Malta in brief Malta Facts and Figures History of Malta Things to see in Malta Weather
Malta in brief
Named after the Greek word for honey (melita), Malta lies inbetween Sicily and Libya. It consist of five islands, Malta itself, plus Gozo, Comino, Comminotto and Filfla. Whilst a holiday in Malta has all the usual attractions for the hardened Sun-worshipper, because of its history, there are many places to visit. Combined with its compactness and good public transport, it is a paradise for the avid sight-seer.
||122 square miles
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Because of its strategic position, Malta has over the centuries been occupied by virtually anybody who was anybody around the Mediterranean from the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Sicilians, the Knights of St John, Napoleon and the British. As a consequence, Malta has many historical sites. The earliest of these are megalithic temples from approximately 5000 years ago. These are probably Europes oldest free-standing structures. Those with an interest in this period should make sure they see the famous 'Venus of Malta' in the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta.
One of the most famous early visitors to Malta was St Paul who was shipwrecked here whilst being taken to Rome. Further evidence of early Christian presence can be seen in the Catacombs of Rabat just outside of Mdina.
After conquest by both the Arabs and Sicillians, the Islands of Malta were gifted to the Knights of St John in 1530. They are responsible for the majority of the architecture, both religious and millitary that Malta is famous for. The most heroic incident in their ownership occured in 1565, when the Knights were besieged under their Grand Master La Valette by the forces of Suleiman the Magnificent. Most of the fighting took place round the Grand Harbour. The most important fortresses from that time are St Elmo, at the end of the Valletta promontary, St Angelo, Birgu and Senglea, across the harbour from Valletta.
After the siege, the Knights continued to fortify the island, including building the capital Valletta (named after the Grand Master).
After being liberated from Napoleon, Malta became part of the British Empire. During the Second World war, Malta was besieged by air by both the Italians and Germans. This led to the award of the George Cross in 1942. This is in the War Museum in Fort St Elmo, along with the remains of Faith, the only survivor of the three Gloster Gladiators: Faith, Hope and Charity.
Valletta is the capital of Malta and was founded after the Great Siege. It is surrounded by some of the strongest Renaissance fortifications in Europe. The Grand Master's Palace currently acts as Malta's House of Representatives. The finest room is the Hall of St Michael and St George. This contains frescos portraying the events of 1565. There is also an armoury containing one of the finest collections in the world of Renaissance arms. In the surrounding streets are various Aubereges of the Knights. Fort St Elmo contains the National Military Museum. Other museums include the National Museum of Archeology and the Fine Art Museum. Of the religious buildings, the most important is the St John's Co Cathedral. Whilst the exterior is austere, the interior is typically Baroque. Of note are two paintings by Caravaggio, particularly the Beheading of St John the Baptist.
Valletta is the main shopping centre of Malta and during the day tends to be very busy. Whilst having various bars, it is much quieter in the evening.
Across the Grand Harbour from Valletta lies Fort St Angleo, Birgu and Senglea. These were where the majority of fighting took place in 1565. They are now residential areas and are much quieter than Valletta. If you are interrested in the history of the Knights, the majority of the Auberges from the time of the Great Siege survive in the narrow streets.
Whilst wandering round the Grand Harbour (or any other harbour) keep your eye open for the traditional dghajsa or the larger luzzu. Brightly painted in traditional colours of red, blue and yellow, invariably with a pair of eyes on the prow, these are used both as fishing boats and as ferries for locals and tourists.
In the centre of the island lies the medieval city of Mdina, known as the 'Silent City'. It is the original capital of the island. It is totally enclosed by its Walls. The Cathedral is dedicated to the St Paul. It is built on the spot where the Roman governor was supposed to have met the saint.
Mdina is next to the much more populous village of Rabat. This contains the Roman catacombs that were used by early Christians as places of worship.
There are a number of Megalithic temples on both Malta and Gozo. It is believed these were built between 3500-2500 BC. Seven of these have been nominated as World Hertiage sites by UNESCO. Possibly the most interesting are the Hagar Qim and Tarxian temples on Malta along with the Ggantija temples on Gozo.
Two of the more interesting natural features of Malta are the Blue Grotto and the Ghar Dalam Cave. The Blue Grotto are a series of sea-caves on the southern coast of Malta. The Sun strikes the sea to produce numerous shades of blue. Some of the caves reflect the phosphorescent colours of the underwater landscape, whereas others produce deep blue colours. Boat trips round the caves can be taken from the village of Weid iz-Zurrieq. The caves can be crowded, so it is possibly better to go early in the morning, particularly as the lighting is at its best then.
The Ghar Dalam Cave is a natural cave where the remains of many extinct animals have been found, such as dwarf elephants and hippopotamuses. They also provide the earliest evidence of human inhabitation on Malta. There is a museum showing some of the finds.
It is worth taking the ferry to Gozo. The lifestyle is quieter, more rural than that of Malta. Victoria or Rabat is the capital, surrounded by walls built by the Knights, to protect it from corsairs. (Almost the entire population was sold into slavery in 1551.) Another site worth seeing is the church of Xewkija. This is a modern church with a dome bigger than that of St Paul's. The previously mentioned megalthic temple of Ggantija are worth a visit.
One of the more unusual sights of both Malta and Gozo were the buses. These were run by owner-drivers under the Passenger Transport Association (ATP) and were often customised to the drivers taste. Whilst not as unique as the Jeepneys of the Philippines, they added a splash of colour to the local scene, particularly, as until recently, many of the buses dated to the 1950s. Also they went everywhere and were cheap to travel on. Unfortunately, because of EU regulations, this has change. From 2011 Arriva run a reorganised service with fewer, modern vehicles.
The climate in Malta is moderated by being surrounded by the Mediterranean. As can be seen from the table below, the temperature even in winter rarely gets below 10 ºC, and even in summer, the peak temperatures are often compensated by a cooling sea breeze. The humidity at night can be a problem, particularly in August-September. The majority of the rainfall occurs in the months of November to January, often in the form of thunderstorms. From May to August, there is very little rain.
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