The first people came in the Neolithic era. Next came the Phoenicians, the Romans, then the Byzantines. It was Arab, Norman, Spanish, French, and British, not to mention some of its less famous former rulers. A tiny island nation in the southern Mediterranean, Malta’s history contains a little bit of everything. In its independence it has nurtured its distinct culture on a wild, honey-colored rock surrounded by blue.
We visited during Holy Week, which this year also included our anniversary. Because of the celebration and some good advice we rented a car so we could be free to explore as we wished. Most of the population of the island is Roman Catholic so Easter is an important time of year with many celebrations. All around the island are small but beautiful cathedrals and all were decorated for celebration. The religious knights who once controlled the island built many towers along the coast to watch for various invaders. They are often named after saints and offer magnificent views.
Malta has its own native language, Maltese, which is a unique language of the Semitic family (same as Arabic and Hebrew) and serves as the country’s co-official language along with English. The country is a prime example of functional bilingualism (about 88% of Maltese are English speakers) which other countries can look to in our ever-more-connected world. It was my first time in an English speaking country in 14 months. While I love living in and visiting countries with different languages, it was so nice to be able to confidently explain myself to everyone; I felt like I got my voice back.
Malta has two sister islands, the biggest and inhabited one being Gozo. Both Gozo and Malta are famous for their scenery and have been featured in various films and TV shows, perhaps most famously season 1 of Game of Thrones. A few scenes were filmed at the picturesque Azure Window. Even just a day on Gozo is worthy of its own post and I will write more about it soon.
Another major highlight on Malta is Hagar Qim, ancient temples that predate the Egyptian pyramids. To preserve them they are now covered with white sails. The temples are the color of honey, much like the rest of the island, and decorated with finger-sized dots laboriously carved from the sandstone. The hymn of the wind through the stones and the view of endless shining sea make it easy to feel why our ancestors chose the high Maltese cliffs for their sacred sites.
In the less populated southern part of the island is the Silent City: Mdina. This city is so named because only inhabitants are allowed to drive on its old and narrow streets. At night, all but the locals desert outside the walls and the city becomes wrapped in a haunting silence. Nearby there are catacombs and a cave that sheltered St. Paul as chronicled in Acts 28. For a few euro you can wander around these eerie tunnels that also served to protect citizens in WWII. The walls are carved with shelves and some have tiled floors, attempts by scared people at making the dark subterranean refuge more comforting.
One last place of interest is the Malta Falconry Centre. You can buy a day or half-day package and go behind the cages allowing you to weigh and hold the birds. The staff of the center are extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the birds of prey that call the center home. These include everything from Little Owls (that’s actually their name), all the way up to giant vultures and eagles. And of course, they have a proud Maltese Falcon, the fastest animal on Earth. These birds are native to the islands and the Maltese people were so skilled in training them that while under Spanish rule, their only payment to the king was one falcon each year. If you’re lucky and the wind isn’t too strong, you may get a chance to fly the birds yourself and feel like a true falconer.
I could write about Malta for days. I’ll write more about it and Gozo soon. For now, here are a few more pictures to enjoy!