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Title: The Maltese Calesse : visitors’ impressions in nineteenth century travel narratives
Authors: Chetcuti, Emanuel
Keywords: Carriages and carts -- Malta -- History
Malta -- History -- Knights of Malta, 1530-1798
Malta -- History -- British occupation, 1800-1964
Coaching (Transportation) -- Malta
Transportation -- Passenger traffic -- Malta
Malta -- Description and travel
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: University of Malta. Department of History
Citation: Chetcuti, E. (2018). The Maltese Calesse : visitors’ impressions in nineteenth century travel narratives. Journal of Maltese History, 5(2), 98-125.
Abstract: The Calesse is the crude precursor to the Karrozzin used in Malta. It was the main source of public transport up to the nineteenth century. A writer in ‘Notes and Queries’ for 1864 says that the calesse was introduced in Malta by the Knights of the Spanish Langue ‘more than one hundred and fifty years ago’. This assertion presupposes that the calesse was extant in Malta from the late seventeenth century. There are indeed several references to the calesse in eighteenth century literature. A Venetian chronicler in his description of Malta during 1716 describes how calesses were used by prostitutes during carnival days. Michele Acciard in his narrative of the conspiracy of the slaves in 1749 mentions that when Mustafa Bassa di Rodi was discharged from quarantine, Grand Master Manuel Pinto da Fonseca sent to him a calesse to take up his lodgings at Fort St. Elmo. Giovanni Scarabelli writing about the Sacra Infermeria in the eighteenth century, mentions that ‘l’ospidale e dotato di un calesse, quindi di rimessa e di stalla per I cavalli.’ A treasury record relating to the obligations of the ‘Unita della Citta Notle., ed isola di Malta’ dated 1 January 1751 refers to the hire of calesses on Christmas days, Easter and the Feast of St. Gregory. Charles Nicolas Sigisbert Sonnini de Manoncourt, the French naturalist, in 1799 published the French edition of ‘Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt’. While in Malta during the year 1777, he noted that only ‘the officers of the order, and other inhabitants, had, for the same purpose, chaises drawn by a single mule, which a man led by a leathern thong.’ An early description written in 1777 by Le Comte De Borch compares the vehicle to a stretcher-cabriolet supported by a powerful mule, of a similar size of a Neapolitan horse, driven by a very agile Maltese rider. Patrick Brydone, the Scottish traveller, relates how on 7 June, 1770 he had toured the island ‘in coaches drawn by one mule each, the only kind of vehicle the place affords. When the historian, Johan Meerman, accompanied by his wife, visited Malta in 1792, he observed that the calesse was the only means of travelling although unsuitable to reach certain locations. The manuscript diary of the Norwegian clergyman, Peder Pavels, who journeyed on the frigate ‘Thetis’ during the years 1796 and 1797, makes reference to a tour from Valletta to Rabat on 26 December 1796 using the local calesse. Comte Francois Emmanuel Guidnard de Saint-Priest, writing in 1791, describes how calesses were allowed to drive in St. George’s Square, Valletta, on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of Carnival days which square was invariably closed with chains during the year to prevent intrusion. He also mentions that calesses were ornamented with tree leaves when being used and driven to the feast of ‘Mnaria’. When Carlo Castone della Torre di Rezzonico, an Italian polygraph and cousin of Pope Clement XIII, visited Malta in 1794, he complained to Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan about the damaged state of the roads as a result of having been eroded by the wheels of carts and calesses. Thomas Freller writes that ‘The Russian Count Chernishev was among the distinguished visitors who toured Mdina and Rabat in a calesse in June 1782.
ISSN: 20774338
Appears in Collections:JMH, Volume 5, No. 2 (2018)
JMH, Volume 5, No. 2 (2018)

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