When one mentions the Mediterranean and its islands, most people think of the Greek Isles or Mallorca and Minorca or even those that surround the peninsula of Italy. Rarely, though, is the tiny outpost of Malta even considered. Still, it is a remarkable place full of history, art and most importantly, a culture devoted to the living life to the fullest. Here are some of the things to see:
Malta – Gozo – Comino
The country of Malta is actually comprised of three main islands, the largest, also named Malta, Gozo and Comino as well as small uninhabited ones. All are united by a shared history, heritage and language, Maltese – although English is also widely spoken. While relatively unknown to non-Europeans as a tourist destination, Malta sports a thriving tourist industry with some of the finest hotels and amenities in the world.
The Capital – Valletta
Located halfway between Europe and Africa, Malta has always held a strategic interest for conquerors and other military leaders. Throughout its history, Malta has been controlled by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Moors and the Normans as well as the Kingdoms of Aragon, Spain, and the Knights of St. John. In modern times, both the French and the British empires have claimed it. Each of these cultures has left a lasting legacy in the form of architecture in the capital and throughout the rest of the country.
Some of the more interesting sites in the city include St. John’s Co-Cathedral with its magnificent signed Carravagio, the Auberge de Castille et Leon and the Magisterial Palace built by the Knights of St. John.
Other architecturally exciting sites dot the islands. Malta is home to the megalithic temple Ġgantija (Giant’s Tower) and its six brothers, the earliest free-standing structures built by man, at over 5500 years of age. Outside the small town of Mdina in the center of the main island is a Roman “donus” or villa that is still being actively excavated. All of the country’s lesser cities have quite a variety of Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassic architecture – often in the same building! For more modern – and massive – structures, visit one of the newer cities like Mtarfa for a view of the massive limestone edifice that is St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral.
The generosity of the Maltese people is undisputed. In fact, a noted study found that 83% of the population contributed to charity on a regular basis – more than anywhere else in the world. It is also a deeply spiritual one with an emphasis on children and their care. Malta is a strongly Christian country and its various festivals make this apparent. Weddings, births, and christenings all call for a celebration and there are dozens of saint’s days celebrated every year. Maltese food – almost all of it imported – has also been strongly influenced by outsiders. Still, the national dish, fenkata or stewed rabbit, is distinctly Maltese. For a true taste of what the locals eat, it is best to journey to Gozo where a strong regional cuisine has been established.
For better or worse, Malta has become identified as the must-stop destination for the jet-set and the extremely wealthy. Many arrive by plane but there are always several super-yachts anchored offshore of the major ports. This fact means that Valletta in particular and Malta, in general, can cater to almost any dining or entertainment demand. Restaurants are plentiful and serve everything from street food to the finest haute cuisine. The nightclubs are packed almost every night with music from the late 1970s “legend” bands to the latest in techno from the most in-demand DJs.
What were your impressions of Malta?