If there’s one fitting word that sums up everything about what Malta really is about, it’s culture. Appetising traditional food, long-lived admiration to the Roman Catholic faith, ample long-established festivities and a magnificent official language all characterise Maltese culture, among many other elements. If there’s one cultural aspect, however, that makes Malta stand out and lures in numerous engrossed tourists every year is its history.
Malta’s history is rich, intricate and unique. Though Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world, its own history is characterised by various fascinating happenings that haven’t quite occurred in the same way anywhere in the world. If you happen to be a history fanatic, the Maltese Islands are definitely the place to visit. We at 1926 Hotel & Spa have come up with an informative list to show why:
The Capital of Malta is a city you’ll definitely want to visit and for a variety of reasons. Malta’s capital has always been the commercial, working and administrative city since its construction in 1566. It is known as one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.
Get lost exploring the many famous historic buildings it has. The Royal Opera House, Auberge de Castille, the Saluting Battery, many of Valletta’s architecturally marvellous churches among many other timeless buildings have a gripping story to share. St. John’s Co-Cathedral, commissioned in 1572, is the Baroque beauty that anybody who has a liking for history, architecture, culture or religion simply must see. The Co-Cathedral is steeped in the history of the Order of St. John. Calabrian artist Mattia Preti was in charge of the Co-Cathedral’s embellishment and Caravaggio has painted many magnificent art pieces, making the building a fine artistic and Baroque masterpiece. Its museum also houses some gripping 16th century illuminated manuscripts.
What’s more, you’ll want to visit the most iconic street in Valletta, known as Strait Street, which for decades has provided different people with entertainment, food and drink. In fact, it has a reputation of having been the ultimate area in Valletta for various visiting foreign sailors stationed on Maltese shores.
After getting lost in Valletta’s marvellous streets, you’ll want to visit the Grand Harbour – whose strategic position and natural harbours have made it be in use in the Battle of Malta of 1283, the Great Siege of 1565, the Napoleanic occupation of Malta and World War Two among other great historic events.
Manoel Island boasts a rich and eerie past that makes students pay a little more attention in history class. The island is an engineering magnificence, safeguarding the life of a numerous number of people. Apart from being absorbed in Manoel Island’s striking surrounding views of Valletta, Sliema and Gzira, you’ll also enjoy your visit to Manoel Island considering its peculiar history.
The Order of St John took to this island to build an isolation hospital for people having the plague. This became known as the Lazzaretto and remained in full use as a hospital up until World War Two. Manoel Island’s crucial fortification, known as Fort Manoel, was a sought after defence construction that fell into the hands of the French and the British occupants after its building by the Order of St John.
Taking a trip to Manoel Island during the hotter seasons is ideal because you can go for a swim while you’re there too.
If you’re coming to Malta on holiday, you simply must pay a visit to the astonishing Silent City. Mdina was first inhabited and fortified around 700 BC by the Phonecians. From a military base to a main administrative city, Mdina was of great use to the various occupants of the Maltese Islands – and to the Maltese population as well. During the French invasion of Malta, Mdina was captured without much resistance. A few months after however, rebels entered the city, marking the commencement of a two-year rebellion in Malta.
When visiting Mdina, the antiquity of the streets, the fortifying walls, the gripping gardens and the Baroque architecture will make you feel like you’re in a completely different time and world. Make sure to have a good look at the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Paul, whose 17th-century baroque cathedral and unquantifiable beauty have earned it the title of the mother of all Maltese cathedrals.
You might also wish to visit Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum. This boasts an extraordinary collection of art and antiques, including paintings, furniture, silver, armour, jewellery, coins and more displayed in one of the oldest buildings in Malta. The Collection was put together by the Palazzo’s most recent owner and resident, Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher. Many tourists enjoy spending their day in Mdina by taking a trip aboard the Magic Train Ride. This will take you on a trip around outer Mdina, Rabat and Mtarfa, offering spectacular sights you would otherwise miss. This train is worth going on because you won’t only be able to take in the views surrounding Mdina but also be getting an informative, historical commentary to learn more about the city’s past.
After falling in love with Mdina, you might want to spend some time exploring its neighbouring town Rabat. In fact, many tourists enjoy visiting Rabat right after Mdina. Some people consider these two localities as a unified urban area, in fact. Rabat is much less touristy, more wholesome and modern than Mdina. Where going to Mdina is simply like taking a step backwards into the Medieval past, roaming around Malta is purely getting a taste of what the semi-modern landscape of the traditional Maltese village is. Rabat, however, has many noteworthy historical places worth visiting.
