Malta, The Boats Have Eyes

luzzo-eyes-2

Maltese fishing boats are called Luzzus and are are brightly painted in shades of yellow, red, green and blue and the bow is normally pointed with a pair of eyes.

The most popularly accepted legend is that the eyes date back to Phoenician times, from around two thousand two hundred years ago, when those great seafarers and traders from the Eastern Mediterranean established a trading-post on Malta.

The eye is believed to protect the fishermen from any harm when they’re at sea. On either side of the prow will be the carved and painted eye of Osiris, the Phoenician god of protection against evil – an example of ancient myth in modern times.

In his book, ‘Voices of the Old Sea’, Norman Lewis recounts how the Guardia Civil in Spain took a dim view of the eye of Osiris…

He (the policeman) called over another fisherman. ‘What purpose do you imagine those eyes on the boat serve?’.

‘We regard them as a sign against evil’

‘The evil eye, as you call it, doesn’t exist’ the captain said, ‘Paint them out'”

An alternative version is that the eyes of the boat which generally look down will guide the men to the best fishing waters.

Eyes like this were once common on fishing boats in Greece but the practice has all but died out there.  Eighty years ago fishing boats in Mediterranean Spain and the Algarve in Portugal also used the symbol of the eye but, apart from Malta, the only place to be sure of finding them now are on traditional boats called Jabega in the port of Malaga, which was also once a Phoenician trading city.

Malta Luzzo Eyes

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21 responses to “Malta, The Boats Have Eyes

  1. Those colours please my eyes! I had not realised that the eyes are 3D.

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  2. Never heard of that. Great photos. And thanks for the history lesson.

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  3. I love the pics but I also love any of these old traditions

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  4. The Spanish police seen real charmers! I was really surprised to find out that Franco used to have real concentration camps back in the late 30s early 40s. Around 30,000 people died in the camp at Alicante. The eyes are a great idea. Clearly they are connected with the Phoenicians and Wikipedia says that they worshipped Osiris in the 2nd millennium BC, so that is really ancient. It would be interesting to see if the people in Africa or Asia put eyes on boats. Would that hint that the Phoenicians visited them centuries ago?

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    • I researched this John but as I said, the only other place that I could find that has the tradition is Malaga. I looked for eyes when I went to Morocco but I couldn’t find any.

      My only brush with the law in Spain was when pulled up for a traffic offence near Burgos in 1985. That was a scary experience for sure!

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  5. beautiful colors, and i’ve never seen anything like these )

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  6. Thanks for the informative post, Andrew! You say a lot of things are changing quickly in Malta- such as?

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  7. Interesting tradition. The bright colored boats are lovely, but the eyes are creepy. 😀 😀 😀

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  8. This is new to me. They do like the bright and cheerful, don’t they.

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  9. Beautiful! Those boats sure are something else.

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  10. Really interesting tradition and such vibrant colours…do you think this could have anything to do with being a talisman against the evil eye?

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  11. News to me too, so thanks for the pub quiz trivia. They remind me a bit of the scary eyes painted on japanese fighter planes!

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