Marvellous Malta

217 Our week in Malta is almost at an end. Tomorrow we fly home – probably to grey skies and rain – and normality will resume. We’ve been ‘out and about’ every day and taken hundreds of photos of a variety of sites on both Malta and Gozo. I hope to do a few posts when I get home. I had intended to do a post on Valletta –  Malta’s capital city –  earlier this week, but we’ve been quite late getting back to the apartment to do a great deal. But before I do focus on Valletta, I think it would be a good idea to say a little bit about the Maltese  Islands in general. Here are a couple of maps to start with to show where they are located:

Map showing countries in the European Union (light green) and the location of Malta. Author: Nuclear Vacuum. Commons.

shutterstock_105899297The Maltese archipelago (group of islands) is situated in the Mediterranean Sea, 90km (56 miles) south of the Italian island of Sicily. The three main islands that make up the group are Malta, Gozo and Comino. There are also three small, uninhabited islands. The many rocky coves around its coast form deep, natural harbours, which have featured In Malta’s history since it was first inhabited. Today the island group forms the most densely populated country in Europe.

Flag of Malta. Licensed under CCO via Commons. Public Domain

(I put this picture in especially for fellow blogger Prateek Kohli. He told me he loved learning about Malta at school because the Maltese flag was so easy to draw. You know… I think he’s right!)

The first people arrived in Malta around 4000 BC – Stone-age farmers from Sicily, who brought their animals, pottery, bags of seed and flint with them. Many hundreds of years later, around 1800 BC, they built wonderful temples on the islands, the remains of which can still be seen today, along with many examples of their sculpture and carved wall decorations: 120 Soon after this time, new invaders arrived and the temple builders disappeared – either through extermination or slavery. And so Malta’s story continues, with a number of different invasions over the years – through the Bronze and Iron Ages, and the Phoenician (800 BC) and Roman invasions. It was the Romans who named the island we call Malta today, ‘Melita’. The name is remembered on the little blue buses, occasionally seen today. The photo of the one above was taken last year when we were in Sliema. The name ‘Melita’ means ‘honey’, and there has been much discussion as to why this name was given to the island. My first though was that it was because of the wonderful honey-coloured rock which comprises most of Malta. 146 Very few buildings are constructed of any other stone, and from the air the island looks decidedly yellow – especially after the dry summers, when vegetation is well parched. Another theory regarding the name is probably more likely. The island was covered in wild thyme – and bees just love thyme. Being the enterprising people they were, the Romans made good use of that fact and kept lots of bees. There is evidence for their hives in various locations, and they probably considered this fertile and beautiful island their little ‘honey-pot’. The Romans built their capital city where the modern Rabat/Mdina are situated. They called that city, Melita, too.

Since Roman times, Malta has seen Byzantine rule, followed by that of the Arabs who invaded in 870. Arab rule continued until the Normans arrived, and in about 1298, the then homeless Knights of St. John (also known as the Knights Hospitallers) made the island their new home – a home that was to last until the 18th century.  They made improvements in Malta’s defences, but it was not until the attacks by the Ottoman Turks started in 1547 that defences were strengthened in earnest.

The ‘Great Siege’ of 1565 is so well documented, and I won’t go into it now. But eventually, the Turks were driven back and the Knights of St. John continued to improve the island. It was Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette who ordered the building of the new capital city of Valletta. (And yes, Valette’s name does only have only one ‘l’ and isn’t another of my typos). Here is a picture of him:

Malta: Valletta - the Great Master Palace portrait of the Grand Master Jean de la Vallette-Parisot (1557-1568), founder of Valletta Photo by Giulio Andreini
Malta: Valletta – the Great Master Palace
portrait of the Grand Master Jean de la Vallette-Parisot (1557-1568), founder of Valletta
Photo by Giulio Andreini, edited by Clive Gerada. Public Domain

Life was not easy for the people under the Order of St. John; rules were strict and punishments extreme. But by the latter part of the 18th century, the Order started to deteriorate and when Napoleon invaded, the last Grand Master surrendered without resistance. French rule lasted until the British took command in 1814. Complete independence for Malta came in 1964, although self-government had already been granted in 1921.

