Malta, an underrated Mediterranean island, bursts with historical heritage and ancient art. More than 7000 years of history define the colorful blend of civilizations that meant such a powerful influence. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs and Sicilians built the traces where Malta rose up as the silent hidden gem.
British rule evolved into the independence of Malta in 1964. Nowadays, Malta has been a member of the European Union since 2004. Nestled between Europe and Africa, the Maltese spirit was deeply coloured by the mixture of language, music and ancient fortifications.
The ancient time
The Neolithic period of Malta represents the golden time full of architectural marvels. The Goddess of fertility deserved her dedicated temples where the temple spirit is caught in time.
As the Sicilians started to transfer to Malta, they gathered themselves at the village of Zebbiegh. Zebbiegh is a small village in Mgarr where the awesome temples are situated. The exact place of the temple is Scorba, the place that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Around 50 stone temples can be found at Malta and Gozo island. The design follows basically the same principle. It consists of the central corridor and two or more chambers in the shape of an ellipse. Instead of stone roofs, clay, brushwood or beams were used.
It’s believed that people came to Malta even before the Neolithic. Malta was once linked with Sicily with the massive land-bridge almost being united into its existence. The mountainous tops of Malta developed the sacred ambience for the temple construction.
The land-bridge was drowned by the high water and melting ice. The islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino slowly created their own existence.
The Neolithic period follows the Bronze age around 2500 BC. The mystery of the temple stands strong in comparison to the fact of how the stone items were transferred, including the pottery. The massive statues in the Maltese temples remain another questionable purpose. Shaped like ladies without breasts decorated with amazing pleated skirts cannot describe the true intention of the statues.
The temples in Ggantija in Gozo date as the oldest, to be precise around 3600 to 3200 BC. Their massive appearance took belief that the giants constructed them. Even the name itself-Ggantija-in maltese means giant. Limestone blocks connect the main corridors with the indoors.
The Hal Salfieni Hypogeum temple in Paula is one of a kind, underground temple consisting of chambers and passages made of the majestic rock. Archeological treasure onsite includes pottery, personal ornaments, human bones and other similar discoveries. Three levels define the appearance of the temple while the deepest takes 10 m underground. The visit is regulated to a limited number of people.
Temples in Hagar Qim, Mnajdra and Tarxien create the ambience of Malta as the „Sacred land“.
Hagar Qim offers charming views of the islet Filfla from its hilltop. Decorated pillar and some fat lady statues signify the meaning of the temple, now located at the National Museum of Archeology.
Mnajdra Temples are nestled at the fabulous cliffs with the views of Filfla islet. Three temples along the complex express the most exquiste ancient edifices at Malta. The Lower Temple has astrological significance according to the position of the Sun.
Tarxien Temples take the value as the largest of the Malta’s Megalithic temples. Located in the village of Tarxien, this placed is honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prehistoric art covering the famous spirals makes it the highlight of the site. It’s believed that temples served the animal sacrifice.
Every megalithic temple is nowadays protected by tent covers which gives them also the spiritual preservance.
Malta in the Bronze Age
The Maltese islands experienced emptiness during the Bronze Age around 2500 BC as they were uninhabitated. The construction of temples replaced dolmens, the smaller megalithic structures and the culture of cremating the dead. It’s questionable what brought the end of the temple period, whether environmental changes or a cultural crisis.
The early Bronze Age is characterised by the pottery construction, which leads to profound questions regarding technology.
The important role in the Bronze Age belongs to Borg in-Nadur temples as they were the first examples of a fortified, domestic settlement. Borg in Nadur is located at the picturesque valley above St. George’s Bay in Birzebbuga.
The temple site was an important treasure of discovery considering the differences between the Temple period and the Bronze Age. Another prehistoric site Ghar Dalam is placed only 500 m away.
Incredibly pictureque silos find their place along the coast, 15 of them. During recent time most of the silos were destroyed due to the road that was constructed.
After Phoenicians conquered Malta the site slowly turned into an abandoned place around 500 BC. The tiny remains can still be seen on this large archeological site.
The period of Phoenicians
Around 700 BC Phoenicians took the power of the island untill the beginning of the Roman Republic in 218 BC. The Phoenicians were the people of today’s Lebanon along with Syria and Israel recognized as the reputable maritime people and traders. Byblos town was a powerful centre of commerce and culture. It’s believed they came to Malta from Tyre city. Trade was the main style of creating the cities of ancient Phoenicians. Still the traces of Phoenicians can be seen at Malta.
The name Malta itself came from Phoenicians meaning „the port“. The city of Carthage in Tunisia was the most significant force of the Phoenicians framed by its independence.
The various harbours of maltese islands were the most valuable purpose of the Phoenicians.
Archeological discoveries of those times are pretty low but are mostly linked with pottery. Phoenicians were considered as the people of wealth, so they left large amphores and elegant wine cups. Elegant wooden furniture and jewellery made of bronze and silver were the main factors in creating wealth.
The blend of Phoenician and Punic culture in Malta is pretty evident. The Punic period of Malta appears with the rise of Carthage starting around the year 480 BC. Two and a half centuries are marked as the rule of Carthaginians.
The National Museum of Archeology in Valetta is the golden testimony of the Phoenicians expressing their amazement by Egypt. The tower in the garden of Zurrieq archpriest’s house stands as the strange evidence of the Phoenician times.
The most important trace of Phoenicians in Malta is the way that Malta was transferred to the literate world. Phoenician language in Malta signifies the powerful meaning of transition.
