Updated: Feb 10, 2018
Malta stands on the shoulders of giants when it comes to its own history. Read more about its fascinating history and culture and what shapes Malta today.
It is without question that the Maltese Islands are changing today; the country is currently undergoing a significant and sustained economic boom, its people have placed themselves at the fore of the debate on equality, and many of the island’s cultural and natural landmarks are benefiting from significant investment and attention. All this, and more, is taking place on in one of the smallest countries in the European Union.
When the name ‘Malta’ is mentioned, it means a great many things to many different people. Images of summer, many thousands of years of history, parents and grandparents who fought on and over the islands during the Second World War, family holidays and any number of memories precious to each and every individual that has stepped upon this magnificent rock.
Malta’s culture is a melting pot and a microcosm, conquered and occupied over the centuries by a number of the world’s largest and strongest empires. The influences of these civilisations are obvious to see in multiple aspects of society. Perhaps the three most readily apparent and lasting influences are from the Arabic occupation represented most in the language of the islands, the influence of the Knights of St John apparent for all to see in the abundance of architecture they built, and the British influence which – despite there being over 50 years since Independence – is still prevalent. All these factors and multiple others are what make the Maltese Islands what they are today and evidently these are very attractive to both visitors and investors alike.
If one is in search of the cultural, you will not be hard pressed to find it. A great impression is almost guaranteed. Expressions like ‘over 7,000 years of history’ are often bandied in advertising, and while this is no less true of any other destination one may visit, what is available on the islands is true evidence, and it is apparent for all to see effectively layered on top of one another. The fortifications on display are unique and still as impressive and inspiring today as the day on which they were built. Malta is indeed fortunate in the diversity of attractions available to those visiting. Within this abundance shines the cultural and historic wealth that the islands enjoy, the aforementioned 7,000 years of history is spread around a mere 300 square kilometres, making Malta one of the most concentrated historic hotspots across the globe. In among this plethora of historical sites, a number stand out. These UNESCO World Heritage Sites have significance not only on a local stage but also internationally, effectively setting them up for comparison against world renowned locations, such as the Taj Mahal in India, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Machu Picchu in Peru. Currently the Maltese Islands have three sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. These are the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples of Malta and the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. In addition, the islands also currently have seven sites of the ‘Tentative World Heritage List’, including the Costal Cliffs of the islands, the Dwejra coastline including the Qawra [JC1] inland sea, the Cittadella in Victoria, the fortifications of the Knights of St John around the harbours of Malta, the City of Mdina, the Maltese Paleochristian Catacomb Complexes, and the Victoria Lines Fortifications.
Another of the true blessings of the islands comes in the form of its climate. Year round, Malta has over 300 days of sunshine, which, to those who choose to visit, is more than attractive when choosing where to go for one’s holidays. Visitors are almost always guaranteed – at least for some small period – the ability to enjoy the traditionally glorious weather. With this in mind, one of course also has to consider the maritime aspect of the islands. Maltese beaches, while most certainly pretty, are all relatively small though the water is famously crystal clear, warm and clean. The Blue Lagoon is perhaps the most apparent poster boy and it certainly makes its magnificent impact apparent to all. One would be foolish however not to visit Gozo’s ‘Ir-Ramla il-Hamra’ (The Red Sandy Beach) and Malta’s Golden Bay if the desire for sun, sea and sand is strong. If this were the only attractive maritime quality then this is somewhere in which the islands would be somewhat lacking, however it is both on and under the water that the true qualities shine through. The islands have developed the reputation for some of the most enjoyable and diverse diving environments including shipwrecks, reefs, and undersea caves. Throughout, there are a variety of different dives that vary in complexity and depth, allowing divers of all levels and experience much to enjoy. While Maltese waters do not necessarily contain the vast quantity of marine life that is typically associated with warmer or tropical waters, it does offer unprecedented clarity of vision for the diver. Views of 30 meters or more are expected when the sea is at its clearest. This has lead the islands to consistently be ranked among the top five diving location worldwide. As for the sailing, one does not have to look too far past the ‘Rolex Middle Sea Race’ to understand the quality that is on offer. This annual event is often mentioned in the same breath as the ‘The Rolex Sydney – Hobart’ and ‘Newport – Bermuda’ as a ‘must do’ race. Conditions, while challenging away from the coast, are usually more consistent close to shore with both current and wind speed remain relatively stable throughout the year, ideal for all levels of experience.
