The first evidence of human habitation in the Maltese Islands has been recorded at 5,200 BC, a hallmark of their geographical position almost dead centre of the Mediterranean Sea, also known as the Middle Sea. Over 7,000 years later this has produced a potpourri of every aspect of international culture that has lapped the shores and inter-mingled to combine the Stone and Iron Ages, ancient Greece and ancient Rome and the more contemporary inputs of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, the French and the British.

md20-06War and peace have also had a marked influence. One particular legend has it that the great military commander Hannibal of Carthage was actually born in Malta, later taking the elephant trek over the Alps to strike at the heart of Roman Civilisation.

Almost 1,800 years later, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the man who unified Italy spent some months in Malta hatching his plans for his armed assault of the nearby peninsula, sweeping away the old feudal states and forging the name Italia.

There was early recognition that the central geographical location made Malta a prize possession of western Empire builders.

The early Phoenicians occupied Malta as an important trade route link to the European continent and are reputed to have even reached Britain in their travels. When the Roman Empire fell into decline, the North African Arab tribes moved into the vacuum as an important link in their quest of Spain. Later, the Ottoman Turks had imperial designs to dominate the whole of Europe but from the east only managed to progress as far as to what today are Hungary and Austria.

md20-10They assessed their best alternative route was to progress through the soft under-belly of Europe via Sicily and Italy and hence towards the European hinterland. However, they first had to have an important foothold in Malta and the Knights of the Order of St John were not seen as a serious threat to thwart this. Their first mistake was to launch their siege in early June and as with all important warfare, timing proved to be strategic. This was the start of the hot Mediterranean summer. Malaria and insect infestation took a terrible toll.

They also underestimated the resistance of the Knights and the Maltese espousement of Christian roots and an intensive three-month siege collapsed in mayhem in early September and their renowned admiral Dragut succumbed to cannon-ball fire as the Ottomans retreated in hasty disarray.

Napoleon Bonaparte and Admiral Lord Nelson earmarked Malta as being an essential cornerstone in the late 18th Century and since then Malta was actively involved in every cut and thrust that involved the central Mediterranean region, North Africa and beyond in the Middle East and Asia.

In recognition of the remarkable resistance shown to the British and allied cause during the two world wars but in particular during the Second World War, Malta was recognised by Britain in an unprecedented manner by being awarded the George Cross for bravery and hence Malta’s official name today is Malta GC although this is nowadays rarely used.

md20-04In 1964, Malta gained Independence from Britain and the last British garrison left in 1979. In 2004 Malta joined the EU.

This vast expanse of history and its effects on the people of Malta have been recognised by the Malta Heritage organisation celebrating the tenth year of its foundation with a remarkable exhibition that was officially launched in March of this year and will be on display for 12 months.

The organisation assembled 100 different artefact objects that have shaped Malta’s history in a display mounted at the Malta National Archaeology Museum in Valletta and titled “The Great Story of a small Island-Nation through 100 Objects”.

Each object on display tells a unique story, but when combined, these objects narrate a glorious 7,000 year history of the island-nation which throughout all the inputs and inter-mingling managed to retain its unique customs and above all, its unique Semitic-based language.

md20-01Besides various re-constructions of Stone Age temples and Punic burial tombs, the entire exhibition is under-scored by explanatory video-audio presentations. It also includes the historic “Kantilena”, a 15th Century Maltese language poem, a curious Arab-style window through which female house occupants could monitor all street movements from home without being seen externally and of course, the George Cross.

Four accompanying side exhibitions celebrate the anniversaries of four important events that fall in 2014, that is the 35th anniversary of Freedom Day when the last British troops left Malta on 31st March, the tenth anniversary of Malta joining the EU, the 50th year of Independence and the 40th anniversary of Malta becoming a Republic within the British Commonwealth.

This certainly is an exhibition well worth a visit.

About Albert Fenech

Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management but still retained his roots by actively pursuing freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel.