Malta, island of megaliths and myths

Situated strategically almost in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta has had a long history of being a conduit for trade between Europe and North Africa.

The Maltese archipelago lies virtually at the centre of the Mediterranean, with Malta 93km south of Sicily and 288km north of Africa. The archipelago consists of the islands of: Malta, Gozo, Comino, Comminotto and Filfla; with a total population of 400,000 inhabitants over an area of 316sq km and a coastline of 196.8km

Being a place with great strategic importance, also means that it was doomed to be conquered many times.  So, over a period of about 7,000 years, Malta has been invaded by, conquered, or formed alliances with the Phoenicians,  Greeks, Romans, Sicilians, Crusaders, the French and the British.

These days the Republic of Malta is an independent nation, but it hedges its bets by being a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and also the European Union, and has adopted the Euro as its official currency.

Roman Catholicism is the state religion, and it is no wonder as Christianity on Malta can be traced back to St Paul, who is said to have ministered to the people after he was supposedly shipwrecked on the island.

The island of Malta is the largest of the three islands, and boasts the largest population.  The capital is called Valletta, and it is also a major port, boasting two harbours, of which Grand Harbour is the most used.

The city was built during the rule of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who were Crusaders.  Valletta often hosts regular plays and concerts, as well as scores of exhibitions and street events. The Museum of Archaeology in Valletta houses an exceptionally rich collection of prehistoric artefacts. The War Museum at Fort St. Elmo is home to a Sunday military parade in period costumes re-enactment and the capital also possesses the impressive Grand Master’s Palace and St. John’s Co-cathedral.

With 7,000 years of history, the sites to visit are endless – the Megalithic Temples (including Ggantija, the oldest freestanding temple in the world), the underground St Paul’s and St. Agatha’s catacombs, The Knights of St. John’s significant sites, such as Fort St Angelo and Fort Rinella (home to the world’s largest canon). WWII significant sites, such as the Mgarr war shelter, Mtarfa ex-British military buildings, The Armoury and the Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa are not to be missed.

Malta has beaches for everyone, from windsurfers to sunbathers. Choose from golden sand, red sand, rocks, blue lagoons and even inland seas.  Some beaches and rocky shores are off the beaten track, but worth seeking out for their seclusion.  Do not miss a boat trip to Comino’s Blue Lagoon for the ultimate in azure water.  On larger beaches, you will find cafes or snack bars open during the summer season.  With Malta’s climate, beach life lasts well into October. Enjoy water sports and activities like windsurfing, jet and water skiing, paragliding and fun rides.

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