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August 2, 2023


Photography and story by Naima Hall
Introduction by Melanie Meggs

Hidden away on the island of Gozo, the Cini family have been farming salt for generations. Their commitment to producing some of the purest salt in the world has made them renowned in Malta and beyond. It is this dedication to a craft that, through time, has remained unchanged, just modified.

As a dedicated environmental portraiture, street, and landscape photographer, Naima Hall, in August 2022, had the privilege to witness the Cini family’s commitment to their craft and document it through her photography. With an eye for detail, she has been able to capture the essence of life within the Xwejni salt pans — a micro-landscape that speaks of both the grandiosity and intimacy of our relationship with our natural environment.

Naima has always been interested in metaphysics and quantum mechanics as relates to time, consciousness, reality, and the human experience. Her recent photo credits include publication in Photojournalism Hub, Wanderlust Travel Magazine, Corbeaux Magazine, and digital travel media for Cuba and the Azores, and the Smithsonian Magazine public archive.

As a member of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), Naima aspires to tell stories through visual images and written commentary through photo-essay and photojournalistic endeavors — capturing an indelible stories that is both universal and personal.

Naima’s project takes us on a journey with the Cini family, giving us a glimpse into their artisanal salt-farming practices and uncovering the broader geo-heritage of Gozo. Join Naima Hall as she celebrates the Cini family's commitment to this craft that has been passed on from generation to generation, uncovering a timeless story that is both captivating and inspirational.


Gozo, the second largest island within the Maltese Archipelago, lies south of Sicily and east of Tunisia and is part of the Republic of Malta. The unique geology of Gozo, rich with limestone sedimentary shore platforms, has lent it to a history of salt cultivation that can be traced back to the middle ages.

Since the 1950s, artisanal salt farms in Mediterranean Europe have been on the decline due to a complex variety of factors related to land use, development, tourism, and urbanization. There are approximately ninety active salinas remaining in operation within continental Europe. One of them has been operated by the Cini Family of Gozo.

For over one hundred years the Cini Family has been cultivating Leli Tal-Melh artisanal salt in the Xwejni salt pans. Josephine Xuereb is a 5th generation Leli Tal-Melh salt farmer and has recently taken the helm of her family's salt farming practice. Her primary role is to ensure that every harvest is maintained as it has been for the last one hundred years by her forefathers.

Without mechanization or hired help, this industrious family has maintained a remarkable cultivation practice of the purest salt in Malta. Josephine insists that the only ingredients are “the sea, sun, air, and time.”

Through their commitment to their lineage, the Cini family are an embodiment of the style of humility and endurance that is required to produce this biblical mineral coveted throughout Malta and around the world.

One of the initial steps in salt production is filling large primary dehydration pans with seawater for the first stages of evaporation. After substantial evaporation has taken place and the water thickens with salinization, it is transferred by using a reservoir water-channel system into secondary shallow pans where it will have more intensive exposure to the sun and air to expedite the dehydration and crystallization process.

Approximately seven days after the shallow pans are filled with water, the salt is ready for harvest. They sweep the upper layer of a salt pan where the salt has crystalized and it is then ready to be formed into small piles where preliminary drainage will continue before bucketing. According to Josephine, the salt from this region is heavy in iodine and magnesium indicating its characteristic terroir.

Once in buckets, there are holes in the bottom of the bucket to allow for a continuous process of water removal which ensures that the salt is at its lightest weight before being transferred into bags that will be hand-carried to trucks for transportation and packaging. Josephine affectionately refers to the salt as “summer snow”.

Throughout the five month harvest season (April - September), Josephine and her family typically carry three tons of salt per week – by hand – from approximately three hundred and fifty pans to trucks that will transport them to a packaging station.

During a strong harvest season between eighteen to twenty tons of salt will be collected overall, while only eight or nine tons will be collected in a less fruitful year.

The Maltese archipelago has the highest number of daylight hours and some of the hottest average temperatures in Europe. The limestone composition of the cave keeps temperatures within the walls significantly cooler than outside. The Cini cavern is equipped with sufficient electricity for basic lighting and cooking. Josephine and her family escape the heat of summer by spending time in the cave which serves as the heart of family life in close proximity to the salt pans.

As the patriarch of this salt-producing family, Josephine's father, Emmanuel Cini, continues to serve as the most recognized face of his family's trade. He never forgets his earliest days of salt harvesting. Emmanuel remembers when he began working in the pans in the 1960s with his wife Rosa. During that period the salt was typically transported by donkey in large quantities to individual family homes. At that time, refrigeration was not readily available in Gozo, and salt was used as the primary food preservation agent.

Rosa Cini spent her work life entrenched in the salt pans, waking at 4:00 a.m., enduring high summer heat, and participating in the hand-carrying of several tons of salt to transportation vehicles each harvest season along with her family members. Now that she is retired, she insists that she never wants to be idle and is always doing something to keep busy. As the matriarch of a family that strongly values tradition and industriousness, she has made a transition from salt farmer to textile artisan producing pieces that will be used for generations.

It's easy to see the visual allure of the salt pans, which provide exotic topography for visitors to brag about on Instagram. However, sometimes the family incurs challenges when less respectful travelers trespass onto the salt pans disturbing delicate aspects of cultivation and the integrity of the pans.

One of the additional obstacles faced by the Cini family is with regard to the property boundaries on the bayside which can sometimes be crossed by unassuming divers. The family consistently makes attempts to protect their century-old tradition from erosion and degradation that can happen at the hands of human interference.

While most of the Cini family product is sold offsite, having a small salt-selling station at the cave serves as an active museum, education center and tasting area that allows the family to communicate information about their cultural heritage in a live venue.

For the Cini family, salt is about community, relationships and an opportunity to meet people from all over the world.

The Cini family's incredible commitment to their craft is an inspiring example of how a culture can remain undiminished through time. Through the work of Naima Hall, we are now able to explore her timeless story. Let us appreciate and protect this way of life, so that the Cini family and countless other salt farmers can continue to share their culture for many generations to come.

View more of Naima’s remarkable photography journey through the links below.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author/s, and are not necessarily shared by The Pictorial List and the team.

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