Roughly 50 miles (70 km) South of Sicily, is the island of Malta, one of the most important islands in all of world history; and one of the most fascinating places on the planet to visit.

With a warm, subtropical climate this quite small set of islands (Malta, Gozo, and Comino) is only 122 sq. miles (316 sq. km) in area.

First Some Curiosities

– Malta is about one quarter of the way between Sicily and Arab North Africa

– Malta has two official languages: England and Maltese. Roughly 88% of the population can speak English.

– The other official language, Maltese, is spoken by 98% of the population

History

Malta has been settled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, and Byzantines. Later on it was invaded by Arabs, only to be liberated after that by the Normans from Sicily – the Normans were actually Vikings who settled in France, and later conquered other areas of Europe. It is believed that a large part of the Muslims were forced to convert to Catholicism. In 1249, the remaining professing Muslims were expelled from Malta.

Barcelona took over for approximately 127 years. Malta then passed to Aragon (Northeast Spain) to be followed by the Knights of Malta, a military religious order. For a brief while it passed under French rule, when Napoleon conquered Malta. It then came under the British. Today, it is independent and a member of the European Union.

Some of the fiercest battles of the Crusades, and later against invading Turks, were fought on Malta. There is quite a history to Malta; all of which can be seen, often within walking distance.

Though small, these islands were often at the center of European history, and the island is full of battle and historical sites. In 1565, a few thousand soldiers and a few hundred civilians defeated a siege by the mighty Islamic Ottoman Empire (Click Here), becoming heroes to all of Christian Europe. During World War II, Malta withstood a massive German and Italian siege (Click Here).

Language

The native language of Malta is actually related to Arabic, though as noted, 88% of the population speaks English. Maltese is the only country in the European Union to speak a Semitic language. However, even that is not the whole story. Maltese, due to its proximity to Italy, and a history of Italian immigration, has a massive amount of Italian in its vocabulary. Unless you are a linguist, none of this will matter. Speak English, and you will get alone well.

Religion

The Maltese are almost all Roman Catholic, though there is one Jewish synagogue, one mosque, and a few Protestant churches, including St. Paul’s Anglican/Episcopalian Cathedral.

Geography

South of Sicily, and in the middle of the Mediterranean, Malta was a naval base that everyone (Arabs, French, British, etc.) sought to control; hence all the battles for Malta. It has an incredibly warm climate, and some nice beaches, though most of the coast is rocky.

Government

Malta is a West European democracy. No need to worry.

Best Time to Visit

The best time is probably spring (April, May, and June). May starts the swimming season. In July, and August, Malta gets hot, and is flooded with Euro-tourists. However, early fall is also good. Malta is pleasant all year around; but the cooler months are rainier.

Sights to See

1) St Paul’s Cathedral – built where Saint Paul supposedly met the Roman governor, after Paul was shipwrecked on Malta.

2) Popeye Village – The movie Popeye (1980) was shot in Malta. The fictional cartoon village of Sweethaven was built in Malta, on the coast, and today it is now a tourist attraction and amusement park.

3) The capital city of Valleta, which is compact, yet amazing. It has a spectacular view from a distance. One could spend days walking through its history laden streets.

4) Hal Saflieni Hypogeum – an ancient archeological site.

The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a complex made up of interconnecting rock-cut chambers set on three distinct levels. Earliest remains at the site date back to about 4000BC, and the complex was used over a span of many centuries, up to c. 2500 BC. – Heritage Malta

5) Tarxien Temples – an ancient cult site

6) The beaches – too many to list- they are small, but impressive

7) St John’s Co-Cathedral – not only a cathedral, but a masterpiece of Baroque art.

Malta is full of magnificent ancient sites, and wonderful medieval cities, too many to list, but this video can give you a clue.

For its wonderful weather, small size, and magnificent history, Malta cannot be beat. On top of that Malta is relatively inexpensive. With proper planning, Malta can make a gem of a trip.