You have heard of Maltese dogs, Maltese Falcons, the Knights of Malta, and Maltese Crosses – but where is Malta and what is it?
Malta is a small island country (about 20 miles long), south of Italy, about sixty miles from Sicily. Malta is an independent nation and a member of the European Union.
The capital is Valetta, and that is where we tied up this morning. Virtually every building in town is built from the same honey colored limestone, quarried from the center of the island.
After breakfast aboard, our faithful Hop A Bus was right outside the pier, offering a half price sale. You probably get tired of reading about Hop A Busses, but they are absolutely the best way to see a port, and they are very economical. You can go on your own schedule, stay at each stop as long as you want, and they cost about 10% to 20% of the cost of a ship’s tour.
Malta has been inhabited for about 5000 years – the original inhabitants probably coming from Sicily. The Phoenicians established trading outposts here, and the Carthaginians based a fleet of warships here during their struggle with Rome. Christianity first came to Malta in 60 A.D. when St. Paul was shipwrecked on the coast. After about 400 years as a naval station of the Byzantine Empire, Malta suffered through a bewildering series of conquests – Arabs, Normans, Germans, French and Spaniards all gained and lost possession of the tiny possession. The most interesting episode in Maltese history began in 1530 when the Emperor Charles V gave the island to the military order, the Knights of St. John – known from then forward as the Knights of Malta. The Knights had been expelled from the island of Rhodes after a long siege by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman. The Knights continued to launch attacks against the Turks from Malta, causing the Sultan to attack them in Malta in 1565. Known as “The Great Siege” this attack lasted four months, with a few hundred Knights and a few thousand Maltese holding out against 35,000 Turks, until relieved by an army from Sicily. The Knights numbered only 541, but as highly motivated fighting men from the leading families of Europe, the Knights had much to lose and had personal fortunes to use building the fortifications. Much of the architecture of Malta dates from this period in time, and the nature of the buildings – being primarily defensive fortifications – is very obvious, even today.
From an agricultural standpoint, even though a small country, Malta is self-sustaining, through farming and fishing.
The southern coast of Malta, unlike the capital of Valetta, is a rugged area – quite beautiful, but with no major harbor opportunity. These are some of the grottos you can visit. If you go at mid-day you see variety of blues in the water.
We departed our Hop On bus at the medieval walled city of Mdina.
Mdina was the original capital of Malta and the fortifications are quite striking, with a former moat and high walls for defense.
At the gate, we had the opportunity to hire a horse drawn carriage and guide for a tour of Mdina. Here is Sally with our driver, Gerard and his horse, Georgie.
Mdina contains churches (in the center), official government buildings (on the right) and palazzos (residences of the nobles on the left). We were told ,if a church has one cross it is a church, two crosses it’s a cathedral, three crosses it is a bascillica. This is a cathedral.
Next to Mdnina, is the village of Rabat, which contains this church, which celebrates the time St. Paul spent here, and in fact he supposedly stayed in a grotto near the church.
Reboarding the bus, we headed back into Valetta, some 30 minutes away.
In the city center of Valetta, the remains of the fortifications are again very apparent.
The city center, while it retains the uniquely Maltese architecture is a shoppers paradise.
Back to the ship for our sail away to Messina, Sicily.
We had visited Malta about 10 years ago but this was a much better view of the country – maybe we had more time, or perhaps more courage to get off the beaten track – but not too far from the Hop On!
In the next 6 days we will be in a different port every day – Messina, Sorrento, Rome, Portofino, Nice and Barcelona. This is not our favorite way to travel, preferring at least one, preferably two sea days, between ports. I am far too old to do a new port every day. However, it is what it is, and I expect not too much sympathy from those at home working.