The navel of the Mediterranean
Reading time 7 min
Try to recall all the conquerors who have been devastating the Mediterranean over the last few years: Turks, English, Greeks, Tatars (no, they do not belong here), Russians (they even less). Hm, amnesia? Did you have a weak rating from history? Then call the classroom that has had the best rating and who, later in your city, became the most wanted “call the Joker” to help in a quiz – Who wants to be a Millionaire?
The nerd will jokingly list the French, Byzantines, Carthaginians, Normans, Goths, Vandals, Anjouan’s, Aragonese, Aglabids, Fatimids, Hohenstaufens, Mussolinians (this is not a dynasty but a caricature of a dictatorship), and some more!
Well, they were all to Malta! They won and then ruled it, some for only a few decades and some for several centuries. Although according to the millennial principle, the winner writes the history, each new government has made every effort to crush and turn to dust and ashes even the most miniature traces of everything that its predecessors left behind Malta exudes the past at every turn.
The quarter called Paceville, takes a nap throughout the day, only to turn into a craziness called Maltese nightlife in the evening. There is a center of nightlife.
Look at the vibrant buses. In Malta, each bus is unique, unlike the unified city buses in other cities, that only the advertisements of multinational companies differ from each other. The buses are private, so the owners competing over who will make the richer front chrome grid or decorate the interior more beautiful. So the passenger in such a vehicle feels unique. Take a yellow bus as we did, absorb the past, along the shores of the two bays surrounding the peninsula on which the old town core is. And apply the wise maxim which today we often forget – The journey is the goal!
Several small towns are connected to the miniature megapolis. La Valletta, Sliema, St. Julians – today look like the city neighborhoods, though each is very different. Sliema, a former peaceful fishing village, is full of modern hotels, restaurants, and shops. It is also a residential quarter. The quarter called Paceville, on the contrary, takes a nap throughout the day, only to turn into a craziness called Maltese nightlife in the evening. There is a center of nightlife. Everything is teeming with cafes, bars, and disco clubs. Almost all the nightlife of Malta is happening in these few streets.
This kind of ghettoization is not necessarily a lousy solution for several practical reasons. It is easier for the police to keep the situation under control, unbearable noise does not spread throughout the island up to the early morning hours, and public transport is so perfectly organized throughout the night that both locals and tourists can destroy themselves with alcohol without fear. The bus or possibly taxi will bring them to their home door or a hotel without any incidental damage. Is it a civilization? Right?
We survived Paceville night (which irony, the wildest part of the city in the name contains the Italian word Pace – eng. peace), and after improvised anti-hangover therapy and intense rehydration, we move back into the past, which is impossible to avoid in Malta anyway.
We chose Mdina, the former capital. In the Middle Ages, we enter through the stone bridge and the monumental stone gate (cars except for emergencies and weddings there do not have access). Do not the name of the current Mayor of Mdina sound like some time ago? The gentleman is called Peter Dei Conti Sant Manduca! At the time of the Roman Empire, while Malta was the Roman municipium, the Roman governor gave this strategically important point of the island to build its thumb. However, most buildings within the wall originate from the rein period of Fatimids and Normans, from the 8th and 9th centuries. The Baroque Cathedral of St. Paul in the main town square looks so impressive that the data on the number of inhabitants of Mdina sounds almost unbelievable. Today, there are about 230 people in Mdina.
Speaking of St. Paul, legend says that he brought Christianity here when his ship, stranded on the coast of the Maltese archipelago in 70 years. It sustained and continues to this day despite the Muslim conquest and reign.
We are leaving the Silent City, as they call this jewel of medieval architecture, which was our only continental destination in Malta. We head to the south of the island. We are back on the shore, this time southern. Bizarre (at least for our ears) names of some towns in Malta – Mtarfa, Mgarr, Mqabba, or Ghaxaq, for example – are still one proof of how many different cultures have intertwined. Thus, the picturesque fishing port full of vessels with incredibly vibrant colors is called Marsaxlokk. The scene that greeted us was an Eldorado for any novice photographer and a great challenge for those of us who know little about photography beforehand.
The statistical likelihood that you will meet the blue sky is high. The number of hours of sunshine in Malta is 2,961 per year. By the way, the lowest ever officially registered temperature in Malta is, imagine, +1.2 degrees Celsius. If you are not, like the author of these lines, locally patriotic so attached to the taste of Adriatic fish (without competition the sweetest in the world!) that all other fish of this world seem tasteless, then in this port of complicated name, in one of the picturesque tavern on the coast, you can eat a variety of seafood for little money.
Wandering through Malta, we also met a real Maltese knight. You would never distinguish him from some successful businessman in his prime. It is Mr. Tonio Portughese, a prominent Maltese businessman and official. Nowadays, a knight is an honorary title, unlike those ancient times when Maltese knights became the heroes of one of the most famous sieges in history. Expelled from Rhodes some 40 years earlier, they managed, hand in hand with the Maltese, to withstand the great Ottoman siege of 1565. For their reigns, the Knight of Portughese tells us, Malta is experiencing growth in every sense. Valletta became the capital, and it was only after two centuries that Napoleon took away their power in its own peculiar, perfidious way. Namely, on his expedition to Egypt, he asked the Maltese to receive his navy in their safe harbor and supply it with the necessary supplies. After the fleet sailed in, he turned his weapon towards his hospitable hosts and attacked and conquered the island. In just a few days, his soldiers devastated it.
For the last two centuries, more precisely until independence in 1964, Malta has been part of the British Empire. It remained a member of the Commonwealth until 1980 and has been an independent state ever since. In 2004, Malta became a member of the European Union, and in 2008 the national currency was replaced by the euro. The second most famous Maltese brand is the Maltese Cross, a symbol of nobility, loyalty, chivalry, courage, protection of the weak, and mercy towards friends and enemies.
You must visit
- Valetta – the capital of Malta
- Sliema – the Maltese hub for delicious food and fantastic shopping
- St. Julians – the nightlife scene
- Gozo Island – traditional Malta
- Mdina – “Silent City” (experience of medieval Malta)
- Comino – the famous Blue Lagoon
- Mellieha – Malta’s largest beach
- Marsaxlokk – known for the Sunday fish market and colorful Luzzus (decorated painted boats)
- The Hypogeum – a mysterious underground necropolis
- Popeye Village – the original film set of the Popeye
The Knights of the Maltese Cross originated in Jerusalem in 1080 as knights’ paramedics who protect and heal pilgrims. During their migrations throughout history, they also became the first firefighters when the Saracens were using a terrible new weapon – fire.
They arrived in Malta by the grace of the Spanish King Charles V, who ceded the island to them in the 16th century, after being expelled from the Holy Land and operating for some time on Rhodes. They enrich it with culture and art. Even today, the Maltese cross is a symbol of firefighters around the world.
Mr. Portughese also spoke to us a few sentences in the exotic Maltese language, which, in addition to English, is the official language in Malta. It was enough to recognize in their language the influence of nearby Africa or the Arabic language. And he tells us that even today in Malta, there is an unofficial division into Anglophiles and Italianophiles (the latter are the most on the nearby picturesque island of Gozo) and that each of these two communities is working very hard to preserve their cultural identity.
However, both of them unconditionally agree on one thing – at temperatures above 30 degrees, Italian ice cream is the best!
TEXT & PHOTO – Voljen Grbac