Malta's central position in the Mediterranean has involved
it, often unwillingly, in conflicts happening in the area, therefor
giving it a depth of history and cultural heritage relatively too large
for its size. Its history is one of the main attractions for tourists
who visit this small, central and historic island. This extraordinary
history, that goes back 7000 years, possesses the largest number of monuments
and historic sites in the world. These are unique not just for
Malta but for the world heritage as a whole, and should be preserved,
as they form part of the remarkable Maltese identity. Enjoy cheap holidays to Malta.
Malta 's Prehistory - The Neolithic & Temple
Period (5200BC - 2500BC)
The first settlers in Malta came from Sicily by boat around 5000BC.
These early inhabitants were farmers and lived in caves for five or six
centuries, later on building mud brick huts and starting off the village
Not much information can be gathered about these people but it is known
that they traded honey and textiles with their northern neighbors for
things not found in Malta . Most knowledge is assembled from tombs and
temples, where pottery figurines, tools and art from those times is found.
By 4000BC rituals and elaborate burials had been introduced, and many
inhabitants started to build temples, several of them surviving to this
very day and known as the oldest buildings in the world.
These temples consist of connecting rooms or chambers and may have imitated
caves. There are distinct types of decoration in them, which had several
uses to them. Cult or religion seemed to have involved fertility goddesses,
animal sacrifices and ritual burials. A Dark Age surrounds the next 200
Hagar Qim and Mnajdra are two of the erect stone
megalithic temples situated on the south side of the island. The main
complex has two entrances and many chambers, which include an 'Oracle
room', and alters. This supports that a fertility goddess was worshipped.
These sites are recognized all over the world as examples of the earliest
evidence of man's civilization. Ggantija in Gozo, The Hypogeum and
Tarxien are other examples of the Maltese temples.
The Phoenician Period (800BC - 218BC)
Phoenicians came originally from the Levant , which is the area around
modern Lebanon . They had a great tradition as sailors and traders. Between
1000BC and 900BC they colonized the coast of North Africa and later headed
into the central and western Mediterranean.
Around 800BC, Phoenician culture
and influence shows in Malta , typically in burials. 'Malet' was a word they used meaning ' refuge' and is a suggestion
for the origin of the name ' Malta '. Malta was then known for its textiles.
Because of its position in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea , it was
on the busy trade routes. Later, around 600BC, Malta came under the direct
control of Carthage , a Phoenician colony in what is now Tunisia . Carthage
established itself as the powerful regional capital with trade routes
and satellite colonies in Spain , Sicily and Southern France . Their
language has left a permanent impression on the Maltese language and
some place names have their roots from this time, for example 'Marsa'
is derive from their word for harbor.
Not much remains of our Phoenician heritage, except for graves and tombs,
which have, sadly, nearly all been robbed of their contents. There are
the foundations of some Punic temples, but their towns and villages are
hidden as they probably lie under what was built later.
The Roman and Byzantine Period
(218BC - 870BC)
The Romans took over Carthage quickly and
extended their influence south beyond Malta . Therefor, Malta became
a quite place remote from the center of activity, prospering under Roman
control and protection. The Romans were usually tolerant and understanding
as long as their subdue subjects' loyalty was to Rome .
New influences still emerged, thus we see more contact with the Greek
cities, mainly in Sicily . Malta produced cloth, olives, oil and honey.
Meli is the Greek word for honey and Melita is another suggestion for
the origin of the island's name. Life in Malta was prosperous in the
roman period, and there was wealth on the island. We now know that the
Romans built the bases of many of the round towers that can be seen around
the island. Towards the end of the 4 th century AD, the Roman Empire
was split into two and Malta formed part of the eastern empire with Constantinople
as its capital. Little evidence of Byzantine contact remains apart from
small items such as coins.
Villa in Rabat
The Roman Villa in Rabat
probably belonged to a rich Roman merchant or senior civil servant.
It is beautifully sited, looking west over the valley towards
Mtarfa. The ruins were discovered in 1881. The small museum was
added in 1923. Here we can see various Roman remains, such as
amphorae (clay pots) statuettes, pottery and glassware. Some
of these were found on the site of this Roman villa, while others
were found at other Roman sites in Malta - such
as a Roman Tower near Safi and at Marsaxlokk.
The Roman villa in Malta contains various
examples of Roman mosaics, these are pictures or patterns
produced by an arrangement of small variously colored pieces
of glass or stone. Work of this kind is art in itself. Mosaics
originated around 500BC in Greece and were originally made from
pebbles. Mosaics were usually imitations of paintings. They were
extremely popular and extremely valued by Romans.
