An Ionian seaside town, Avola is a mix of old and new. The town focuses heavily on the sea, with its history as a tuna fishing port. Today, the remains of the Vecchia Tonnara at the wharf are a stone backdrop to the sandy beaches. Avola dates back to a pre-Greek people called the Sicani.…
For long time haven’t I been impressed so much by a country like Malta: of it’s history, remarkable landscape or the food and vine.
My heart was broken when I needed to come back…
I landed around midnight and took a taxi to my hotel, completely forgetting that Malta was part of British Empire and that drivers are on the right side. Also, the famous red telephone cabins are around the city of Valletta as a reminder of British presence.
The wind was in my hair and the heavy smell of the Mediterranean in my nose. I was hearing the sea a and people’s rumors from the bars. I couldn’t be more happy: from the cold cold Brussels to the summer in December in Malta!
First thing I did the next day, is the coffee on the terrace of my hotel in Sliema. It is the neighborhood famous by nightlife and its restaurants and long riviera next to which one can dine or just do jogging. My coffee had a view on famous Valletta- the capital of Malta. So I advanced along the riviera.
I started from the beginning. Malta was part of 7 empires so far: Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Ottomans, Normans, Knights of Malta, Napoleon and British Empire.
From the prehistoric sites, I visited Ħaġar Qim Temple. Literally translated from maltese, it means Standing/Worshipping Stones. It is a megalithic temple complex found older then the Stonehenge (3600-3200 BC). It is the religious sites as well, as the light of the sun in the solstice falls directly on the main hall of the temple.Since 1992 is part of the UNESCO Heritage since it is “unique architectural masterpiece” as it is hard to answer how the ancient people ere able to move the stones. The art of the ancient people was also recognized. Around 30 female statuettes of varying shapes were discovered known as Venus of Malta and The sleeping Lady. The statues are placed in Museum of Archeology of Malta which I visited as well. 🙂
The word Malta derives from the greeks name for honey: melita. Greeks and Romans were especially amazed by the islands of Malta and Gozo and its archipelago.
Phoenicians arrived as traders but did not stay long. What they left is the culture of ancient salt making. Numerous sites show how this white gold was important trade good in its times.
After the Punic wars, the Phoenicians were conquered and the Roman Empire arrived. Malta seems to have prospered under the Romans. The Islands begin to be mentioned in written records as strategically important island.
The biggest legend of Malta comes from times of Romans: the Shipwreck. It is the story about Apostle Paul bringing the Christianity to Malta and Europe. Paul was being taken to Rome to be tried as a political rebel, but the ship carrying him and some 274 others was caught in a violent storm. The site of the wreck is traditionally known as St. Paul’s Island and the cave where he took refuge, is now known as St. Paul’s Grotto.
With the fall of Roman Empire, Malta became involved in the Muslim–Byzantine Wars, and the conquest of Malta is followed by the Muslim invaders. The Muslims introduced new irrigation, some fruits and cotton and the Arabic language that is part of the nowadays modern Maltese language.
Following the Crusades, Malta was the so-called the nurse of the Meditarranean. So Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, gave the islands to the Knights Hospitaller. They built famous hospital and developed the medicine treatments. I.e. the food and medicaments were given to the patient on the silver plate so the disease doesn’t spread.
These knights, a military religious order now known as the Knights of Malta, were fighting against Ottoman Empire. The biggest battle is the Great Siege of Malta where the fortifications played crucial role in defending the island. Fort St Elmo was after that improved when the Pope sent his best architecture to develop the fortifications for defense of Christianity of Malta. Soon the Maltese Cross was officially adopted by the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John. Today Fort St Elmo welcomes tourists to give them great view on Malta’s bays and villages and to enter the National War Museum/The Military History Museum.