I couldn’t write about Malta’s history without saying a little about the island’s amazing bravery during WW2, for which it was awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian honour for bravery.  As it had done throughout history, Malta’s location again meant it played central stage – and, as such, the Islands ended the war completely devastated. Malta holds the record for the heaviest, sustained bombing attack:154 days and nights and 6,700 tons of bombs.  In 1947, the Islands were granted £30 million to help rebuild. But it took many years and further restructuring once the British forces left Malta completely in 1979, to rebuild the economy.

Bomb damaged Kingsway (now Republic Street) during the Siege of Malta in 1942.. Author: Russell J.E. (Lt.) Royal Navy, official photographer. Public Domain.
Bomb damaged Kingsway (now Republic Street) during the Siege of Malta in 1942. Author: Russell J.E. (Lt.) Royal Navy, official photographer. Public Domain.

The Maltese islands offer so much to holidaymakers. They have everything from delightful coves and fishing villages to wonderful archaeological sites and bustling cities and towns. There are many museums that focus on the various historical periods, many cafes, restaurants and bars. The beaches are not striking in some areas, being narrow and rocky, but there are sandy beaches to be found – the most notable and largest at Mellieha Bay in the north of Malta. It has been described as one of the best beaches in the Mediterranean.

The Maltese language is fascinating, with words stemming from the many past invaders’ languages. The Arabic sounds are prevalent, with some words being more like Italian. ‘Thank you’ for example is ‘Grazie’. Most people on the islands also speak English, which is taught in all the schools. This is definitely a bonus for us, as neither of us speak Maltese!

This last image is of the famous Maltese Falcon set against the Maltese Cross:


48 thoughts on “Marvellous Malta

  1. So much history packed onto such a small island — such is the risk with being strategically placed. I’m always heartbroken to think about how many wonderful historic buildings must have been lost when I look at pictures of war destruction like that one. But it seems like you were able to find plenty of of archaeology and history in the museums. Sounds wonderful to me — and I wouldn’t go to the beaches anyway! You mention restaurants, how was the food? With the influences you mention on the languages, that combination on the cuisine sounds like it would be delicious!

    1. Food served at Maltese restaurants is very varied, Joy. Some can be simple, like omelettes, or different meats, but there are also a lot of Mediterranean-style fish dishes to try out. And, being so close to Italy, pizza and pasta meals are popular with tourists and locals alike.
      You’re right about the horror of the bombing. So much of the Maltese heritage was lost – and so many people killed.

    1. Thanks, Lynn. There’s so much I could write about Malta, but I’ll limit it to just a few posts this time. It’s Sunday now, and we got back last night, so I’ve been busy all day today. I’ll get back to reading people’s posts tomorrow. 🙂

  2. I had actually been thinking of visiting Malta next year so your fascinating post is very timely and helpful. Malta wasn’t mentioned in Australasian school history lessons!! Aussies know so little of this country yet we have many people descended from Maltese immigration, post W W II. Geoff Fenech, a very successful boxer for one! I wondered how the country is coping in the current refugee crisis?

    1. We met one lovely old Maltese-born lady, who was visiting her family from Australia, where she’d lived for forty years. She told us that many Maltese people live out there.As for the refugee crisis, people don’t seem to be talking about it as much as they were last year. Apparently the problem is more in the south of the island, and we were based in the north. Last year it was mostly Sudanese refugees, and I know there were camps to house them. It’s hard to know whether refugees are integrating in cities, particularly Vallett, which is such a cosmopolitan place. There are people of all races walking round, though I suppose many of the will be tourists, like us. Malta isn’t a coumtry generally taught about in Britain, either – other than in the history of WW2. I’ve never taught about it in geography, but suppose children could choose it as part of individual topic work.
      I’ll start visiting blogs during the week and try to do a bit of catching up! 🙂

    1. We did get to see Ggantija, Ann, and I’ll write a post about it soon. They are very much ruins, of course – nowhere near as much to see as the Taxien Temples on Malta, but still very awe-inspiring. I hope you get there yourself, one day. 🙂

  3. That feels like it went fast – hope it was slower for you. Guess you’re on your way home now. Hope you’ve had a fab break 🙂

    1. The week did go fast, thank you, Bekki, but we had a great time and visited a lot of places. We got home Saturday night, and I’ll be back to read some of the posts I’ve missed by tomorrow (Monday). 🙂