Publius was the Roman Governor of
Malta when St. Paul landed on our island after being shipwrecked
while on his way to stand trial in Rome . The story goes that St.
Paul cured Publius' father of an illness. The Roman site of 'San
Pawl Milqhi' is the traditional site of St. Paul 's first meeting
with the Governor around 58AD.
The site was certainly an agricultural center founded in the 2 nd century
BC. A fire destroyed it in 5 th century AD, but it flourished again in
the 3 rd and 4 th centuries AD. The site had become a place of pilgrimage
from the 7 th century Ad.
Early Christians across the Mediterranean , used catacombs as a place
of refuge and where meetings could be held. They were also used to bury
the dead. It is said that St. Agatha has hidden there to escape persecution
in Sicily during the 3 rd century AD.
In St Agatha's, there are over 500 graves of several types, the majority
of children. There are sections for pagans and Jews, as well as for Christians.
The walls are decorated with frescoes and paintings from the early Christian
and Byzantine periods. Around the seventh Century, the catacombs ceased
to be used.
The Arab Period (870AD - 1090AD)
In 870, Malta fell to Arabs, with Sicily
falling shortly afterwards. Arab conquest and influence had spread westwards
in the Mediterranean in the 7th and 8th Centuries AD, and already extended
to Spain , Southern France , parts of Italy and Sicily . Their occupation
of Malta was to last for the next 220 years.
During this period, Christianity was sometimes tolerated, but more often
suppressed. Malta lost its independence. Our inheritance from this period
is mainly cultural, as little of the art and buildings of the time have
survived. The basis for the modern Maltese language was laid, thus replacing
one Semitic language (Phoenician from the Punic period) with another.
New crops were introduced, notably cotton and citrus fruits, as were
new farming and irrigation methods. And the origin of many of our place
names can be traced.
The Norman & Early Medieval Periods (1090AD - 1530AD)
In 1090, Count Roger the Norman drove
out the Arabs in a short battle won with the help of the Maltese, to
whom he gave the red and white colors of our present flag. He restored
the Catholic Church in Malta and joined Malta with Sicily , which he
recovered in 1091.
Malta re-established its trade links. Control passed in the later Norman
period to an overlord who added piracy and slave trading to the island's
occupations. Then in 1194, Malta came under Swabian rule, a change again
in 1266, when Angevin rule dominated - at this time the language adopted
a Latin script - and then in 1292, Aragon took over. But they soon passed
control to a corrupt Sicilian aristocrat and thus began the rule of the
so-called Counts of Malta.
They maintained their hold until 1397, when finally, and at the request
of the long-suffering Maltese, the Aragonese took more interest in the
island. The Aragonese formed the Universita`, thus giving the island
a measure of self-determination.
By 1530, when Emperor Charles V gave the island to the displaced Knights
of St John , Malta had for 50 years been part of the united empire of
Aragon and Castille. It was on the front line facing the growing menace
of the Ottoman (or Turkish) Empire in the East.
There remains little which is intact from this period. But the cores
of several houses in Mdina and Victoria in Gozo date from this period.
It was the Swabian King Frederick II who introduced falconry to the island.
Norman House In Mdina
Bir Miftuh Chapel
This is a fine
example of a late medieval town house. Called the Palazzo Falzon,
it is built in the 'siculo-norman' (meaning Sicilian/Norman style)
but probably not before 1495. It was originally the property of
the Aragonese Vice Admiral Falzon. It survived until the Knights arrived
in 1530 from Rhodes . For a short time it was the home of Grand Master
de l'Isle Adam. It is a two storey house built around a courtyard and
has very lovely '2 light' windows. It is now a museum and contains some
good 18th and 19th Century paintings, a collection of armour, tools,
and a kitchen display from the 16th and 17th Centuries.
between Luqa and Gudja is the Church of Santa Marija ta' Bir
Miftuh, one of the best preserved from the late medieval period. Built
by 1436, this was the Church for one of the ten main parishes on Malta
. There was a Church here from early in the mediaeval time. The present
Church was originally bigger and existed side by side with two or three
other chapels which are now gone. In it are some fine early 17th Century
murals and a painting, only recently uncovered when repairs and
restoration were made. There are tales of buried treasure and intrigue.
Near to the site is a Bronze Age water cistern system. Mdina is the
old Capital city of Malta and has been occupied since ancient times.