From that time is the Co’cathedral of St John dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. In the 17th century, its interior was redecorated in the Baroque style. so it is considered to be one of the finest examples of high Baroque architecture in Europe and one of the world’s great cathedrals. The entire interior of church is covered with paintings like famous Caravaggio’s Beheading of St John or statues. The floor is covered with marble tablets which are actually the graves of the Knights. Note the Maltese cross on the arches too.
On my way to visit the famous fishing village Marsaxlokk with its famous colourful boats, I noticed many agricultural landscapes like vineyards and orange gardens. Eating an octopus and later some traditional cake and drinking local rose vine, I was still under lots of impression of Malta.
At the end of my stay, I just decided to wonder around the Valletta, buy souvenirs, eat local and enjoy the sun and sea. Yes Malta, I will come back!
My second time in Malta!
And I did! In less than a year, I came back and partied a bit more, spent the time in museums a bit less, but I made it! 😀
I spent 4 and half days in St Jullien, in some hotel just at the Paceville – the famous district with bars and good restaurants (although we didn’t try any of the food in Panceville restaurant).
Paceville is a street with clubs and go-go dancers, hookers on top of the street, policemen and cars parked on the bottom and on every corner you have written signs: 72 shots for 12 EUR (red bull and bacardi vodka).
From the museums part, we visited again the Fort Saint Elmo since from there the view on seaside is the most beautiful, as the knights needed to have a very strategic sight on enemie’s arrival before the famous battle in 1565 against Ottoman Empire.
Inside the fort is a museum describing the history of Malta through its empires from neolitics towards Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Ottomans, Normans, Knights of Malta, Napoleon and British Empire until modern and independent Malta as of 1957.
I was impressed how Malta was important through the centuries. During the Crieman war in 19th century and later in World War I and II it was a base for war prisioners and war hospital.
Perhaps it is worth to mention the bravery of Maltese people in World War Il. Being trapped and with no food or supplies, they resisted Mussolini’s plane attacks. The George Cross was awarded to the island of Malta by King George VI so as to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people” during the great siege they underwent in the early part of World War II. Italy and Germany besieged Malta, then a British colony, from 1940 to 1942. The George Cross was incorporated into the flag of Malta beginning in 1943 and remains on the current design of the flag.
We visited the The Knights Hospitallers which is now a beautiful 18th century building used for the knigts ceremonies but long time ago below in the basements it was a hospital and shelter.
Interesting thing to mention that in Malta were filmed some episodes of Game of Thrones. Recognize the item below?
Walking through the city, we discovered so manz beautiful buildings and streets that we could nt stop admiring the city:
Palazzo Parisio – Napoleon’s headquarters in Malta
I have to mention the food and vine as we were dining around in restaurants and ate local dishes like rabbit stew and octopus.
If you will ever end up at some restaurant in center of Valletta in some small street where it is written on board rabbit stew Jamie Oliver – please bear in mind this restaurant is a rip off, food is bad, dishes are small, prices are doubled and Jamie Oliver never visited this place. In fact, Jamie Oliver doesn’t even like rabbit. (that information costed us 108 EUR). lol
At the main square we had a bottle of vine. As Malta will be 2018 European Capital of Culture, we decided to go for official vine with sword on the label. But there is a story:
Grand Master Jean Parison de la Vallette recieved the sword with its guilded and diamond-studded hilt from King Philippe ll of Spain following the 1565 Great Siege victory. In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte took the sword after capturing the island. It remains in Paris, Louvre and on this label of this wine bottle, declared the wine of Malta’s European Capital of Culture 2018.
PS You can see the statue of Queen Victoria in the back, as Malta used to be part of British Empire.
My third time in Malta!
It was again in November – catching the sun in winter and getting some fresh Mediterranean air. Except that it was raining as hell and Valletta was experiencing some serious floods that week.
My stay was in Sliema – I find it the perfect location as it sets between Valletta and St Guillan. It is plain with bars and restaurants and beautiful walks along the sea.
