An archipelago at the centre of the Mediterranean with a wealth of heritage. Home once to ancient civilisations and Europe’s nobles. Malta’s location at the heart of the Mediterranean is the key to its rich history.
At the crossroads of maritime routes, the Islands have been a home, stronghold, trading post and refuge over 7000 years of history. From temple builders, seafaring Phoenicians and the traveller Apostle Paul, to the Knights of St John, Napoleon and British royalty – all have set foot here leaving their imprint for you to discover. The Islands have several World Heritage sites: the enigmatic, prehistoric temples; Malta’s baroque capital Valletta, founded by the Knights; and the walled, medieval capital, Mdina, where descendants of Norman families still live today. The palaces and cathedrals of Valletta and Mdina house some of Europe’s finest treasures. Wander around the sister island Gozo and explore gems of a rural life largely untouched by time. And hike across a rugged, terraced landscape fashioned by man over a millennium ago. The Islands present a kaleidoscope of past and present: a fascinating legacy of European culture and rural Mediterrranean traditions..
- Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
- Ghar Dalam
- Borg in-Nadur
- Hagar Qim
- Tarxien Temples
Valletta – Our Capital City:
The Fortress City, Citta’ Umilissima, “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”. Valletta has many titles, all recalling its rich historical past. It is the “modern” city built by the Knights of St John; a masterpiece of the baroque; a European Art City; and a World Heritage City. But these are just some of its faces and fortunes.
Valletta is also Malta’s capital city: a living, working city, the administrative and commercial heart of the Islands. Nowhere in Malta is the life of the Islands reflected more than here. The city is busy by day, yet retains a timeless atmosphere. The grid of narrow streets house some of Europe’s finest art works, churches and palaces.
Valletta hosts a vast cultural programme. Street events are staged against the city’s magnificent baroque architecture and floodlit bastions. There is theatre and music and all manner of things to see and join in, from avant garde art to traditional church festas. The city is a delight to shop in: narrow side streets are full of tiny shops selling antiques, maps, books, prints and jewellery. For top quality fashion, music and much more try Valletta’s main streets – Republic Street and Merchants Street.
Walking around Valletta, you’ll come across an intriguing historical site around every corner: votive statues, niches, fountains and coats of arms high up on parapets. And when you need to stop and take it all in, the city yields up squares, courtyards, gardens and any number of cafés, right on cue.
Mdina – The Silent City
The history of Mdina and its suburb Rabat is as old and as chequered as the history of Malta itself. Mdina, Malta’s medieval capital, can trace its origins back more than 4000 years. Rabat can claim the origins of Maltese Christianity. It was here in A.D. 60 that the Apostle St Paul is said to have lived after being shipwrecked on the Islands. Both Mdina and Rabat are fascinating to tour for their timeless atmosphere and their cultural and religious treasures.
Mdina has had different names and titles depending on its rulers and its role. It was Melita to the Romans; Medina to the Arabs; and Citta’ Vecchia, the old city, when Valletta became the lifeblood of the Islands. None describe it better than its medieval name, Citta’ Notabile, the noble city.
It was home then, as now, to Malta’s noble families; some are descendants of the Norman, Sicilian and Spanish overlords who made Mdina their home from the 12th century onwards. Their Impressive palaces line its narrow, shady streets. Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city, and unusual in its mix of medieval and baroque architecture.
Today Mdina has a quiet, restrained atmosphere in keeping with its noble past. Lamplit by night, Mdina transforms itself into the ‘Silent City’. For a relaxed evening, seek out the restaurants tucked away in its bastions and palace courtyards.
The Three Cities – Birgu, Bormla & L’Isla
Malta may well owe its name to the area known as the Three Cities. The ancient Greek name for the Islands, Malet, loosely translates as ‘a place of shelter’. Certainly the fingers of rock jutting out into Grand Harbour with their deep natural inlets have provided shelter for ships from ancient times to present day.
Fort St Angelo has a long history dating at least to the early Middle Ages. It was the only strong harbour defence the Knights of St John discovered when they arrived on the Islands in 1530. The Knights, led by Grand Master L’Isle Adam, immediately started work on enlarging and strengthening Fort St Angelo and the surrounding village known as Il Borgo (later Birgu and then Vittoriosa). They also had a new town and fort built opposite: Senglea and Fort St Michael. The city was named after the Grand Master, Claude de Sengle, who founded it.
Between 1530 and 1565, the year of the Great Siege, the Knights transformed Birgu into a fortified city complete with their Auberges (inns of residence), churches, palaces and a hospital. Despite heavy bombing in World War II, much of this early history of the Knights remains intact, especially in Vittoriosa
Comino has been put to different uses over the centuries by the various rulers of the Maltese Islands. It was inhabited in the Roman period, but did not have much significance until the Knights arrived. It then had a dual role: of hunting and recreational grounds; and as staging post in the defence of the Islands against the Ottoman Turks.
The Knights built the imposing St Mary’s Fort in 1618, a landmark for miles around. The Island had proved a useful base for pirates operating in the central Mediterranean. The fort was slow in arriving though, some 200 years late in fact. Back in the middle ages, the Islanders had petitioned their ruler, then the Viceroy of Sicily, to have Comino defended. The Knights also built a small chapel on Comino, at St Mary’s Bay.
The Knights were more interested in Comino as a hunting ground. Though stark and barren today, it seems the Island was home to wild boar and hares when the Knights arrived in 1530. The Grand Masters went to great lengths to ensure their game on Comino was protected: anyone found breaking the embargo on hunting could expect to serve three years as a galley slave.
After the Second World War, Comino remained a backwater until its fortunes revived with tourism in the mid-1960s.
The tiny isle of Comino, only 3.5 km2, is the perfect hideaway. Romantically named after the cumin herb once grown here, Comino is the perfect retreat. Carefree and a water sports paradise.
Here, the colours of Malta are at their most vivid. The Islands’ main attraction is the Blue Lagoon, a sheltered inlet of shimmering aquamarine water over white sand and a popular day trip by pleasure and sail boat. The Lagoon is excellent for snorkelling. Linger on Comino once the day trippers leave, and you’ll find yourself on the ultimate in secluded islands. As the sun sets, Comino will seem your notion of a typical desert island.
Comino is worth a visit all year round. In winter, it is ideal for walkers and photographers. Without urban areas, or cars, you can pick up the scent of wild thyme and other herbs. Cumin still grows here, self-seeded from the time it was cultivated. With the clear warm seas, water sports enthusiasts will find Comino paradise.
The charm of Gozo is apparent the moment you arrive there. Greener, more rural and smaller than Malta, life on Gozo moves at a leisurely pace. The rhythms dictated by the seasons, fishing and agriculture.
In winter and spring, the Island is covered with flowering herbs and lush crops. In summer, it’s awash with oleander, bougainvillea and geranium.
Gozo is steeped in myth. Thought to be the legendary Calypso’s isle of Homer’s Odyssey, it’s a peaceful, mystical backwater. Baroque churches and old stone farmhouses dot the countryside.
Its rugged landscape and spectacular coastline await exploration. Choose from rocky inlets to red sand beaches or sail, snorkel, dive and fish. Gozo has some of the Mediterranean’s best dive sites.
But there’s more. Gozo comes complete with historical sites, forts and amazing panoramas. Plus one of the archipelago’s best-preserved prehistoric temples, Ggantija. Not to mention a nightlife and cultural calendar all its own, and some great dining out.