The late medieval water galleries in Malta (11th to 16th century AD)

In the arid Maltese archipelago, farmers have been almost exclusively depended on the annual rainfall, aided by water derived from perched aquifer galleries where the geology permitted. The archaeological significance and relevance of narrow rock-cut subterranean tunnels tapping the perched aquifer had until recently escaped scholarly attention.

This case addresses the water-management systems and strategies exploited in the Maltese Islands in the past centuries, focusing on water extraction from the perched aquifer galleries. These systems shall be considered also in the context of the technological advances in managing water resources during the late 19th century. These mainly refer to the excavation of shaft-wells and galleries in the Rabat – Dingli area exploiting further the perched aquifer resources of this region, as well as the shaft-wells and galleries in the Qormi area of Malta in order to tap the mean-sea-level aquifer sources.  

Moreover, the case-study explores the relevance of the water galleries today, their use and exploitation, within the framework of not only water management but also landscape and cultural management, as well as their impact as historic structures on the Maltese landscape.

Although none of the hydrology-related components in the Maltese landscape is scientifically dated, comparative research suggests that the sophisticated galleries system is similar to the qanat technology. The water management strategies discussed could be part of a new horticultural and technological package introduced during the Muslim and post-Muslim period from the 11th century AD onwards. These strategies prevailed up until the late-19th-century discovery of an alternative underground water source led to a dramatic shift in water management and production policies on the island.