Reading time: 5 mins.
With the current COVID situation ‘life got flipped turned upside down.’ (Let me know if you get that reference maybe I won’t feel like a dinosaur.) With travel removed from my life, along with all the negative aspects that this reality brought, it left me an urge to explore new things which I could not fulfil. I have been living on this rock for 30 years, what else is there to discover in Malta. Maybe go to a beach or to one of the ever-diminishing walks in the countryside that are still available on the island. But as a photographer, I’m no fan of seascapes and landscapes. What I’m a fan of is old and abandoned places and urban exploration or Urbex. This project had been at the back of my mind for some time, and finally, it was the right time to explore the abandoned, find photographic inspiration and most importantly get away from people at these times. Nothing like a pandemic to push you out of your comfort zone.
Why I wanted to explore abandoned places?
I have followed urban explorers for years. You may look at these people exploring abandoned places and think they are crazy, but what I see is a portal back in time to when the site last hosted people. As a photographer, and a person who loves anything old and forgotten it is a unique experience, in which with some imagination takes me back in time and lets me explore and document photographically the process of time and gradual urban decay on a building. I am fascinated by the process of nature reclaiming human owned land back, proving the power of nature over any concrete jungle humans ever build and demonstrating the constant battle over control between human and nature.
I did not only visit these places to take pictures. I see every place as a silent living museum devoid of human life but full of history, one which inspires me to look at it from different views. Each place has its own story of who built the building, who lived there and why was it abandoned. These questions take me down a rabbit hole of research and further questions, taking more time than I care to admit.
Getting into these abandoned places, it was evident that I was not the first one there. And although my intentions were just to observe, I got the feeling that not all explorers had the same intention. So whether you already explored abandoned buildings or would like to go and take photos, see the marvel of nature taking over or explore places frozen in time, these are some things which I feel are vital before you start exploring. Reading them, you might think that they are quite obvious, but from what I encountered so far in the few available places in Malta, I think they are worth a mention.
- Never force an opening into a building
Urban exploration is a grey area between trespassing and harmless exploration. I think the key, especially with houses as opposed to hotels and previously public space, is that if the owner has bolted the door, windows and put a new lock on, he doesn’t want you inside, so move on. If there is no apparent entrance, never break your way into any building.
2. Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.
Take pride in discovering something that looks like a scene from a movie, and then take as much pride in leaving it as it is for those coming after you. I think this is too late now for Malta as no authentic old place is left as it was years ago but if you enter an abandoned building, don’t destroy anything. For example, in White Rocks, I found the reception room with all the keys, flyers and guest book but there where torn and burnt. Someone was lucky enough to find this little treasure but destroyed it for other people. Don’t move or take anything
3. Leave the spray cans and lighters at home.
I can never understand how people enter an abandoned building and want to scribble their name or burn it down. Here I am not referring to graffiti artists who draw a piece of art, taking their time with skill and patience, but to those who found a spray bottle in their grandpa’s garage and went to town writing their name or drawing a particular part of the male anatomy. (Seriously what is with boys and their private parts?) I find a distinctive difference between creating a piece of art at the side or inside an empty hotel, and another when you spray your name on a building that already has its own unique decorations. don’t vandalise , spray, break or burn anything.
4. Take your trash with you!
Nothing makes my blood boil as much as seeing other people’s disgusting leftovers in an abandoned area, ruining the space for everyone that comes after them. And this may shock the people who litter, but when you go back to the same spot, your disgusting litter will still be there, being in your way too. Littering is a phenomenon that I believe is amplified in Malta, as from video of other urban explorers abroad, I never see as much litter around as I have seen in abandoned spaces in Malta. This fact particularly broke my heart at Villa Mystique, where the beauty of this place was tainted with a heartbreaking amount of litter, overtaking the decorated floors and walls.
5. Do your neck exercises; look up, down, left and right.
When walking always be mindful of your space and ideally take a partner in crime just in case. Tread carefully and observe the ground. Jumping or running can be too much on an unstable surface. Is the floor wood, stone, ground floor or top floor, what is underneath? Are there any collapsed areas around? Careful of stairs, are they wood or stone? Look up. Is there a ceiling that could collapse, are there any fallen parts. Look to the sides, will anything scrap you when moving. And from personal experience: look out for anything you can accidentally bump your head on?
6. Get dressed like an explorer.
I have seen explorers online wearing dresses and nice closed shoes with handbags, but I like to get dressed as if I’m taking part in a survival program! I opt for comfortable trekking shoes; they usually have better grip than running shoes with long trousers even in summer as you may need to walk between overgrown vegetation and this will protect you from scratches and bugs. Same goes for the top; log sleeve will give you more protection if you don’t happen to live in an oven as I do in Malta. I found it useful to braid long hair, or put it up in a bun, to avoid getting it caught to branches, and to feel a little like Lara Croft. I also added a head covering like a bandana to my outfit after a tree decided to bless me with some tree sap on my hair and I spent a solid half an hour to get it out. A headlamp and a torch are also a must along with a phone for emergencies, water and maybe a snack.
Having said this, I am in no way encouraging you to go to these places. It’s a situation of ‘I have done it, so you don’t have too.’ So if you are still curious, have a look at the places I have explored and the history I have research associated with them from the comfort of your armchair. Click here to see more pictures of abandoned places in Malta, here to read about the abandoned hotels built after the war and here to read about my visit to a magical villa left in ruins.
What do you think of abandoned places? Do you think they are interesting and mysterious or do you think that they should be demolished?