That day we walked under heavy rain, my snickers were one big mud but the spirit of traveling was alive. Naturally, first stop was Valletta. You wouldn’t believe but the Triton’s Fountain is now finished. 🙂 The figures of the Tritons represent Malta’s links with the sea, and their design was inspired by the Fontana delle Tartarughe in Rome.
Unfortunately, the rain was still heavily pouring so the very first shelter was needed. It was found in The Phoenicia Hotel with the bajtra drink to warm. Bajtra is made from Opuntia ficus-indica cactus, commonly known as the prickly pear, that was introduced to the Mediterranean region from the Americas towards the end of 15th century. Eventually it found its way to Malta and Gozo, where it has flourished and become part of the local landscape of rubble-walled countryside.
After warm up, we entered through the city gate to Valletta. I entered again the Co-Cathedral of St John. It is pricey but totally worth it to worship, admire the history and having goose-bumps again.
When travelling, there is always something new to discover: The icon of Our Lady of Philermos is, more than any other, the most sacred representation to which, for centuries, the Knights of the Order of Malta have been devoted. It is the symbol par excellence of the Marian spirituality of the ancient Order of the Hospitallers of St. John. However, Our Lady of Philermos could also be worthy of the name of patron saint of us travellers. 🙂 Why? Because few religious pictures have travelled as much and as adventurously as this small but precious portrait.
The first account, reported in the Complete calendar of Russian saints and brief miraculous news on the Mother of God, leaves no room for doubt: that the painting was painted by St Luke. In around the year 46, it was taken to Antioch, the birthplace of St. Luke, and then to Jerusalem. Towards the year 430, it was taken to the church in Constantinople. In 626, it saved Constantinople from the Persians. In 1204 it was taken by the Latin army, transferred to Palestine and from there to the island Rhodes where Templars were exiled after Crusades. When they were expelled further and after the Spanish King Carlos V gave them the Spanish islands of Malta, the icon came to Valletta.
But this was by no means the end of the journey. During the Great Siege of 1565, which ended with the victory of the Knights “a pure white dove was seen to rest on the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Philermos; it stayed there for hours; hence the people were given a sign that they would soon be freed from the siege”. Here it stayed for more than two centuries, enhanced with jewels.
In 1798 General Bonaparte occupied the island of Malta. He forces the Knights to abandon the island and ordered that all churches and palaces to be stripped of everything valuable, including the rich ornaments of Our Lady of Philermos. However, the icon was saved by the Grand Master Fra’ Ferdinand von Hompesch, along with two other reliquaries. It then arrived in Trieste, staying just a year. In 1799 it was consigned to Tsar Paul I, the Order’s new Grand Master. The pilgrimages however continued.
The icon was transported to the Imperial Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, where it remained until 1917. When the Bolshevik revolution exploded, in 1917, the Icon, along with other reliquaries, arrived at the Kremlin in Moscow. It didn’t stay there long, travelling initially to Estonia, and then to Copenhagen, where it was given to Maria Feodorovna, the mother of the Tsar, who had taken refuge in Denmark and who, in 1928, shortly before her death, entrusted it to her daughters. They consigned it to the Bishops of the Russian-Orthodox Church outside of Russia. For safekeeping, the Bishops kept it in Berlin first of all, and then gave it to King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, who took it to Belgrade, to the Royal Palace of Dedinje. During the German bombings of 1941, it was to mysteriously disappear from this location.
During the World War ll it was hidden in the National Museum of Art of Montenegro in Cetinje. The Grand Masters of the Order of Malta never stopped seeking the icon. Finally, in 2007, after numerous exchange of letters and diplomacy involved, the icon has been returned and placed again in Co-Cathedral. 🙂 It is resting there with the Grand Masters that are waiting for their resurrection.
Speaking of religion in Malta: Malta has three patron saints: St Paul, St Publius and St Agatha. However, both the feast of the Assumption of Mary (15 August) and the feast of Our Lady of Victories (8 September) are also widely celebrated as they commemorate important dates in the Maltese history.