The Maltese people themselves have many a diverse passion, and while not in any way exclusive to the islands, the passion for good food and good company is certainly abundant. One does not have to look particularly far on the islands to come across a profusion of restaurants all offering succulence from across the globe. Over recent years there has certainly been an explosion in variety and the refinement of what is on offer, and it is displayed with passion. Maltese cuisine in and of itself is influenced by the same diversity that influences the culture. The most obvious is for an attraction to Italian-influenced cuisine and, while the desire for simplicity of flavour is reminiscent of southern Italy, the cuisine itself is often more robust. The well-recognised national dish of the islands is rabbit. ‘Fenkata’ is the term used for the actual dining experience. This dish is stewed rabbit fried in wine and garlic and served with potatoes and salad; while it may not necessarily be the most sophisticated culinary endeavour imaginable, it does strongly capture a truly Maltese flair. One would be remise not to experience this at least once during their visits to Malta. Of equal if not greater fame, are ‘pastizzi’ – the ever-popular savoury snack. The filling traditionally comes in two varieties, either ricotta or mushy peas, and their shape is usually dependent upon the type of filling they contain. What you see is what you get – simple, delicious and traditional, accompanied with sugary tea, served in a glass. In addition Malta has a speciality in growing, producing or catching its delicacies, the passion for traditional culinary goodies is a growing trend. The word ‘Malta’ is, after all, a derivation of the Greek word ‘μέλι / méli’ meaning honey or sweet. Honey along with figs, olives, strawberries, ġbejna (a local cheese), prickly pears, oranges and other citrus fruits, lampuki (a fish know in English as the ‘dorado’ or ‘common dolphin fish), salt and, of course, bread all are produced, harvested or caught in the very same way that they have been throughout the majority of well recorded history.
Of all the many aspects of the island one will find it almost impossible to miss the love affair the Maltese people have with their feasts and fireworks. The festa is a celebration of a local village’s patron saint. Celebrations involve fireworks, parades, dazzling lights and colourful decorations. Dotted sporadically throughout the year with the large majority between May and September, it is common that on any particular weekend one or two parishes will be simultaneously celebrating, and it is during Santa Marija that the majority are held. Celebrated in seven towns and villages, in addition to being one of the country’s public holidays, Santa Marija is the largest and most enthusiastically embraced festivity of the year. Many businesses will temporarily ‘shut down’ around the occasion, also lending to the joyful and relaxed holiday atmosphere. Over the years it has become customary that those parishes that celebrate hold synchronised firework displays and music shows on the eve of the feast. Mosta, Attard, Gudja, Għaxaq, Mqabba, Qrendi and Victoria all spectacularly light up the islands’ skies with astoundingly colourful displays, and friendly competition has encouraged increasingly intricate creations. Unquestionably however, the height of the feast is reached on 15 August. Here devotees parade highly decorated ‘Madonnas’, which are toured around the streets of their villages, during which brass bands play traditional hymns, paper confetti is thrown from house balconies and roofs, races are held, and food and drinks stalls offer local delicacies. The feasts and fireworks are perhaps the truest demonstration of Maltese society and, while on the islands, it is certainly worth your time to go and watch one of the many displays, this shouldn’t be too difficult as they are, after all, rather prevalent.
One of the more recent developments in the island’s makeup comes in the form of the musical scene. Some of the world’s foremost artists and performers from a diversity of genres and styles have graced the islands. Few have more affection in the hearts of the Maltese people than the islands’ very own Joseph Calleja; the operatic tenor is internationally famous and has performed in La Scala in Milan, Covent Garden in London and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His annual concert on the islands is full of passion and talent that he brings with him from across the globe. Perhaps the most well known concert that occurs annually is ‘Isle of MTV Malta’; past performers have included Maroon 5, Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta, Snoop Dogg, Jessie Jay and many more. DJs also come to the islands in droves, as the younger generation certainly has a passion for modern electronic and techno music. Bob Sinclair, Martin Solveig and Armin van Buren have all performed recently with many more lined up in the coming months.
The future of the islands has rarely if ever looked as positive as it does today; Malta has never had more interest or investment in the entirety of its history. With its political ties to the European Union firm, the advantages that have been presented to any investor with its certainly preferential tax rates and avenues for development offer magnificent opportunities. Malta is, in effect, well and truly on the map. In recent year the islands have hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting twice, has been the host of the Presidency of the European Union Council for the first six months of 2017 and currently Valletta is the European Capital of Culture. There always seems to be something going on on the Maltese Islands. Long may it continue!
Published TEMPLE Magazine 2017
Copyright: Temple Concierge Ltd
Images: Temple Magazine and Fritz Photography