Dec 5, 2016

Malta: Europe's Best Kept Secret

Many people had suggested we visit Malta. I don’t know what took
so long. I think Malta is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.  The archipelago of Malta is located in the Mediterranean between the Italian island of Sicily and Africa. Malta is blessed with a Mediterranean climate. English and Maltese are the official languages. The main island is 17 miles long and nine miles wide there are an amazing number of historical sites dating back to Neolithic times.  The islands are home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites including the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples, and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. 

Even though more bombs fell on Malta during WW II than any other place the reconstruction maintained the island’s architectural integrity.  I loved the colorful balconies. Malta has an unspoiled look; John said it looks Biblical. It has been the setting for many movies including “Game of Thrones,” “By the Sea,” and “Popeye.” The set of “Popeye” is now a theme park.

According to UNESCO, Valletta, the walled capital of Malta, is

"one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world." It was established in the 1500s by the Knights of St. John, a Roman Catholic order. The interior of St. John’s Co-Cathedral is a masterpiece of Baroque art with dazzling gilded pillars and elaborately painted ceilings. In the Oratory
is Caravaggio’s “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” painting, and the only one he signed.  Have you heard of the term “The stinking rich”? It is said that the term came from the practice of burying wealthy and influential people inside the churches and cathedrals. The term comes from lingering odor of rotting corpses. Interesting.

From the Upper Barrakka Gardens John and I had a panoramic
view of the world’s largest and deepest natural harbor and a view beyond the harbor to the three fortified cities of Birgu, Senglea, and Cospicu, best known as the Three Cities.  We were not on time for the Noon Day Gun, a reminder of when Malta was an English colony, Hong Kong still fires their Noon Day Gun. We did hear it when we were touring the Three Cities.

The Three Cities was a change from bustling Valletta. Visitors usually only see the Three Cities as it is pointed out on a bus tour. The area is claimed as the “cradle” of Maltese history. Is has been in use since the Phoenicians arrived in the 8th century BC – maybe even before. The palaces, churches, forts, and bastions are older than those in Valletta. It is the place where it is said they have the best fiestas. 

One of my favorite places was the historic house/museum Casa
Rocca Piccola. It is has been the home of the royal Piro family since the 16th Century.  The family still lives there. The current owner is the 9th Marquis de Piro. The Marquis was answering questions for visitors; his wife was taking tickets.  The house is an example of how the well-to-do lived and some still do. They
had their own chapel. Of special interest were the bomb shelters where the family sought safety during WW II. There were three shelters cut out of solid rock that could hold 100 people during the bombing raids with a private room for the family. 

As always there was a lot we wanted to do but just didn’t have the time. We love museums but, in reality, the whole island is a museum.