowed for lunch.

A roster of licensed guides and another of assistant guides, if any, was kept at the tourist bureau and all engagements of guides was made through the tourist bureau exclusively.

Any and all questions that arose out of, or in connection with, these regulations were to be decided finally by the officer in charge of the tourist bureau.

The Government Tourist Bureau also published a guide book, entitled Malta - The Jewel of the Mediterranean.



  • Historical Guide to Malta and Gozo by G. Percy Badger (improved and augmented by N. Zammit M.D. (6th Edition), published and sold by P. Calleja (1879).
  • A Tourist's Guide to the Maltese Islands including a History Summary by V. Busuttil (1898) (the Malta Printing Office, 16, Strada Zecca, Valletta).

 Guide to Malta & Gozo by G. H. Evans (published by W. Watson & Co., Malta, Printed by Griffin &Co., Portsmouth (1910).

  • Pocket Guide to Malta and Gozo by Edgar T. Agius (member of the Malta Historical and Scientific Society) (New and Revised Edition) (1925)
  • Malta - The Jewel of the Mediterranean published by the Government Tourist Bureau (1947)







01 Early Malta tourism poster

02 Early Malta guide books

03 Savoy Hotel advert 1909



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