During the Arab stay on our island this great city was reduced to its
present size, walls and moat were built around it and it was re-named
Mdina remained the capital of Malta throughout
the mediaeval period. Here the rich nobles built their palaces. Mdina
has a number of mediaeval remains. Palazzo Santa Sofia in Villegaigon
Street is the oldest building there and is thought to be 13th Century.
Period Of The Knights (1530AD - 1798AD)
proper name of the Knights of St John is the Sovereign and Military
Order of the Knights Hospitaler of St John of Jerusalem - the
Knights of St John, the Knights of Rhodes, the Knights of Malta,
and the Knights Hospitalers. The Knights originate from the time
of the Christian Crusades in the 11th and 12th Centuries AD when,
as a religious order, combining the roles of soldiers and monks,
they ran hospitals and provided accommodation and protection
for pilgrims to the Holy Land.
In 1291, Islamic forces took the Holy
Land , and the Knights were thrown out. They went first to
Cyprus , and then to Rhodes . There they stayed for more than
200 years, building extensively, and developing a strong navy. The
forces of Islam, lead by the Turks, continued to push westwards
and Christendom and Islam were often at war. The Knights were in
the forefront and their command of the sea routes was vital.
the time they came to Rhodes , and later to Malta , the military
order was organized into 8 groups or langues, representing
the countries from which the aristocrats who became Knights came.
Each had its own lodging house or auberge. They elected a Grand
Master as their head. The eight pointed cross represented the
eight virtues or the eight langues. Each langue had a different
duty - for example the English were responsible for cavalry training.
Each defended a stretch of the fortifications.
But in 1523, the
Knights were defeated by the Turks in a siege on Rhodes and
were evicted, lucky to leave with their lives. Charles V thought
that Malta was an ideal base from which to defend the Central
Mediterranean from Turkish raids. He ordered the Knights to move
here and they arrived in Malta in late 1530.
The Knights chose to
settle in Birgu where they built their auberges and a Conventual
church, on similar lines to their previous base in Rhodes .
And they set about improving the island's defenses against the
common enemy in the East. Arab forces were becoming increasingly
aggressive and moving west. Christians captured in these raids were
being sold for ransom or as slaves. Short of funds, the Knights
and Maltese become corsairs - a kind of pirate - attacking towns
in North Africa and Turkish shipping.
In revenge, in 1551, Suleyman
the Magnificent raided Gozo and sold all 5000 inhabitants into
slavery. Eventually, in May 1565, the Turks, under Suleyman's
generals, attacked Malta with 180 ships and 30,000 men. Facing them
on Malta were no more than 8000, of whom 700 were Knights and the
rest were Maltese or mercenaries. They took refuge in Mdina and
Birgu. The First Great Siege of Malta had begun.
The story of the
Great Siege is heroic - the brave defense of Fort St. Elmo,
the resistance in Birgu, the suffering of attacker and defender
alike through casualties, disease, and the heat of summer and
finally, the eventual reinforcement from Sicily and the defeat
of an increasingly demoralized enemy. The result was a newfound
respect for the Knights and people of Malta , which earned financial
support from Europe for their position as a bulwark against Islam,
and confirmation of the Knights dominant position in Malta.
Knights moved to Valletta , which became the capital, and built
its magnificent fortifications. And with Turkish power in decline,
the Knights re-established themselves as a naval power, revived
their corsairing and slave trading activities, and established
the Grand Harbor as a safe port for friendly, mainly Christian,
visitors. When added to the funds that came from Europe and the
property owned by the Order, the next 200 years were rich and
powerful times, though two outbreaks of plague took a toll in life.
Eventually, serious problems undermined
the Knights' position; tensions grew between the Church and the
Knights. The poorer Maltese became resentful. For their part,
the Knights became complacent and insular. When Muslim shipping
targets became harder to find, and when revolution broke out in
France removing a valuable source of income by the confiscation
of the Order's property, funds became a problem. Defenses were weak
and in 1798, they were ill prepared to resist Emperor Napoleon of
France when he arrived on his way to Egypt . Fearing invasion, the
Knights refused him port facilities, so Napoleon gave them three
days to leave. With 500 ships and 30,000 men facing them, after
half-hearted resistance, they did, somewhat to the relief of the
The Presidents Palace
The President's Palace was once the Grand Master's
Palace. It was built between 1571 and 1574. Today it is The President's
office and the seat of Malta 's parliament. It is open to the public.
