Most of us have never given Malta much thought due to their small size but it looks those in the past felt differently and rightly so. Malta is a group of five islands with three of them – Malta, Comino, and Gozo – being inhabited by people. You know these islands are special when you realize how many times these islands have changed hands.
The Maltese islands have been occupied by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Order of St. John of Jerusalem, French, and the British. All of these cultures have left their mark on the islands. I must say that gaining control of an island for strategic reasons sounds better than trying to control some pass into Switzerland. There is much to see in Malta, thanks to all these cultural influences.
For those wishing to dive head first into Maltese culture and history, a great place to start is the capital itself, Valletta. The city is fitted into less than one square kilometer. Walking through Valletta gives the impression that you’ve stepped into the Renaissance. It was rebuilt after the great siege of Malta in 1565 by the Ottoman Empire. The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, 400 Maltese citizens, and 2,000 foot soldiers managed to fight off the enemy.
After the siege, the Order started to build Valletta. Pope Pious IV sent his foremost engineer to help a city both beautiful and fortified. The influence of the Baroque style is evident in the city. There is the chance to see more natural beauty of Malta in Gozo but you still see some human structures, just from a much earlier age.
Luckily, the island of Gozo is only a half-hour ferry ride away. The island is more rural in nature and offers a chance to see more prehistoric history if you will. The structures were created by the original inhabitants of Gozo. One of these is the stone temple Ggantija meaning Giants’ Tower. It’s the earliest one made in the Maltese islands and is even older than the Egyptian pyramids. Quiet beauty is always a pleasure, but what’s a vacation without a little spice thrown in.
There are also things for those of you looking for more a party. The islands Gozo and Malta celebrate Carnival for five days, usually in February. The event takes place before lent, a tradition that allowed people to indulge in meat eating and other pleasures before Lenten penitence. It was once celebrated only in Valletta but has spread, or at least events like it have spread, to other cities.
The party is traced back to the 1400s. It was encouraged the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, a military order in control of the islands. The celebration went on the decline during British rule but didn’t die out completely. It’s a good thing it didn’t disappear because it sounds like a fun time. Look no further than the Maltese islands for celebrations, rich history and splendid beauty.
Malta’s history is present almost everywhere one looks, not only in the Valletta Old Town. The islands have been one of those places, where many cultures and people met and mingled, leaving a unique mixture behind.
Having just read your introduction to the Maltese history, I cannot but raise my hat to those old-time Knights and their endless energy. From what I know the same order of knights also built countless fortifications and castles around the Mediterranean islands. I’ve witnessed some of their achievements in Rhodes and Crete, which they occupied in that order after leaving Jerusalem. They had to flee form each island and finally settled in Malta, that is why the specific order is often also called The Knights of Malta.
I have to say, that Malta’s history is so much more than just the Knights, although they are the most famed players of it. Already its Neolithic period has to called Golden, as that is when those magnificent and mysterious Magalithic Temples were built. And that was a way before Stonehenge was erected in Britain, so the Maltese had to be very civilized by the standards of that time.
Even St. Paul has his part in the Maltese history, for he was the one that introduced Christianity to the Maltese islands. According to the historians, he shipwrecked on the islands around 60 A.D whilst on his way to a a prison in Rome and spend there about three months. Interestingly enough, he had already had the same fate with shipwrecking on some Greek islands.