Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A Short Break in Malta

Malta - So Much Packed In To Such A Tiny Space

Maltese Fishing Boats
I'm Australian right! And what do all good self-respecting Australians do at some stage of their lives? They travel. The more intrepid don backpacks and take off on a round-the-world ticket and between departing and returning to Australian shores they follow their whims. Or the dodgy advice of some other backpacker they've just met in some grungy hostel. The really lucky ones find work to keep funding their travels. And that's where this story becomes personal. We were actually a bit older than your average backpacker. Too old in fact for many youth hostels. But what we did have was one German passport between us, my husband's. This is the difference between working illegally for two pounds per hour in some seedy London pub and getting a real job. The real job I landed would lead us to Malta.

This poster showing the amazing colours of Maltese Fishing Boats is available from Allposters

Why Malta?

Let’s continue my story. The job I landed was in a sales role with one of those large photocopier and fax companies. And they had great incentive trips! On this occasion it was our whole sales team which won the trip to spend four days in Malta. The incentive had been run over a two month period and we had no idea what the destination was going to be. We had been fed little clues along the way and managed to figure out that we were headed to an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It wasn’t until we were checking in at London’s Heathrow Airport that the destination was revealed to us. Our group consisted of our sales team – six men and me, our partners, our sales manager, a member of our marketing department as our host and a tour operator. None of us really knew very much about Malta.

Where Is Malta?

Location of Malta

Malta is an island nation in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s nearest neighbour is the Italian island of Sicily to the North. To the South and West Malta is surrounded by the North African nations of Tunisia and Libya.

So the facts for those who like that kind of thing:-

Malta lies roughly in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea approximately 90 kilometres off Sicily and 290 kilometres north of the African coast. Malta consits of three main islands; Malta, Gozo and Comino and has a population of 400,00 people most of whom live in the area known as the Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) which is really just a grouping of smaller villages which have become joined through urbanisation. Most of the remainder of Malta’s population lives on Gozo with Comino largely uninhabited. Malta is the main island and is the commercial and administrative centre of this small nation. Due to its location it has seen many invasions and cultural changes over several millenia. Malta in days gone by has literally lain at the heart of many significant events in history including The Crusades, the wars between Rome and Carthage, the rise of Islam, the wars between Christians and Moslems, the rise and fall of Napoleon, the rise and fall of the British Empire to name but a few. These have all left their mark on this tiny nation which really offers little of value in terms of agricultural or mineral wealth.

Our First Impressions Of Malta

I clearly remember thinking that Malta must be built on a rock. Our first impressions were of dry stone walls encircling impoverished fields sprouting cacti and scrub, the landscape similar to that which we had encountered in other coastal Mediterranean areas such as Greece and what at the time was known as Yugoslavia. It was impossible to imagine that anything much could grow here. The structures we saw were mainly built of stone and the larger monuments were all stone. We had arrived in a very harsh and unyielding place.

But Malta is a diamond in the rough and you have to dig a little to find her treasures.

How To Spend Four Days In Malta

If I were taking this trip on my own and organising my time myself I would probably have done things a little differently but the fact remains – we did have only a short time. So what should a visitor to Malta see and do while there? Malta has the advantage of being compact so you can pack lots in if time is limited.

In my opinion these are top of the list of must-do experiences in Malta

Stroll the streets of Valletta
Visit The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
Explore one (or more) of the ancient Megalithic Temples of Malta
Marvel at the Mosta Church
Soak up history in the walled city of Mdina
Take a boat to the Blue Lagoon

Malta's History

Understanding a little of Malta’s history will help to guide you and give you some direction for your explorations.

Malta has variously been occupied by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Fatimids, Sicilians, Knights of St John, French and the British ruled the islands. In 1964 Malta wrested itself free from the United Kingdom and became a republic in 1974. It’s two main languages are Maltese (Malti) and English.

Remnants of her occupiers remain across the country and it is often interesting to find examples of her pre-christian past alongside a bright red British telephone box.

Artifacts have been uncovered by archeologists dating as far back as 5000BC.

Valletta - World Heritage Listed City

According to Lonely Planet, “When Unesco granted World Heritage listing to Valletta, it called Malta’s wee capital ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world’, and the city is certainly renowned for its massive fortifications and architectural excellence.” From her beautiful harbour to her winding lanes and cobbled streets, Valletta combines ancient monument with modern cafe culture. Spend some time just wandering through the streets with no particular destination in mind and soak up the atmosphere. You can literally breathe history here.

Find out more about The City of Valletta

Visit Hal Saflieni Hypogeum

The Hypogeum is a huge underground Necropolis which was discovered by a stone mason who was laying foundations for some houses in 1902. It has been dated back to 2500BC and is the only known example of a sub-terranean structure of the Bronze Age. The Hal Salfieni Hypogeum is a classified UNESCO World Heritage site.

This image from Wikimedia Commons is in the public domain as its copyright has expired.

The Megalithic Temples of Malta

Malta is home to seven Megalithic Temples across the islands of Malta and Gozo. They are classified by UNESCO as World Heritage sites and have been described as ‘the oldest free-standing monuments in the world’ all dating to between 3000 and 2200BC.

Rotunda (Church of St. Mary), Mosta

This 19th century church is one of the more modern structures in Malta. Built between 1830 and 1870, it is remarkable not only for its magnificent dome, claimed to be the third largest in Europe behind the significantly better known St Peters Basilica in Rome and Hagia Sofia in Instanbul, but also for its story of survival. In 1942 a German bomber dropped a 200kg bomb directly onto the church. It penetrated the dome during a service attended by more than 300 people and miraculously failed to explode. A replica of the bomb is on display in the sacristy.

The Walled City of Mdina

High on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside sits the walled city and ancient administrative centre of Malta: Mdina. Dubbed the silent city because no cars enter here transport is either on foot or by horse-drawn carriage. Mdina’s cathedral is beautiful and is richly decorated with panel paintings and painted barrel vaults. The structure has evolved from the original Norman church dating back 3000 years

This picture features the hilltop walled city in the background with the common sight of drystone wall and prickly pear in the foreground.

Sail to the Blue Lagoon

Tucked away on the island of Comino, a boat trip from Malta or Gozo is the stunningly beautiful Blue Lagoon. This idyllic bay has been used as the backdrop for a number of cinematic projects including Madonna’s Swept Away and the Mini series Helen of Troy.


Apart from my own recollections I called upon knowledge from the following sources to create this lens:-

Lonely Planet
Sacred Destinations

Have you been to Malta?

Share your experience here.


AnnMackieMiller said...

I visited Malta many years ago - thanks for the memories in this wonderful post. I must share it around.

Jennifer Tanabe said...

My daughter visited Malta a couple of years ago - she said it was very hot! She and her friend were there for about the same amount of time you were, and they were able to see a lot of what you described. They had a great time too.

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