For starters, the Roman Villa archaeological site includes some of the finest 1st century BC Roman mosaics in the world. Closeby is Casa Bernard, an extravagant 16th-century residence that belonged to a noble Maltese family of French origins. The Bernards, who were a family of doctors, lived in it until the second quarter of the 20th century. The current owners, Mr and Mrs Magri, only got their hands on this unique gem in 1993 when the works to revive it to its former glory started. Although Casa Bernard is still a private residence, it is open to the public for guided tours. Casa Bernard won an award from Europa Nostra in 2006 in the Special Mention Category for its splendid restoration.
A significant and noteworthy landmark tied to Malta’s rich Catholic heritage is the 17th-century Church of Saint Paul. It stands above the Grotto of Saint Paul, where it is said that the saint found refuge during his stay in Malta.
After paying a visit to the church, make sure to stop by the Wignacourt Museum displaying an impressive collection of Punic-Roman artefacts. The 16th-century Saint Dominic’s Convent is an important pilgrimage destination because it contains a marble statue of the Virgin Mary that is considered by many believers to be in fact miraculous.
If you had to ask me, the perfect way to end your day at Rabat is by stopping by Malta’s best pastizzerija called is-Serkin. This pastizzerija is 24/7, is a stone’s throw away from Mdina and has been welcoming utterly pleased guests for ages. Try Malta’s iconic filo pastry pea, ricotta or chicken pastizzi for an experience of a lifetime. Nobody quite does it like Serkin.
Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra Temples
The temple of Ħaġar Qim stands on a hilltop overlooking the sea and the attractive islet of Fifla, not more than 2km south-west of the village of Qrendi. At the bottom of the hill, only 500m away, one can find the remarkable temples of Mnajdra. Both sites are included in the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.
This Neolithic temple complex was constructed around 5000 years ago and is one of the most fascinating in Malta, luring in large groups of interested tourists each year. It is thought to have been used for fertility rituals. A covering roof has been added to protect the ruins but it is still possible to walk among the stone. The roof does not detract from its historical significance.
Ħaġar Qim, in particular, boasts significant historical relevance that historians all over the world have studied and investigated. 18th and 19th-century paintings which are a main attraction of this temple show that Ħaġar Qim was never completely buried since the tallest stones remained exposed. First excavated in 1839, the remains suggest a date between 3600 – 3200 BC; a period referred to as the Ġgantija phase in Maltese prehistory.
The site also consists of a central building and the remains of at least two more structures. The large forecourt and the monumental facade of the central structure follow the pattern typical of Maltese Prehistoric Temples. Along the external wall, one may find some of the largest megaliths used in the building of these structures, such as a 5.2m high stone and a huge megalith estimated to weigh close to 20 tonnes.
When in Malta, you simply have to visit the idyllic and much adored island of Gozo. And when in Gozo, you have to take in the deep history and sights of the Ġgantija Temples. This ancient site has found its way onto the UNESCO World Heritage list, much like Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra Temples mentioned above. The three sites are some of the most important archaeological sites in Malta. Located in Xaghra, Gozo, the two temples of Ġgantija date from between 3600 and 3200 BC and are among some of the oldest of their kind in the world. (They are even older than both the Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids in Egypt!) Despite their antiquity, they are fantastically well preserved and are very highly rated by tourists.
Mġarr World War Two Shelter
The Mġarr Shelter is one of the largest underground refuge areas of its kind in Malta, reaching a depth of 12 metres and extending to an overall length of over 225 metres. It is found under il-Barri restaurant and is open for public viewing. The fascinating fact about this shelter is that it was dug entirely by hand. It has recently been restored. Today the shelter provides a better understanding of the life led by the Maltese population during the Second World War. Visitors can relive their experience of terror that included going down into the depths of the underground maze and bearing witness to the harsh reality of shelter life. Visitors can also enter the silent rocky chambers that served as a home, a temple and a refuge for the people of Mgarr during WWII.
Villa Bologna Air Raid Shelter
In a World War Two shelter, everybody had it hard. However, there were people who had it a bit more easy than the general public due to their wealth. If you’d like to have a look at the way of life of a wealthier family in Malta during World War Two, make sure to visit Villa Bologna in Attard.
One can attend a tour around Villa Bologna and its colourful gardens. The tour includes a visit to the family’s World War II shelters. The private shelters had an entrance through the cellar of the house and an exit onto the garden and even included marble steps and electricity – something not that common in shelters. The shelter has a main room, a previous 18th century well and four little rooms, most probably including sleeping quarters and a food storage space.
If you happen to be a history enthusiast or simply like visiting ancient ruins and remarkable places linked to the past, Malta is the place for you. After you’ve spent most of your holiday taking in all the remnants and glimpses of the past on the island, make sure to also spend some time at the beach, at a fine restaurant or else revelling in stupendous and welcoming accommodation.