My extended weekend to Malta was fantastic! It was great to see Ann again and it was very interesting to see were she was from – in so many ways we are from the opposite ends of Europe and discovering more about our various background is an interesting journey.
3 months ago my knowledge on Malta was very limited – all I really knew was that it was in the Mediterranean, that they had English as a semi-official language, that there was something about the Maltese cross and knights and that they usually did pretty good in Eurovision Song Contests – â€œMalta 10 pointsâ€ – but that was about all.
Since then Ann has told me a lot about the country and Iâ€™ve been reading up on the country on the internet. Malta is a couple of rocky islands about half the size of Bornholm or twice the size of Washington DC. With a population of 400,000 itâ€™s one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Knowing this fact I was actually surprised that the place didnâ€™t feel cramped and that they seemed not to have many high rising buildings – but instead a lot of 2-4 floored limestone buildings.
It depends a bit on the family but mostly people I came across speak Maltese but everyone knows and uses English as well. The language reflects the fact that the country has had a number of rulers over time and is a mix of Arabic, Sicilian, Italian and English. To me it just sound Arabic and I canâ€™t make heads and tails of any of it. Have a listen here.
I went with Ann to catholic mass (in English) for the second time in my life but the acoustics made it very difficult to hear what the priest was saying. The catholic religion still plays a big rule in Malta and there are churches and chapels everywhere as well as niches with religious figures. This impact is also reflected in the society were abortion and gay marriage are illegal and you canâ€™t get a divorce. As a Dane I take those liberties for granted so itâ€™s surprising to see a society were they are not.
I wasnâ€™t there during season but every village or every church (or band club?) has a huge celebration when itâ€™s the day of their respective saints during the summer.
Hereâ€™s a niche from Mdina.
The first thing I realized when moving around Malta was that there is literally layers upon layers of history. As a sucker for history I had more than enough sites and museums to check out. So yet another reason to come back another time Here are the places we checked out this time around:
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Not very far from Annâ€™s house are the ancient temples of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim unfortunately both of them were closed for the winter for renovation so we couldnâ€™t get close.
Mnajdra (above) was started in the 4th millennium B.C. which makes it the oldest freestanding building in the world – more than a millennium older than Stonehenge. While we didnâ€™t make it into those site we made it into the Hypogeum which is an equally fascinating structure.
The Hypogeum is the only known, underground temple in the world and was a very interesting experience. The place is carved out of the underground over hundreds of years. In order to preserve the wall paintings only 10 people are allowed to visit per hour. We were not allowed to take pictures but this site has a lot of background info and good pictures.
Moving up in time the St. Paul Catacombs in Rabat are from the Roman era in the 3rd century.
The catacombs are next to the old capital of Mdina that was settled by the Romans, conquered by the Arabs, conquered again later by Normans and rebuild to itâ€™s present state after an earthquake in 1697. Here is a view through a street of Mdina as the sun rises and before the hordes of tourists arrive. We had both early mornings and late nights in Mdina and then itâ€™s a very quaint and quite place.
When the Knights of St. John arrived to Malta they moved the capital to itâ€™s current place of Valletta. After The Great Siege of 1565 were the knights managed to fight off the invading Ottoman forces they founded Valletta as an easily defensible city in the center of Grand Harbour. Hereâ€™s a painter overlooking the view of Grand Harbour from Upper Barracca.
The St. Johnâ€™s Co-Cathedral in Valletta is quite remarkable. It doesnâ€™t seem like anything special from the outside (no reason to entice the Turkish attackers) but inside it is lavishing with ornaments, sculptures, paintings and gold.
Malta has always had a strategical importance for the dominance of the Mediterranean which was also the case in WWII as well during the Battle of Malta. First it withheld massive assaults from Italian and German air forces with more than 3000 air raids over two years. And later it was the outset for the invasion of Sicily and subsequently Italy. The planning of the defence and attack took place in Lascaris War Rooms a cave under Valletta carved by the knights centuries earlier.
Phew! That was a lots of history – and there is plenty more to see. But we did a lot of other things as well.
The food is a chapter in itself. Itâ€™s inspired by Italian but with a twist of itâ€™s own. I didnâ€™t get pictures of much of it but I covered about 10 of the things on this list and all of it was good I did manage get a picture of a Pastizzi before it disappeared. A delicious snack bought at a pretty obscure local spot.
I was really surprised to discover that the family had orange trees in their backyard. Apparently not a big thing for the Maltese but for a Scandinavian it was fantastic to have fresh picked and squeezed orange juice for breakfast.
Before I took off we got the a big meal – yet again really good food They rarely use the big dinning room table so getting visit from Denmark is good for something.
I was lucky with the weather which can vary a bit in November but Saturday we had 23 degrees and clear sky One of my top things to do in Malta – since I started planning the trip – was to go for a swim in the Mediterranean. Under much objection Ann finally agreed to take me to a beach so I could get my swim.
With above 20 temperatures people in Denmark would flock to the beach but apart from a handful of other pale, pale tourists we were the only ones at the beach. The water was probably around 20 degrees so it was quite refreshing but not too bad. Here we are at Golden Bay after the swim.
What a long blog post – but I had a lot to tell about this island.
Malta is called The Jewel of the Mediterranean and I totally agree – and I got a special gem there.