The palace is a treasure trove of art. In the Tapestry Chamber
hangs a unique collection of Gobelin tapestries. Frescoes depicting
the Great Siege of 1565, by Perez d' Aleccio, adorn the Hall of
St Michael and St George, formerly the Order's Supreme Council Hall.
The decorations on the ceiling of the corridors are by Nicolo Nasini.
Many of the State Apartments are embellished with friezes describing
episodes of the Order's history. In the various State Apartments
are outstanding works of art by famous painters.
Here also is housed the Armory of the Knights. This collection
consists of almost 6000 pieces of armour from all over Europe .
They cover the period from about the 16th Century to the middle
of the 18th Century. Here is Grand Master Wignacourt's gold inlaid
suit of armour made in about 1615. There are also the suits of armour
worn by Grand Masters La Vallette and Garges. The steps leading
up to the State Apartments are low to allow knights in armour to
The Church of St. John the Baptist was built between 1573 and 1577
by a Maltese engineer, Girolamo Cassar. The Cathedral, once the
church of the Order, is historically and artistically one of the
most important monuments on our islands.
The rich interior of the cathedral shows the love
of the Knights for the arts. The great rounded vault of the nave
leads you to look towards the high altar. The nave has six bays
on either side, with one allocated to each langue or nationality
of the Knights. The interior is a mass of color and intricate carvings.
Mattia Preti painted the rounded ceiling between 1622 and 1666.
The paintings show eighteen scenes from the life of St. John.
The mosaic floor of the nave and side chapels is composed of multi-colored,
inlaid, marble tombstones showing he coats-of-arms of the nobles
who lived in Malta at this time.
In the Oratory is the magnificent painting of the Beheading of
St. John the Baptist by Caravaggio, one of the most important paintings
in Malta .
In the Church Museum are the Cathedral's priceless collection of
Flemish tapestries and another beautiful painting by Caravaggio
of St. Jerome.
Auberge De Castile
This small 16th
Century palace is in Republic Street, Valletta . It was built when
Valletta was first being developed after the move from Vittoriosa
following the First Great Siege in 1565. It has a garden, which
is unusual as it was forbidden to have one then because of the shortage
of water. Many things of interest from earlier days are laid out
in the period style, and show how privileged people then lived.
It is possible to visit the private chapel, library, bedrooms and
reception rooms that contain paintings, furniture, costumes and
other family treasures. There are two bomb shelters under the palace
- one, using the mediaeval well, was for the public in the Second
World War, the other was made in 1935 for the family then occupying
Near the remains of the nineteenth
century opera house, bombed in the Second World War, is the most
impressive of the four surviving auberges in Valletta . There
were eight in all. The Auberge de Castile belonged to the Spanish
and Portuguese Langue and is an example of Maltese baroque. In 1741,
the original building was remodeled in this style for Grand Master
Pinto, a man always keen to display his wealth and importance.
His statue and coat of arms are above the main entrance to emphasize
his prestige. The wide staircase leading to the entrance is impressive.
Castile , as it is called, is now the Prime Minister's office,
so the building is closed to the public.
When they first arrived, the Knights
were slow to fortify their base because they hoped their stay
was temporary. And when the urgency became obvious, there was
neither the time nor money to fortify the strategic peninsula
of what is now Valletta . So they concentrated instead on Birgu,
and a hasty improvement of Fort St Elmo. Despite limitations,
they served the Knights well in the Great Siege. But when it
ended, the fortifications of Birgu were badly damaged. With
support from Europe , it was decided to fortify Valletta .
There had been several earlier plans. Finally, those of the Italian
engineer Laparelli were adopted. These consisted of four bastions
stretching from Marsamxett harbour to the Grand Harbor . In
between, a number of smaller bastions were to line the irregular
In 1571, just five years after the start of the construction
work, the Knights moved to Valletta .
Nine cavaliers, or key strongpoints, were planned, but only two
were eventually built. These guard the main gate and are higher
than the ramparts of the bastions. They were substantially rebuilt
when Floriana was fortified. One, St. John's , is the Knights'
present embassy in Malta . Further modifications continued - deeper
ditches and higher ramparts, the Vendome bastion adjoining Fort
St. Elmo built in 1614. Under Grand Master Verdala, the series
of bastions, curtains, ramparts and cavaliers were finally completed
and fifty guns were placed in position.
