Malta lies in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, halfway between Europe’s mainland and North Africa. Valletta is the capital city.
The Maltese archipelago consists of 6 islands with a total area of only 216 sq km. Malta and Gozo are the two largest islands and are densely populated with just over 400,000 inhabitants. Comino is small and sparsely populated, while Cominotto, Filfla, and St.Paul’s Islands have no inhabitants.
The Maltese Islands may be small, but still have lots to offer visitors! The country’s strategic position between Europe and Africa made it a valuable possession for the great powers that dominated Europe in ancient times, and so it has a rich and varied history. It was occupied by the Phoenicians, the Aragonese, the Romans, the Arabs, the Knights, the French and the British. All these left their mark on the islands, ranging from Catacombs, Roman Villas and Baths, Fortifications and Towers, Cathedrals and Churches.
One of the most important milestones in the history of Malta is definitely the rule by the Order of the Knights of St. John. In 1530, the Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam was given the Maltese Islands for his order by King Charles V in exchange of a single Maltese falcon per year. The Knights used the city of Birgu (Vittoriosa) as their naval base. They fortified the towers that already existed in Malta and built various others.
Most of these towers and fortifications are still standing. The Knights led Malta through one of the most important battles that Malta ever experienced, that of the Great Siege of 1565 against the Ottoman Empire. In 1566, after this hard earned victory, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette decided to build a new fortified city. This gave birth to the present capital city of Malta, Valletta.
Valletta was built on the Xiberras peninsula overlooking two main harbours in Malta, the Grand Harbour and the Marsamxett Harbour. Back in 1830, the city was described as "a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen". The whole city was added to Unesco’s World Heritage List in 1980. It boasts fine baroque architecture, most of which dates back to the 16th century. One of the most important buildings is St. John’s Co-Cathedral with interior paintings by Mattia Preti. One can also view the famous painting by Caravaggio ‘The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” in the Co-Cathedral's Oratory. The reign of the Knights of the Order of St. John came to an end when Napoleon took Malta on his way to Egypt in 1798.
Malta Out And About
Malta is a place for diversity. You could spend a day walking around the narrow winding streets of the medieval city Mdina, and then enjoy the nightlife that Sliema, St.Julians and Bugibba offer. Alternatively you could visit one of the prehistoric temples like the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum and Hagar Qim, both of which are included in the Unesco World Heritage list, and then enjoy some hours of sunshine on the golden beaches around the island. Getting around Malta is relatively easy and cheap. Crossing the main island, Malta, by car from North to South is the longest possible journey one can take – and this only takes around 1 hour by car! Driving in Malta is on the left hand side of the road, like the United Kingdom.
Those visitors who prefer not to rent a car can use the network of public buses which is cheap and efficient. The main terminus is in Valletta, and in addition there are direct buses to the most popular towns, beaches and cities from Sliema, Bugibba, Mosta, Rabat, Cirkewwa and Marsaxlokk.
If you are interested in visiting the sister islands of Gozo or Comino, you can do so by taking a short ferry ride. The ferry to Gozo leaves regularly from Cirkewwa and takes around 20 minutes to cross over to Mgarr in Gozo. From Cirkewwa you can also take a small boat that leaves for Comino.
Malta gained its independence in 1964 and joined the European Union in May 2004. In January 2008 the Euro currency was adopted to replace the Maltese Lira. Presently most Maltese shops have a dual price display policy (Maltese Lira and Euro). Shopping hours are usually from 9:30am till 12:30am and from 4:30pm till 7:00pm from Monday to Saturday.
The national language is Maltese, a language of Semitic origin with a romantic influence. However the majority of the population can speak good English. Italian, French and German are also spoken in most hotels. Malta enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers, so it is always a good time of year to visit Malta!
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