      1. I’m about to start as soon as I’ve been through my ‘missed comments’. I tried to keep up with those for the first few days in Malta, but ‘outings’ just kept getting in the way! 🙂 I still have several posts to write up from the holiday – and I’ve already done three! They’ll keep me going for a while. I’ll be hopping over to read your posts asap. 🙂

  4. A very interesting post! And I can definitely see the honey color in the rock. Reading your descriptions here, I wonder why I wasn’t that interested in history at school? Now it seems so intriguing, my mind just goes on to imagine what those times might’ve been like. I wish history lessons could’ve been postponed til adulthood, haha! Well, on the other hand, I’ve got your blog for that! 😉

    1. History’s a great subject and I had a lot of fun teaching it. We do try to bring it alive for students nowadays, by doing role plays, hot seating and video making etc. I suppose it depends on individual schools – and teachers – what they make of it, though.:) That rock is a gorgeous colour, and I’ll do a short post about it later on.(We visited a heritage site, based in a former quarry.) That satisfies my geological interests, you see. 🙂

      1. Thank you! I’ve got a lot of posts to do from this one holiday. They aren’t all about Valletta, and I hope they’ll seem more varied than my last two. I’ll starting to read few missed posts later on, so I’ll catch up with you then. 🙂

    1. Thanks, PJ. We got home on Saturday night, and I’ll probably be spending all this week catching up with posts I’ve missed.We do enjoy going to Malta. There’s always so much to see – even though this was our fifth visit there. The history of the three islands is incredible.A week of sunshine is always nice, too.

  5. Beautiful pics. And yea, the flag is indeed quite easy to draw… 🙂
    I’m really impressed and inspired by your research work, Millie. You are so organised!
    I was wondering if you could give me some tips about researching a place (as in a city or some famous spots in it or a county on the whole.) In January 2016 I’ll be going to Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Bali. Vietnam and a few more places around them. And I really want to use this opportunity to use this vacation for writing purposes. I’m not into a lot of technical stuff, but I’d definitely like to have places and characters of a particular place in my next book. So can you please tell me how to do a basic research or study of these places while I’m vacationing.
    Any pointers will do as I’m a real ameture in this department.

    I hope I don’t bug you with all my questions again and again. It’s just that I adore and respect you a lot and hence, feel like asking everything to only you… 🙂
    Have a great day!

    1. Hi Heena. Of course I’ll give you a few tips on what I do, but I’ll need more than a comment box to do it! I’ll email you as soon as I’ve caught up with a few things at home. A book set in that far-eastern area sounds a brilliant idea. It’s all so exotic! Tak=lk to you soon. 🙂

      1. I’ll email as soon as I’ve time to get my ideas together – in some logical order, I mean. Right now, they’d probably come out in one big jumble. 😀

    1. Those particular ‘mellifluous buses’are few and far between on Malta now, Prospero. They are lovely old vintage things, and only come out for the tourists to admire. So I think we’ll need to tranfer over to London once away from the Valletta region. 🙂

  6. You always made the history part sound more interesting than I expected. Your description made it so moving and made me feel like I was there with you. Thank you very much for the virtual tours and beautiful pics Millie! ❤

  7. This post could not get a better name! Absolutely loved the post and I am completely flattered by the mention of my childhood innocence with the flag 😀 The delight to get a place in the sea of history that surrounds Maltese islands is a delight that is difficult to express 😁
    And such a prestigious award being awarded to an island is something that every Maltese would be proud of. But the heart wrenching sight of the bombings – it is difficult to even imagine how normality would have been disrupted from life for so the next so many years.
    Wonderful story telling with so much knowledge, Millie. Great work as always 🙂

    1. Malta suffered greatly in the war – all because of its coveted position. So many lost lives, so much destruction. It’s hard to imagine such a sustained bombing raid as 154 days and nights. Thank you for liking the post, Prateek. 🙂

  8. An island covered in wild thyme. How absolutely lovely! The photos brought the wonderful history alive for me. I’m so glad you were able to restore them after your media cleaning experience. Thank you, Millie

      1. I can tell you Clare, that I was at screaming point after two days of hard gruel – and I still hadn’t finished. Not only had I got big galleries to restore, I had to trawl through my pictures file to pick the photos I’d used again. That took ages. Ah well, I think I’m back to some degree of sanity now. I won’t do that agin in a hurry, that’s for sure. 🙂

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