Where to start!!?
I’ve been in Malta for a week and I have so many photos, but I must put them in the context of the history here.
The National War Museum at Fort St Elmo was an excellent primer.
Malta was first settled around 5000 BC.
Evidence indicates a peaceful time initially. Flint knives probably had a domestic use, temples were located in poor defensive positions, and no evidence of possible wounds from warfare were found on bones found in burial sites.
Figure wares from 4th century BC – 5th century AD
Around 700 BC the Phoenicians from Lebanon and Syria started arriving.
Then it was the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, and the Angevins.
By 1283 it was the Aragonese from Spain. It was the usual colony exploitation of the island’s resources.
In the 1420’s, pirates from Tunisia attacked Malta frequently to steal property, take slaves, and eventually try to take over the country.
By the 1500’s the Mediterranean had become a battleground between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe. It was the meeting point of East and West.
In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. The Muslim Ottomans made steady inroads into Christian territories and by 1523 had captured the entire eastern Mediterranean, taken Egypt and the Balkans, and evicted the Knights of St John from their island fortress of Rhodes.
The growing threat of the Ottoman Turks caused Charles V of Spain to give Malta to the Order of St John in 1530.
In 1551 Dragut, a notorious Turkish corsair, led a raid against Gozo (second largest island of Malta) and carried away 6000 people, almost the entire population of the island, into slavery to Libya.
Swift action was taken to defend against future attacks. Two new forts, St Michael and St Elmo, were built. The Isola peninsula was surrounded by bastions (towers) and named Senglea.
Troops were reorganized and rearmed, the Maltese militia were trained.
In 1564 spies sent word that the Ottoman navy were raising a huge force to attack Malta. The Grand Master (head of St John) sent orders for knights to return to Malta, and asked Europe’s rulers to sent aid in defence of Christendom.
No help arrived. When the Ottoman fleet reached Malta May 18, 1565, the defence force consisted of fewer than 600 Knights and 8000 Maltese.
The Ottomans had 200 ships and 40,000 men.
Weeks of fighting followed until the Ottomans were defeated after the Great Siege of 1565.
More fortifications were built until you can’t look anywhere without seeing a wall or bastion! But you can’t blame them!
Fort St Elmo
Porta del Soccorso (Relief Gate) was used during the Great Siege of 1565 every night to take out casualties and receive new supplies and reinforcements.
I took a Fast Ferry from Valletta to the other island of Gozo (45 minutes).
Visible from almost everywhere on the island is Cittadella (The Citadel). This fortified city has been occupied since the Bronze Ages (3300 BC to 1200 BC).
Cathedral of the Assumption is in the Cittadella
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blesses Virgin of Ta’Pinu (Ta’Pinu Sanctuary for short)
Xlendi is a small fishing village where I had lunch.
The stuffed squid had a distinct Maltese twist.
The main crops in Goza are tomatoes and potatoes. There were also olives. The bread basket came with little pots of olive oil and sweet tomato paste called Konserva.
The main island of Malta has many towns clustered around the bays.
I had two days in Sliema, which looks across to Valletta, the Old Town. Two too many😂. It was too much of a party place for me where I was on the waterfront.
Then I had five nights in Valletta. Still lots of tourists during the day, but quiet morning and evening.
The Barraka Lift is very handy to come up from sea level!
Victory Church. The first building erected in Valletta where the first stone was laid in 1566 to commemorate the victory of the Great Siege. It has gone through many changes o
And plenty of stairs and little streets to go with the piazzas
Upper Barrakka Garden overlooking the Saluting Battery where a canon is fired at noon and 4 pm
But the military history of Malta wasn’t over.
During World War One the injured from Gallipoli were sent to Malta. It was nicknamed the ‘Nurse of the Mediterranean’ because over 120,000 wounded soldiers were sent there.
During World War Two aircraft, naval vessels and submarines based there were inflicting heavy losses on Axis convoys between Italy and Libya. The German high command was determined to neutralize the island.
Malta survived on supplies brought in by ships. Food, fuel, medicine, military equipment and reinforcements had to delivered by convoys of merchant ships, protected by warships and air cover. They took huge risks and suffered severe losses of both ships and men.
After Italy entered the war, Malta had been under almost constant attack. In the 4 months to April 1942 there were hundreds of raids, sometimes averaging seven a day.
By June 1942 Malta’s civilians and defenders were almost out of food and they were on the verge of surrender.
The turning point of the siege was Operation Pedestal, a special British operation to carry supplies like food and fuel for all the planes. More than 500 Merchant and Royal Navy sailors and airmen were killed, and only 5 of the 14 merchant ships reached Malta.
During the war over 29,000 buildings had been damaged or destroyed. In 1947 Britain made a grant of £30 million to help with reconstruction.
In 1964 Malta gained independence. In 1974 Malta declared itself a Republic within the Commonwealth. In 2004 it became a full member of the EU.
It only took 7000 years.
Then British influence is still very evident.
What is very unique is their language ‘Malti’.
It is the only Semitic language written in Latin characters. It is thought to be derived from the language of the ancient Phoenicians who arrived in Malta in 700 BC. It was largely only a spoken language until the latter half of the 19th century.
From my window I can see ‘Three Cities’ across the harbour, with Fort St Angelo in the foreground
I went twice, once the bus and then on the ferry. It was a great quiet spot to wander streets and the waterfront.
From the inside of a balcony
Notre Dame Gate (1675)
St Helen’s Gate (1736)
Pastizzi are puff pastry with a filling. I had two traditionals – ricotta and a beef. Good but very messy with crumbs. Definitely ‘street’ food!
Traffic in my harbour
The small ferry is to Gozo, the larger to Sicily
Then this morning I almost swallowed my cereal the wrong way when this appeared!
Poor guys, arriving in torrential rain for their single day here, but then it cleared before their departure.
The locals tell me it never rains like that here. I must be channeling British Columbia and Newfoundland.
Yesterday was 22 and very sunny. I’ve had such great luck with the weather for 2.5 months, so I hope any rain is kind to me for two more weeks!
Tomorrow morning I fly back to Catania in Sicily, and then take a bus up to Taormina. Busy day for me!