Malta – A brief introduction
Malta – A brief introduction
Few other countries can boast such rich history, architecture, and beaches in such a small area. Malta is perfect for travelers who want to relax for two weeks, see most of the sights, but not travel too far.
The Maltese Islands cover an area of just 316 sq km, smaller than the Isle of Wight in the UK but slightly larger than Washington, DC. There are three inhabited islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino, as well as 2 uninhabited islets, Cominoto and Filfla. They are located in the central part of the Mediterranean Sea, 93 km. south of Sicily, 290 km. east of Tunis and 290 km. north of Libya. Malta’s small size allows ordinary tourists to see many sights in a very short time. The recommended pace is slow and easy, especially in the hot summer months. Take time to let the history unfold from the fortifications of Valletta or Mdina.
Malta has a fascinating history and the island is full of physical and cultural memories of the past, most easily accessible to visitors. It is likely that Malta was once connected to Sicily and southern Europe by a land bridge. This is due to the fossilized remains of various animals including a species of elephant in a cave, Ghar Dalam.
The oldest free-standing structures in the world can be found in the Maltese Islands. These megalithic temples were built between 3600 and 2500 BC, nearly 1000 years before the Great Pyramids!
Malta was originally colonized by the Phoenicians, from approximately 800 to 218 BC. He was ruled from Carthage, in present-day Tunisia, until his death at Roman hands. One can still see the Phoenician influence on Maltese society today through the ever-present “eye of Osiris” painted on wooden fishing boats called luzzi to ward off evil spirits. The marble altar of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the ancient capital of Mdina was built from the ruins of Carthage. One final reminder of the Phoenicians for today’s traveler is the master glassblower, using a technique perfected thousands of years ago, in the artisan village of Ta’Qali.
Under Roman rule, Malta became a municipium (free city) and appears to have prospered through trade as an outpost of Roman Sicily. In AD 60, Saint Paul was shipwrecked in Malta and converted the local population to Christianity. As such, the Maltese rightfully claim to be one of the oldest Christian societies in the world. Maltese society is still heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church.
There are 64 Catholic parishes and 313 Catholic churches in Malta and 15 Catholic parishes and 46 Catholic churches in Gozo. They range from entire cathedrals to small roadside chapels built between the 15th and 20th centuries. Every parish has a lively festival or celebration that is a noisy and colorful expression of worship. The festival includes a parade by the local band and a pyrotechnic show. The holiday season continues throughout the summer. Over the past 250 years, the simple village celebration has turned from an afternoon into a five-day spectacle. A trip to Malta is not complete without visiting one.