Malta is a mysterious Medieval Marmite of an island. (Yes, some people hate it.)
To appreciate Malta you have to think about its history and understand it.
Unlike a lot of holiday destinations, Malta wasn’t created for the tourist market. Malta is a Proper Place.
Through the centuries Malta has been invaded, attacked, bombed, besieged, destroyed and rebuilt. While all this has been going on, they have shrugged their shoulders and carried on with their lives, building temples and churches, growing food, and running shops, sometimes on top of the rubble.
Now the invaders come for holidays, rudely filling up the pavements so that the Maltese have to squeeze their way through or walk in the roads to get to work.
St Paul was shipwrecked on Malta in 60ad and stayed there for three months, then he set off to Rome loaded with lots of presents when the sea was safe to cross. That must have been very bad weather!
This is a historical fact, recorded at the time. Myths and legends sprung up over the centuries, but Paul must have been like a Superstar with a lot of charisma, because he converted the Maltese to Christianity.
In the Bible, Acts says that as the ship ran aground, the anchors were cut loose.
Los Angeles Crime Scene investigator Bob Cornuke spent 10 years investigating the mystery of St Paul like a crime scene. He thought the shipwreck was in a different place to St Paul’s Bay. Then he spoke to some local fishermen and found out that they’d found four ancient anchors in the exact place where Bob thought the shipwreck had really happened! The anchors are in the Valletta Maritime Museum, labelled Roman Anchors.
Next came the Knights Hospitallers, now known as the Knights of Malta. They were booted out of Rhodes in 1530 by the Turks, after a six-month siege, and they converted Malta into the unique style that it still has today. It was an incredible feat of engineering, carried out in less than 25 years. Tons of rock were quarried and dragged across the island, and forts and huge thick walls must have practically grown up overnight in unbearable heat.
Imagine the reaction of the poor Maltese as their slow peaceful lives were completely disrupted and they were forced to work for foreigners, transforming their own island with huge fortifications as protection against a battle and siege that had nothing to do with them.
In 1565 the Turks invaded Malta. It was one of the bloodiest battles in history. Bodies floated in Valletta Harbour, and heads were used as cannonballs by both sides.
Finally the Knights won. 6,100 soldiers, including 500 knights, 3,000 Maltese and various mercenaries beat over 48,000 Turks.
The Great Siege of Malta became famous in its time as word spread across the known world. The leader of the knights, La Valette, was hailed as a hero and the island’s capital, Valletta, was named after him.
World War II began and poor old Malta was in the thick of it. I won’t go into details here as it’s a subject that fills hundreds of books. But it’s hard to picture the barbaric cruelty that was inflicted on the Maltese. Can you understand the thoughts of a nation that would drop toys from planes, loaded with explosives? The children had lost everything when their homes were bombed, so they eagerly picked up the booby-trapped ‘gifts.’
Large parts of the island were completely flattened. Day after day the planes came, dropping their lethal loads. And day after day the Maltese would shrug their shoulders and get on with their lives, baking bread if there was any flour from arriving ships that had survived the non-stop attacks, or selling their dwindling supplies of fruit and vegetables. They would pick through the rubble of their homes, searching for belongings. Then they would return to their temporary homes underground in the Catacombs.
Down in the Catacombs each family had a small area where they ate, drank, sang and made love. Well why not? Maybe it was their last chance.
Imagine the noise, the arguments and the smells!
Malta was my home in the 60s. It was a dry. dusty, barren rock. I cried when my parents dragged me there to live. And I cried five years later when I was dragged away.
I never went back. I was afraid that it would be different and spoil my memories. But several years ago I plucked up the courage to make a return visit, and now I go there every year. I’ve made contact with old friends, including school friends.
Yes, it’s different. But a lot of improvements have transformed the island yet again. Malta’s now part of the 21st Century. The working donkeys have gone, replaced by vans. And that dry, dusty rock is now full of trees and colourful shrubs. Houses have windowboxes, nurseries have sprung up selling plants, and roundabouts are green!
Roundabouts used to be scrapyards because people would throw any bits on them that dropped off their cars as they were driving along.
Most of the roads are still full of holes, and some drivers drive in the shade! Sadly, the wonderful old yellow buses have gone, replaced by boring grey ones. They don’t break down any more and they’re more eco-friendly, but I wish they’d paint them yellow!
The wine used to taste like vinegar. Well what did you expect at 1/6 a bottle? Now there is a large selection of good quality local wines.
Yes, Malta’s in my blood again. The weather’s wonderful, the food’s great, the people are friendly, and there’s always something new to learn.
If you want a typical touristy beach holiday, go somewhere else. But if you want an incomparable, interesting experience, try Malta. But don’t knock it; know it.