I had five pleasant days on the island of Malta this week. Our school participated in a theatre festival and I was one of the chaperones.
I didn’t realize how small the island of Malta is. It is one of the smallest countries in the world by area, and with 400,000 Maltese, it is the third most densely populated nation in the world. As with most places in the Mediterranean, it has stunning scenery and a long history. Malta particularly has such a strategic position historically, that many different people fought over the island for thousands of years. The Mediterranean is very narrow south of Sicily and north of Tunis (formerly Carthage) and Malta lies in the center of this strait. It was fought over by the Phoenicians, Arabs, Ottomans, English Knights, Napoleon, etc. all the way up to World War II. Malta received more bombs than most cities in World War II except for London and Berlin. All of these different people had an influence on the Maltese and it can be seen in their faces and their language and architecture.
We got to meet a lot of Maltese because we were hosted by the Verdala International School. The language is strange in that it is Semitic (Sicilian Arabic) but mixed with a bit of Italian and they use a Latin alphabet, with a few extra letters. It is really hard to understand and sounds very Arabic. I learned that Sa-ha means “to health” and it is the “cheers” greeting. Some Maltese look Italian and some look Arabic. They take pride in eating excellent food and having a hearty appetite and it showed with many having stocky or portly builds. The architecture was similar to Bahrain and the Gulf Region, and there were also many beautiful, old, palaces and buildings. There are no wilderness areas as the entire island is pretty much either urban or farmland. There are many walled cities and fortresses, and this reflects the many sieges that took place here. The most recent outsiders to rule the island, the British, left in 1964, but their influence is still seen. It reminded me of Cyprus in that respect.
It was the perfect time to be there for the spring wildflowers. In a few weeks, they will wither away and the hot, intense, summer sun will turn the island from green to brown. Everywhere one went, thousands of bushes, trees, and plants were in bloom. I did get a chance to do some sight seeing. The festival organizers took us to the “silent city” of Mdina, a walled fortress in the middle of the island. The narrow streets, high walls, and views to the Mediterranean were an impressive site. Malta, like, Poland, is very Catholic. 500 years ago, the Crusader Knights were sent to the island to defend it from the Ottomans. There were churches everywhere, and the tourist brochures say there are 365 of them on the island. We also saw a site of ruins that looked like a bigger Stone Henge. They were built 3,500 years ago and were located on the cliffs on the north side of the island. We went for a hike through the wildflower-filled cliffs and stopped for delicious fish lunch. On our final day we toured a small picturesque fishing village and walked around the magnificent harbor of Valletta. Absolutely breath-taking is the only way I can describe it. You can see for yourself with the photos.
We stayed the Marina Hotel, in the posh suburb of St. Julian’s. The school’s campus is close by and is an old British fort from the late 19th century. An unique setting for a school, with a large moat surrounding the school and gun turrets in the corners. Probably the coolest part of the old fort are the long tunnels under the fort. The British built 5 forts on the island during this time, and this particular fort, Pembrooke, was never used as a fort because military experts thought it was too exposed. It served as a barracks and supply storage for them. With the advent of modern warfare and the airplane, the fort was made quickly obsolete. The tunnels did come in handy in World War II, where British soldiers and others there took refuge in them. You can still see the names of the families painted on the walls to assign spaces for them. There were still some metal frames of the bunk beds attached to the walls and even graffiti of Hitler.
It is a really nice place to visit. The harbor in the capital city of Valletta is absolutely breathtaking. The narrow streets, limestone walls, the turquoise blue waters, and that Mediterranean sunshine combine for spectacular setting. I would like to thank Daphne and the other faculty members of the Verdala International School for being such fine hosts and showing us the best of Malta.