Today’s guest post – 7 Facts About Malta You Probably Didn’t Know is from Cal Bailey who runs the blog MountainLeon.com.
For most people, ‘Malta’ means nothing but a vague and blurry scrap of land drifting somewhere in the Mediterranean. The truth is that this island country slips under the radar for the overwhelming majority of tourists; even those who consider thoughts of a visit often abandon the idea due to simple ignorance, and the assumption that the place is both inaccessible and expensive.
What can a tiny lump of land not 30 km across possibly hope to offer, that cannot be find elsewhere in the whole of Europe? Can it truly be worth ferrying or flying all that way into the middle of nowhere, especially when there’s plenty of stunning coastal travel to be done on the European mainland?
Questions like these have deterred far too many from exploring this country, and–if this pattern persists then that means it will continue to be a gem of undiscovered brilliance for many years to come.
Because despite its incredibly small size and its essentially uniform climate (there’s not a single patch of forest on the entire landmass, for example) the truth is that Malta is so much more than just another beautiful island getaway with beautiful beaches and 300 days of sunshine a year.
Though it does have those things, it also has a history, a beauty, and a living breathing culture which are completely unknown to most, and which are like those of absolutely no other place on earth . . . .
Enjoy these 7 facts about Malta.
Not An Island!
It turns out Malta is not technically an island country, but rather an archipelago made up of seven smaller islands. The two largest, Malta and Gozo, are inhabited. The third largest island is known as Comino, and features only the handful of locals required to maintain its luxury resort, which is the sole mark of permanent civilization on the island.
An Incredibly Mixed and therefore Colorful History
One of the most notable things about Malta is the unparalleled richness of its history. As in many Mediterranean regions, ancient historical ruins can still be found here which date from well before the Greco-Roman times. The stone structures in Malta (known as the Megalithic Monuments) are the oldest free-standing stone structures in the world, surpassing even the Egyptian Pyramids (‘free standing’ excludes caves and all such structures which rely upon external support). Studies indicate that civilization has been present here since at least around 5000 BC.
During its extensive inhabited history, Malta has fallen under the rule of at least eleven different empires (opinions vary), all of which have left their mark upon this tiny lump of stone and grass.
Aside from being fascinating in and of itself, this mingling of epochs and peoples has led to the evolution of several key cultural components which are like nowhere else in the world, including:
The world over people are arguing about countless culinary icons, and where exactly each one originated. Every country wants to feel that it has contributed to the global cuisine, and Mediterranean countries are no exception (rather they are more pronounced in this than most!).
Hummus; falafel; pizza; tzatziki; paella; basbousa; a thousand variations of pasta . . . . the Mediterranean countries have birthed countless unparalleled dishes which are now famous worldwide; and each loves to argue about where each exact specialty truly comes from.
For Maltese cuisine however, the truth is unequivocal. There are dishes in Malta which can be found nowhere else in the world, and they are notoriously delicious. Traditionally, Maltese cuisine is fairly ‘rustic,’ and revolves around the country’s historical resources. This usually incorporates such typical Mediterranean elements as olives, tomatoes, garlic, sheep, goat, fish, and so on; but in Malta there is an unusual spin put on most things. Some favorites include:
- Lampuki Pie: Fish pie, quite scrumptious despite the somewhat dubious name.
- Kapunata (debatably Sicilian): Rather like a Maltese ratatouille, made from fried eggplant, celery, and tomato seasoned with capers, peppers, and a sweetish sour sauce.
- Gbejniet: Sheep or goat’s cheese and eaten alongside many traditional meals.
- Pastizzi: Possibly the staple of Malta, this is a flaky pastry stuffed with ricotta or mushed-up peas.
- FISH! All sorts of fish, often used in a unique array of soups or sauces or stews.
- Wine: Aside from growing many of the more internationally famous varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Malta produces a couple indigenous grapes known as Gellewza and Ghirghentina, both well regarded in their own right.
While Maltese is the national language, both English and Maltese are considered official and English is spoken well by the vast majority of the population, making it incredibly easy to travel the country. Natives learn a third language in school, most commonly Italian.
The Maltese language itself is also fascinating (as you might have guessed from those oddly mixed food names). The only semitic language recognized as a language of the European Union, Maltese is actually so heavily influenced by Arabic that it can be largely understood by native speakers, though the reciprocal is not true (Maltese typically find Arabic too fast to understand). Due to its central location in the Mediterranean, it also has a healthy sprinkling of words descending from––or else directly adapted from––Romance languages such as Italian, Sicilian, English, and French. It is the only semitic language expressed through Latin characters in its written form.
Walled Cities of Malta –Valletta and Mdina
Malta’s capital Velletta is arguably one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, and its oldest planned city as well, originally envisioned and diagrammed as far back as the 1500’s. The city is extremely rich in Baroque architecture, and the ancient medieval walls can still be appreciated today (especially gorgeous if seen from a distance, highlighted by the backdrop of a setting Mediterranean sun).
Mdina is a walled medieval town perched atop a hill in the center of the primary island, and offers an incredible view of the entire area surrounding. It is often known as the ‘Silent City’ due to the fact that no motorized vehicles are permitted except for a limited number of its 250 residents. One of its most renowned sites is St. Paul’s Cathedral, where it is said the saint convinced the Maltese Publius of Christianity, and thus sparked a chain of events which led to Malta becoming the first Christian nation of the west.
Movies Filmed in Malta
The relative quiet and untouched splendor of the Maltan coastline makes it a perfect location for filming any scene which needs a convincingly soulful Mediterranean setting. Even avid moviegoers are often surprised to learn that dozens and dozens of blockbusters and TV shows have filmed at the country’s idyllic locations. This even includes such monumental productions as:
- Game of Thrones
- World War Z
- Captain Philips
It’s highly unlikely that travelers will be able to jump in on an actual film set; but the coastline is still just as stunning and untouched as ever, and is always a worthwhile visit all on its own.
Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
Dating from around 3000 BC, the Hypogeum is a subterranean necropolis not quite as old as the venerated megaliths but incredibly historical nonetheless. Covering around 500 square metres, the labyrinth of corridors and chambers is utterly silent and deeply stirring to explore. It is thought to have housed almost 7000 bodies in ancient times. It is located in Paola, very near to Valletta. Its walls were previously damaged by carbon dioxide due to overcrowding of tourists, and nowadays only a limited number of entrants are allowed at a time so be sure to book in advance!
About The Author: Cal Bailey runs MountainLeon.com – a travel blog he started after two years traveling around the world. If you want to learn more about life on the road or tips for travelling, you can read his latest post about choosing the right sleeping bag.