Malta is a small, island country in the Mediterranean Sea that lies south of the island of Sicily, Italy.
Malta is an archipelago, but only the three largest islands of Malta, Gozo (Ghawdex) and Kemmuna (Comino) are inhabited.
The terrain is mostly low with the highest point, Ta’ Dmejrek (near Dingli), being only 253m above sea level. It’s rocky, flat to dissected plains, with a coastline that has many coastal cliffs and numerous bays that provide good harbours.
Although small, Malta has a rich history, with evidence for habitation going back to the Neolithic era (4th millennium BC). The country has some of the world’s most ancient standing buildings (the Neolithic temples), and its strategic location and good harbours in the middle of the Mediterranean have attracted Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Crusaders, the French and finally the British, with the colonial period lasting until 1964.
The Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers and Knights of Malta, took over sovereign control of Malta in 1530, and by 1533 the Order had built a hospital at Birgu (one of the Three Cities) to care for the sick. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, mounted a great siege of Malta with a fleet of 180 ships and a landing force of 30,000 men. In response the Order, with only 8,000 defenders, drove the Ottoman Turks away after a hard siege of several months. After this siege, the Order founded the city of Valletta on a peninsula, and fortified it with massive stone walls, which even withstood heavy bombing during the Second World War. By 1575 the Order had built a new large hospital known as the Grand Hospital or Sacred Infirmary in order to continue with its primary mission of caring for the sick.
In 1798, the French under Napoleon took the island on 12 June, without resistance, when the Grand Master of the Order capitulated after deciding that the island could not be defended against the opposing French naval force. French rule lasted a little over 2 years, until they surrendered to the British Royal Navy, under Admiral Nelson’s command, in September 1800.
Great Britain formally acquired possession of Malta in 1814. The island staunchly supported the UK through both World Wars.
The island was awarded the George Cross for its heroic resistance during the Second World War. An image of the cross is displayed on the flag.
- Valletta — the capital, named for Jean Parisot de la Valette, a French nobleman who was Grand Master of the Order of St. John and leader of the defenders during the Turkish siege of Malta in 1565. Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site for the massive number of historical buildings found in a tiny space.
- Cottonera (Three Cities) — The name used when referring to the three historic and ancient cities of Birgu (aka Vittoriosa), Isla (aka Senglea) and Bormla (aka Cospicua), three towns conglomerated by 16th century fortifications called the Cottonera lines. This is the area where the Great Siege was fought and won!
- Marsaxlokk — fishing village south of the island. A big market is held every Sunday. Pronunced ‘mar-sah-schlok’.
- Mdina — Malta’s well-preserved quiet old capital (pronounced ‘im-dina’). Called the Silent City, Mdina sits in the center of the main island Malta and overs amazing views across the plans to the coast line.
- Mgarr — A typical rural village, northwest of Malta (pronounced ‘im-jarr’).
- Rabat — hosts numerous historical attractions such as St. Paul’s catacombs and the Domus Romana (previously known as Roman Villa)
- St. Julian’s — Includes the area North of Valletta and part of St. Julian’s Bay crosses into Sliema. A great place to find tour boats.
- Sliema — shopping area just north of Valletta. Sliema offers a wonderful sea side walking area that is popular to joggers. It is popular for it’s rock beach that is a great walking place, it is solid rock, not made of rocks.
- Victoria — the capital city of Gozo.
- Hagar Qim and Mnajdra – Two very beautiful stone age temples set on the cliffside of south west Malta. Their majesty is now protected by tents and a 2 storey new building nearby. Built around 3600 BC these structures are older than the pyramids.
- Mellieħa – A locality in Malta surrounded by the largest and some of the most wonderful sandy beaches on the Islands. Two miles from Mellieħa lies the Popeye Village which was built as a filming set for the 1980 film “Popeye”.
- Golden Bay – One of Malta’s most beautiful sandy beaches, on the northwest coast of the island.
- Għajn Tuffieha – “Long Steps Bay”, just behind Golden Bay. Just as beautiful, but less crowded during the high season.
- Blue Grotto – A series of seven caves and inlets on the southern side of Malta famous for deep blue waters and spectacular natural rock formations. The Blue Grotto may be accessed by small traditional boats, skippered by cheerful Maltese guides, which leave from a well-signposted pier just off the main road along the south coast. The boat ride costs €8 per person.
- Clapham Junction – An area of western central Malta (not far from Buskett woods) where deep ruts in the bedrock appear to have been formed in the remote past by wagons or carts. Some of these ruts cross rock-cut Punic tombs, proving that the ruts existed before the tombs. In the vicinity there are large caves which used to be inhabited by troglodytes.
- Saint Thomas Bay – A quaint inlet, 1km beyond Marsaskala, with a sloping, built up area on one side, and barren Munxar white cliffs on the other. There are 2 small sandy beaches ideal for swimming in summer. Beneath Munxar there is now a ‘window’ at the cliff side. Beyond Munxar Point there are amazing, very high, white cliffs, with 2 large and deep caves in them. Many amateur fishermen own boathouses in the vicinity and go fishing whenever the sea is calm.
- Saint Peter’s Pool – A natural inlet located south of Malta, Delimara area. It looks like a natural swimming pool carved into the rocks.
- Mosta Dome – the third largest dome in Europe and the ninth largest dome in the world. On 9 April 1942, a bomb struck the church whilst a religious ceremony was taking place with more than 300 people attending. Luckily the bomb didn’t explode.