Moving forward and wandering the city architecture, the The Maltese Baroque is the form of Baroque architecture that developed in Malta during the 17th and 18th centuries, when the islands were under the summit of the rule of the Order of St. John. One an not miss the Italian influence. Even Caravaggio placed himself here, became the Templar and found new inspiration for his work.
Talking about refreshments, this is the Maltese beer. Nice, soft and refreshing when most needed. 🙂
This time, I have to say, I have explored both the Upper Barrakka Gardens and the Lower Barrakka Gardens – the public gardens in Valletta, that offer a panoramic view of the Grand Harbour. And yes, it is the place of Game of Thrones filming and no – I never watched a single episode.
Time to eat! 🙂 Having maltese wine is inevitable. combining with Mediterranean sea food and of course – the rabbit!
This third time I couldn’t but notice but balkanised menus. Dear Malta, I understand your shortage in workforce and I respect people’s right to seek for better life. But please, I do not wish to eat balkan meal in the middle of Mediterranean. I do not want to hear balkan folk music when I go out. And defo I do not want to drink balkan schnaps – I have these when I get home. Sometimes even better at my mama’s place.
The very next days were about exploring the inner side f the island. This time, I visited Mdina. It is a fortified city which served as the island’s capital from antiquity to the medieval period. People of Valletta often hide there during the Ottoman or Arab’s attacks, or during the fire and earthquakes. The city is still confined within its walls, and has a population of just under 300 people.
Mdina remained the centre of the Maltese nobility and religious authorities (and property continues to largely be passed down from families and from generation to generation), but it never regained its pre-1530 importance, giving rise to the popular nickname the “Silent City” by both locals and visitors.
From there, the view on the island is 360 degree and totally understandable why it was first defence settled there. Until french Templar John I of Valletta founded the Valletta city. Apparently, he believed in different type of defence.
Inevitable to visit is the city of Mosta as well. The most prominent building in Mosta is the Rotunda, a large basilica built by its parishioners’ volunteer labour. It features one of the world’s largest unsupported domes, and displays a replica of the World War II bombshell that famously crashed through the dome but did not detonate upon impact.
Now, the supper funny part of this visit! 🙂 Popeye Village, also known as Sweethaven Village, is a purpose-built film set village that has been converted into a small attraction fun park, consisting of a collection of rustic and ramshackle wooden buildings. The actor that empersoned famous Popeye was Robin Williams. Nowadays is an attraction for children with playgrounds. You can visit the houses from the inside and meet Popeye, Olive and Bluto.
Marsaxlokk is a small, traditional fishing village in the South Eastern Region of Malta. It has a harbour, and is a tourist attraction known for its views, fishermen and history. Marsaxlokk was used as a port by Phoenicians, Carthaginians and also has the remains of a Roman-era harbour. Traditional luzzi and other larger and more modern vessels line the sheltered inner harbour. The village is also popular among locals and tourists alike for its walks around the coast and harbour, its restaurants, as well as for its swimming zones.
Hopping on the bus, super quickly to save the daylight, I have finally entered Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra – Megalithic Temples of Malta built during three distinct periods approximately between 3600 BC and 2500 BC – this means they are older than Stonehenge. Archaeologists believe that these megalithic complexes are the result of local innovations in a process of cultural evolution. The site itself does not explain much so the visit to National Museum of Archeology is a must.
How does visiting the home of Maltese royalty sound? The Casa Rocca Piccola is a living museum dating back to the 16th century. It is a home of the noble Maltese family de Piro, situated in Valletta. You can explore first two floors only, because the family actually lives on the third floor that has been added in later ages. You can visit the garden and say hi to the loud parrot and go down to the basement which served as the war shelter.
To end the trip I leave you the sunset from the Golden Bay in north east side of Malta island and the view from plane on my way back to Brussels. A true romance 🙂