Exploring Malta

In October we travelled to Malta, a small island country located south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. The culture dates back over 7000 years and has three UNESCO sites with the Gozo Temples classified as the oldest structures in the world making them older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge. The Maltese language is one of the oldest living languages in the world… the country is literally an open-air museum.

The island has been ruled by all the major civilizations including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British. When the Carthaginians invaded, they took all 6000 Maltese as slaves. 

Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked here around 60AD on his way to Rome to be tried as a political rebel. He hid out in a cave for three months and introduced Christianity to the island. 

In 1565 a vast Ottoman Turk fleet of 40,000 men laid siege to Malta for almost four months before being defeated by the 700 Knights of St. John and 6,000 soldiers living there. The victory became one of the most celebrated in the 16th century and money poured in from around Europe.

Immediately after the siege an all new fortified baroque city was built on uninhabited land along the west side of the harbour. Pope Pius V lent his architect to the Grand Master of the Knights to carefully design Valletta on a uniform grid to accommodate water, sanitation and air circulation. The city was filled with churches, palaces and squares and became known as a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen. The size of the walled fortifications is enormous. 

The Knights were overrun by Napoleon and then became a British colony when he was defeated. The day after Italy declared war in June 1940, the Axis began a siege of the island. The island suffered over 3000 bombing raids on a daily basis for almost two and half years making it the most bombed place on earth. Whole communities went underground to live in the 800 shelters dug into the rock around the island. In 1942, the entire Maltese population was given the King George Cross for bravery.

The place we rented this October was in Bormla which was the main city across the harbour before Valletta was built. We stayed in a watchtower built by the Knights in 1560 on one of the picturesque residential streets where all the buildings are made from quarried sandstone. 

To get to Valletta where all the shopping, restaurants, theatres, and museums are located we took a small boat that looks like a gondola. The fare is 2€ each way and takes about 10 minutes. At the landing is a 19-story elevator that takes you up to the city and costs 1€ for a ticket to go up and back down. 

We were lucky to experience the annual Notta Bianca that transforms the entire city of Valletta into a festival with over 60 events and 250 performances all for free. We went to a performance of musical Trash in the beautiful Teatru Manoel. Afterwards we went to a Food Show and got to taste many local delicacies, modern dance in the National Library and six different music groups set up at different stages in squares and parks. 

The weather was sunny and hot, the food is reasonably priced in restaurants and there is so much to do we could not do it all in the week we spent there. If you like history and unique places you have to put Malta on your list.