Six Punic-Roman towers stand as the highest purpose of defence.
The amazing blend of the punic and greek influences at Malta shows the tiny differences especially regarding the commerce and crafts developed in the agriculture. Pottery represents the significant testimony of these differences.
Roman Republic in Malta
At 218 BC the Romans constituted their power at Malta, the golden time between the two cultures. Mdina becomes the administrative centre of Romans while the name Melite overtook the shade as the island itself also. The deepest influence of Roman Empire is the establishment of the Catholic religion.
The Apostle Saint Paul and his shipwreckage took Malta into the new dimension around 60 AD. The Christianity got its proper frame thanks to Saint Paul. Malta is considered as one of the first Roman colonies.
St. Paul’s Bay in Malta is a lovely touristic town, only 16 km from Valetta.
After the Punic Wars from 246-146 BC Romans took the rule over Malta. Exquisite Roman villas touched the fine decor of the mosaics. Oil production during Roman times remarks the huge measures. Covering this purpose, the Roman site near Birzebbuga found out the enormous cistern.
Though Malta experienced a bloom during Romans, it was still considered a part of Sicily. The administrative centre of the island was the town Melite or Maleth which represents today’s Medina and partly Rabat.
The enormous improvement during Romans happened at Malta. At the early 6th century Roman Empire at Malta was replaced by the Byzantine rule.
Malta under Byzantine Empire
During Byzantine period, Malta was conquered by Arabs from North Africa. It was the perfect blend of Greek influence and Arab reign. Unfortunately, Byzantine times have not preserved much written evidence.
Amazing fortresses of Mdina are recognized as the important rule of the Byzantine Empire. The Greek language never took its prevalent focus.
Some of the remaining Byzantine sites include: St Paul’s Roman Villa in Milqui town, the astonishing Roman villa and museum in Rabat with stunning mosaics, Greek Gate of Mdina as the powerful Byzantine town, a lovely seaside town Tas-Silg.
Islam shaped its rule at Malta instead of Christianity. At around 90. Arab rule slowly ended in Malta with the arrival of the Normans. The Arabic influence is mostly seen at Maltese language. Arabs were responsible for agricultural improvement, including irrigation. Citrus fruits and cotton were introduced by Arabs. The the bloom of economy and culture was at a high level for the Arabs. Poetry had the most extensive bloom.
The Maltese people constituted their own assembly named gemgha during the Muslim period.
The Norman Kingdom of Sicily Rule
Before coming unto British Empire Malta experienced French rule and the invasion of the Sicilian Kingdom. Sicily defined the returning to Christianity starting from 1091. within the Kingdom of Sicily which lasted around 440 years.
During this time, Malta exchanged different dominators, including Swabia, Anjou and even the Spanish Empire. Islam continued to prevail at Malta. The latinisation and Roman Catholicism were the main focus of the Kingdom of Sicily.
Italian influences can still be seen through the cuisine, language and relaxed way of life.
After the Kingdom of Sicily, Malta spent around 200 years under the Ottoman Empire. The French occupation of Malta lasted only a few years under Napoleon Bonaparte, when many new reformes were established.
British rule at Malta
The British Empire in 1800. opened new horizons. French Rule didn’t experienced the sympathy of Malta so the consequence of the British Empire was a voluntary decision. This was empowered by the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. after which Malta served the military purposes of Britain. During the First World War, Malta played a significant role due to its location. Its naval function was extremely important during the Second World War.
The British Rule established the fantastic economic boom including opening the banks.
The independence of Malta was announced in 1964. and in 1974. Malta became a Republic. English influence can still be seen in Malta as the Maltese language became official in 1934 together with English. Administration and system of education followed the British path. The capital, Valetta, holds many shops and cafes with British names, driving is on the left and many red phone boxes can be seen. The cuisine of Malta also follows British traces.
Incredibly colored by the influences of Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs Malta and its adjacent islands Gozo and Comino hold the treasure of historic stories. Not only cobblestone streets spread in the Sun, Malta is a journey in time.
The Maltese language is truly unique as it has Semitic roots and Latin script. From Maltese folk music to Maltese food, the vast panorama of cultural notes speaks of the world caught in its own magic.
Within 7000 years of history, Malta will not leave anyone lukewarm if we look under the surface of this hidden European gem. The amazing walled city of Mdina, island Gozo with it fortresses, capital of Valletta that’s bathed in the differences- all stand as the proof of Malta’s unique spirit and enchantment.
Mdina rises as the cradle of the Bronze Age and ancient capital of Malta. Also known as the Silent City, Mdina is a car-free oasis of fortified breeze. Built on a hill and the highest point of the island, a Mdina is a wonderful example of historical tourism.
The fortified cities of Birgu, Cospicua and Isla are known as the Three cities of Malta where history speaks by itself. These harboursite towns is what makes them fascinating, along with the Knights, which made them alive.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Malta except Valletta are the stunning temples, Hal Saflieni Hypogeum and Megalithic Temples that, older than the Stonhedge or the pyramids and other wonders of the ancient world.
Mysterious sights of Malta also touch its churches, which count more than 359 of them. St Paul’s is nowadays still celebrated each year with colorful events.
The sunny island finds its most impressive wonders in the crystal-clear seaside and many water caves. Malta is truly a piece of heaven where cultural charm finds the place of unity. The Mediterranean spirit of Malta seeks the paradise beyond the surface. Malta is the home to medieval charm that shines in its hidden corners and needs to be discovered over and over again. Maybe only because of its history.
Featured image credit: odysseytraveller.com