The main island of Malta is approximately 15 by 26 kilometres in size and is home to just over 400,000 Maltese. An interesting fact is that there are more people living in Australia with Maltese heritage then actually currently living in Malta, most immigrating in the 1930s to 1960s.
Being a very small island nation, located halfway between Africa and Europe, Malta has always played a very important strategic role due to its location, being colonised many times over the last 2000 years. The Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Knights of St John, French and finally the British have all ruled over Malta at one time, all leaving their unique touches, architecture, food and cultural influences. Malta finally gained independence from the British in 1964 and is now part of the European Community and uses the Euro.
Malta has a very colourful recent history, playing an important role during World War II in helping defeat the Germans and Italians. King George of England awarded the whole country of Malta the famous George Cross for the bravery that the Maltese showed during the war and especially the Siege of Malta. The George Cross now appears on the national flag of Malta.
A real must for any visit to Malta is to take in the Malta Experience, a short half hour audio-visual show that is not only entertaining but also puts everything about Malta into perspective. The show captures and portrays Malta’s 7000 years of history from the early Stone Age settlers to modern day Malta and everything in-between. The beautiful imagery and music alone makes the show worthwhile.
The capital city of Malta is Valletta, but this is not the only city on the island. Thanks to a legacy dating back to the days of the Knights of St. John, Malta is split up to 68 cities (council areas), all furiously independent and all with their own mayor, football team and unique festivals. It seems that every peninsula, cove in the harbour and hill is considered its own independent city, making it an interesting and admittedly a little bit confusing place to visit.
The historic walled city of Valletta is still home to the parliament and offices of the president, housed in the Grand Master Palace. This is the same palace used by the original knights of Malta, giving it a real historic significance. The massive rooms and hallways of the palace are furnished with priceless art, tapestries and even a few coats of arms. If you have time make sure you visit the armoury on the lower floor as it has one of the largest collections of armour on display in the world.
While the outside looks like any other cathedral in Europe, Co-Cathedral of St John is truly a masterpiece on the inside as its walls and vaulted ceilings are all beautifully painted and ornate to the extreme.
The cathedral is the final resting place of many knights and historic figures in Malta’s past and it shows. The floor of the cathedral is made up of over 300 different marble tomb slabs that are each decorated in their own style and colour.
A nice spot to get away from the crowds and relax is in the peaceful and beautifully designed Upper Barrakka Gardens, created in 1775 on top of some of the highest parts of the city wall fortifications.
The views are amazing as you can see all over the Grand Harbour and surrounding old cities.
The day we visited Upper Barrakka Gardens we saw the gardens in full spring bloom, colour and flowers everywhere, a nice change from Adelaide at the end of a dry summer.
A great way to explore the many cities of Malta is by boat.
We took a two hour sightseeing cruise that took in all the major harbours, inlets and bays that are all lined with historic fortifications, cathedrals and castle like buildings. Viewing the cities from the water gives a different perspective of Malta as well as a great opportunity to take some photos.
Just a quick note on where we stayed during our stay on Malta. Our hotel was located in the city of St. Julian’s (yes city, about 1 km from Valletta) and was very central to everything that Malta has to offer. St. Julian’s is located on a natural bay and is truly a stunning place to stay. Its foreshore offers a wide range of nice restaurants, cafes and bars, most serving fresh seafood, straight from the Mediterranean. The atmosphere and setting are wonderful.
Malta should be on everyone’s travel list. Next time you are in Europe make sure you dedicate some time to visit this gem of the Mediterranean; it will be worth your while.