Malta Diary: The Essence of Malta and Gozo
There is a Maltese proverb that states that best essences are found in the smallest bottles. With a geographic limitation of 316 square kilometres (122 square miles) and the densest population rate in Europe and one of the densest in the world, the central Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo certainly have a lot packed into them.
The year 2014 may have come in with a bang in most countries and ended in a whimper by end of day 1st January – but for Malta, this was a mere start to 2014..
Boasting no less than ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the capital city Valletta, the remarkable Tarxien Hypogeum, several Megalithic Temples which are classed as possibly being the oldest free-standing buildings in the world and the old Maltese capital of Mdina and adjacent Rabat Catacombs, Malta is braced for a year of commemorations and celebrations spread throughout the 12 months.
On 31st March the islands will celebrate the 35th anniversary of Freedom Day, when the last British troops left Malta and for the first time since biblical days and successive centuries of domination by the Roman Empire, the Arabs, the Knights of Malta, the French and finally the British, Malta held its destiny in its own hands. 1st May will mark ten years of full EU Membership (besides the normal Maltese Mayday celebrations).
The 21st of September means 50 years since Independence from Britain was gained in 1964 and Malta became an independent nation within the Commonwealth whilst the 13th December will mark 40 years since Malta was declared a Republic and for the first time ever a Maltese national was declared Head of State.
Most importantly too, the year 2014 will mark the 250th anniversary since the birth of Dun Mikiel Anton Vassalli, the Zebbug-born priest who produced the first official publications in the Maltese language, unique as it is, based on Phoenician, the Semitic tongues and a latter-day polyglot inclusion of Italian, English and French. Vassalli wrote and published the first Maltese-Italian Dictionary, a Maltese Grammar, the Gospels in Maltese and a book of Maltese proverbs.
Its central Mediterranean location having always placed Malta as an important, strategic theatre of war, there is also the centenary commemoration of the start of the First World War and the 65th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.
As if all these were not sufficient to be getting on with, Malta is already working on the administration of being host to the 24th Heads of Government of Commonwealth Nations (CHOGM) Meeting in 2015. It will assume the EU Presidency in 2017 and its capital Valletta will be declared European Centre of Culture in 2018.
Each event must be interspersed in between the day-to-day continuation of Maltese life. Three days of carnival activity always herald the beginning of Lent; a number of towns and villages stage pageant-like religious processions on Good Friday and Resurrection celebrations on Easter Sunday; between May and September every Maltese town and village will stage its own festa celebrations with fireworks, street brass band marches and religious processions.
And – of course – there is the small matter of the World Cup Finals in Brazil when the footie-crazy people of Malta and Gozo will eat, sleep and digest nothing but international football for a whole two weeks.
So – hold on to your hats and if you think this is all fairly sober historical and religious stuff, in Paceville, Malta has one of the most active night life centres in the Mediterranean with packed wall-to-wall bars, restaurants, clubs and discos offering all-night activities and of course there is always the fun of blue skies, endless sunshine in summer and a sparklingly blue Mediterranean sea.
Yes, a lot of essence in a very small bottle.