By the 17th century, warfare technology and continued concern
about the Turks prompted a review of the fortifications. In 1635,
the Pope sent an engineer, Paolo Floriani, who proposed a new
line of defense based on the peninsula outside Valletta . Work
started in 1636 and was completed 9 years later. Floriana, as
it is now called, is named after him.
Gradually, a ring of fortifications was built to protect the
capital. At the end of the century, three new bastions were built
in front of Fort St Elmo. Further forts and redoubts protected
the flanks. There are also the substantial fortifications that
enclose the three cities, adding further protection to the Grand
Harbor - the Margharita Lines protect Cospicua and the Cottonera
Lines provide an outer wall. Of nearly 50km of fortifications
built by the Knights, those in and around Valletta are some of
the finest in the world.
French Period (1798AD - 1800AD)
himself only stayed for 6 days, time enough to load his flagship,
L'Orient with as much booty as he could. Much of it was sunk
at the Battle of the Nile and lost forever. He left military garrisons
in Mdina and Valletta . He abolished the Inquisition and slavery.
Rapid administrative and legislative change followed some of
which, to Malta 's credit, survives to the present day. The French
needed funds to support their European war and further looting
and confiscation of property became commonplace. After 3 months,
relief at the departure of the Knights had turned to anger,
and the Maltese rose up in Mdina when Church property was stolen.
They killed the French garrison, and laid siege to the French
in Valletta . Help was sought from the British who had just
won the Battle of The Nile under Lord Nelson. Their reinforcements
blockaded the harbour and the French, many of whom had already
died from starvation and disease, surrendered in 1800.
BRITISH PERIOD (AD1800 to 1964 AD)
When the French surrendered, Malta effectively came under British
control. The British could have returned Malta to the Knights.
But a petition from the Maltese asked the British to stay. Under
the Treaty of Paris, Malta became a Crown colony. As Britain 's
interests extended during the 19th century with the growth of
its Empire, so did the strategic and geographic importance of
By the middle of the century, the Crimean War, the advent of
steam ships and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, made necessary
substantial investment in the military infrastructure of the island
and the dockyard.
During the Second World War, Malta fought shoulder to shoulder
with the British against Hitler's Nazi Germany. Such was Maltese
heroism during the Second Great Siege that they were awarded the
George Cross on 15 April 1942 . The George Cross appears on our
Flag and the medal itself is in The President's palace.
Over time, the Maltese were given a measure of autonomy on local
matters and domestic affairs. This lasted until 21st September
1964 when Malta at last achieved independence as a sovereign nation.
natural fault runs roughly east to west across Malta . The
Knights had planned a line of defense to run along it to protect
the island from attack from the North. But it was the British
who between 1870 and 1900 built a series of four forts with
intervening walls, gun emplacements and redoubts along the
12 km of the ridge. This was to protect the strategically vital
Grand Harbour from invasion from the northern beaches. This
is an outstanding example of Victorian military architecture.
Madliena (1875) is the most northerly. Further along is the
most impressive, Fort Mosta , built over some 7th Century
catacombs. The other forts are Fort Pembroke and, further along
the Dwejra lines, Fort Bingemma .
This is one
of our many fine examples of British Victorian military architecture.
It was built in 1870 to guard the Grand Harbour , together
with the Cambridge Battery at Sliema. Here there is one of
only two surviving examples of the world's largest gun, the
100 tonne Armstrong. The other is in Gibraltar . Built in England
, getting it here in 1882 was quite a feat. It required a special
road and railway. It could hurl a 2000lb projectile accurately
over 6 km. We can still see some of the complex system of hydraulics
and engines required to fire it, including its own coal power
This garden on the bastion is the site of a cemetery. It is one
of four burial grounds located close to the bastions at Floriana.
The other three cemeteries, Quarantine, Greek Orthodox and Cholera
are no longer in existence as they have been built over. These
bastions were built in the 17th Century and saw action briefly
when Napoleon's French troops arrived in June 1798. Soon after
the British and Maltese defeated the French in September 1800,
Protestant burials began in this bastion area. The earliest memorial
discovered intact is dated 1806. The visitor enters the Garden
through a high gateway and, in keeping with the Bastion's original
defensive purpose, there is a fine pair of George III cannon,
each weighing four tonnes.
In this cemetery, we have some knowledge of 530 persons buried
there, although the total number of burials would be greater.
The principal occupants of the cemetery are British Army and Naval
personnel, British civil service officials and merchants, as well
as their wives and children.
Malta has been a sovereign, independent since
1964 and joined the EU in the 1st of May 2004.