Malta is an attractive tourist destination. The availability of accommodation and popularity of flights make it a cost effective destination from the United Kingdom.
This archipelago of three inhabited islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino lies in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Alexandria and Gibraltar lie to the East and West. Sicily is to the North. The African coast of Tunisia lies to South. The climate is warm and sunny.
Image via Wikipedia
Here are some reasons why it is a popular destination.
During the early 1970s Malta was one of the first countries to pioneer the “Package Holiday”. Self catering apartments line St Paul’s Bay. Today, it is popular with an older generation, nostalgic for those 1970s holidays, or reminiscing on days of service within the British military base.
The islands have an easy going atmosphere reminiscent of the 1950s. In the 1930’s Malta was a place of luxury, flying boats called in here en route to Africa.
The Cultural Legacy
In times past the control of Malta dominated trade throughout the Mediterranean. A succession of powers including the Phoenicians, Romans, Fatimids, Sicilians, Knights of St John, French and British have occupied the islands. Their legacy leaves a land of rich culture and architecture.
Here are some of those treasures.
- The Megalithic temples at Ggantijo on Gozo, at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.
The Gjantija temple comples Source: Wikipedia
These temples are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world. They are believed to have been built around 3500 BC. The temples are associated with the cult of an ancient goddess of fertility. This mysterious cult is also found in the Eastern Mediterranean.
- Valletta and the Grand Harbour
Valletta and the Grand Harbour: Source Wikipedia
Valletta is a planned city dating from 1566. It cultural gem. It is stuffed full of museums and renaissance palaces. The setting is spectacular. The town occupies a fortified peninsular with good views across the walls to the Grand Harbour.
The Knights of St John came to Malta in 1530 then withstood a major siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1565. There response was to strengthen the defences and build a new city, to be called Valletta in honour of their Grand Master Jean de la Valette who had commanded the defences.
The bastions, curtains and ravelins along with the beauty of its Baroque palaces, gardens and churches, led the ruling houses of Europe to give the city its nickname “Superbissima” – Most Proud. Later, when Benjamin Disraeli visited in 1830 he described Valletta as “a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen”
The Maltese people are devoutly Catholic. These people believe that their church, like that of Rome, was founded by an original apostle. St Paul was shipwrecked here in AD 60 en route for trial and martyrdom in Rome. Their history is coloured by the depth of these beliefs. Their religion survived occupation by the Arabs, accommodated the rule of the Knights of St John and enabled the islanders to endure great suffering during the Second World War. When the islands were occupied by Napoleon in 1798 the Maltese turned to Britain to protect their religious freedoms; that association lasted for over 150 years.
Today there are over 360 churches in Malta, Gozo and Comino. These are fine examples of architecture and interior decoration.
Here are several of those treasures.
- St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta
This cathedral is well worth visiting. It was built by the Knights of St John between 1573 and 1578. The exterior which was designed by the military architect appears dull and uninviting. The interior is sumptuous. Lavish marble tombstones line the floor. The famous painting “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist” by Caravaggio (1608) adorns the walls.
- The church as Xewkija, Gozo
The church as Xewkija, Gozo. Source: Wikipedia
The Maltese have a partciular passion for domes. This parish church is a testament to religious dedication. The church, commonly known as the Rotunda is dedicated to St John the Baptist. Eight concrete columns support the third largesrt unsupported dome in the world. The dome is 75 metres high, with a 28 metre diameter. Construction began in 1951. Expressed in a different way, a Gozzo parish of 3,500 people have built a dome 6 metres larger than that of the great cathedral of St Paul’s in London. The interior is richly decorated with fine sculptures and modern paintings.
Much of Malta is heavily built up. Little over 300 km² support an estimated population of over 400,000 people. Buildings abound and the soil is thin and rocky. The air is hot and dusty, But it is possible to escape.
The cliffs of Dingli. Souce: Wikipedia
The isle of Gozo is even better. It is a rural delight that hasn’t been developed.
Be forewarned though. The coastline is rugged. These are few beaches on Gozo and Malta. Do not visit for sea and sand.
The festivals and ambiance
Each village celebrates the day of the patron saint in spectacular fashion. The fiestas include marching bands, religious processions and fireworks. Check with your guidebook as to what’s on when you visit. There are festivals most weekends throughout the summer, but the standards and traditions vary from village to village
The Maltese are friendly and obliging people. English is widely spoken.
The islands have a cheap and extensive bus network which operates from a terminus in Valletta. Buses are very much a part of Maltese life and become a tourist attraction in their own right. Although the bus service is centrally co-ordinated each bus is privately owned and lovingly customised by the driver.