Publisher’s Tour 2016: Malta
This week the Publisher’s Tour visits the lovely, historic Island of Malta. Lying 70 miles to the south of Sicily, Malta’s long history extends back to several thousand years ago when settlers arrived from Sicily. Its location has given the island great strategic importance as a naval base and the succession of powers that have ruled have included the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Order of St. John, French and British. It is now an elegant and sophisticated vacation spot. The Maltese maintain their own traditions that are far closer to Italy than to that of any other country.
The History of Malta
The Maltese Island became part of the Roman Empire in 218 BC and was part of the province of Sicily. By the 1st century AD, it had its own senate and people’s assembly. Malta remained part of the Roman Empire for the next 700 years. Between 1194 and 1530, the Kingdom of Sicily ruled the island; but in the early 16th century, the Ottoman Empire started spreading over the region, reaching South East Europe. King Charles V of Spain feared that if Rome fell to the Turks, it would be the end of Christian Europe. Wanting to protect Rome from invasion from the south, in 1530, Charles V handed over the island to the Knights Hospitaller of St. John.
For the next 275 years, the Knights of Malta made the island their domain and the Italian language official. They built towns, palaces, churches, gardens, fortifications and embellished the island with numerous works of art, while enhancing cultural heritage. After being invaded by Napoleon and held for a short time, in 1800, Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire as a protectorate. Malta became an independent state in 1964 and a Republic in 1974. Since 2004, the country has been a member state of the European Union.
The Rich Cultural Experience of Malta
The capital city of Valletta is the cultural center of Malta. It is host to plays, concerts, scores of exhibitions and street events. The Museum of Archaeology in Valletta houses an exceptionally rich collection of prehistoric artefacts. Surprisingly, the bones of many large mammals including elephants and hippopotami have been dug up, dating back to when the island was connected as a land bridge between the European and African continents. The War Museum at Fort St. Elmo is home to a Sunday military parade in period costumes re-enactment and the capital also possesses the impressive Grand Master’s Palace and St. John’s Co-cathedral.
The sites to visit are endless – Megalithic temples, underground catacombs, churches and forts are sites not to be missed. The fortifications that can be seen today come from two distinct periods – those of the Knights and those of the British era. These imposing reminders of the island’s wartime past fascinate not only because they are a feat of military engineering, but also because they are reminiscent of an age of chivalry, crusading, heroism and legendary battles. Indoors, start at museums such as the Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa, the National War Museum and the Armoury, both in Valletta. Outdoors, stroll along Valletta’s bastions or venture a tour of the Victoria Lines fortifications running along the Great Fault, east to west across Malta. Wherever you go, you’ll find remnants of war, from 17th century coastal forts and watch towers to WWII pillboxes. Stepping back further in time, you’ll find the Museum of Roman Antiquities in the town of Rabat, covering the many centuries of Roman rule. The next town over is the fortified medieval city Mdina. Visit the Palazzo Falson with its collection of antiques and for a romantic stroll like no other, wander the lamp-lit streets of Mdina at night. Don’t miss the renowned chocolate cake at Fontanella Tea rooms, situated right on the bastion with a spectacular view. For those who love art, the possibilities are endless – the National Museum of Fine Arts has an impressive collection. To view more contemporary works, walk around the exhibits at the St. John’s Cavalier Art Centre. Craftwork is an important part of the local economy and has seen a resurgence in recent years. A craft that flourished under the Knights was gold and silverware. Malta’s most precious production is filigree and jewelry. Today, Maltese goldsmiths are thriving, their work often exported to major cities abroad. For less costly shopping, the rural side of the Island is fascinating, with its charming villages. But on the weekend, many host open air markets, where local crafts are available and on display. Wherever you go, you are surrounded by history of the Island and a link to its not too distant Italian past.