As a Maltese expat, having lived in multiple countries, it has become apparent over the years that Malta is not known to everyone.
Depending on where you are in the world, especially outside of Europe, the statement 'I'm from Malta' typically results in a common reaction: a look of confusion ('where?!'), followed by doubt that Malta is a real country, and questions and statements that are typically along the lines of 'oh you're Italian?!', 'do you speak Italian?' or simply, 'I never met anyone from Malta before!'.
To be fair, this is understandable. After all, Malta is one of the ten smallest countries in the world and is right in the middle of the two major continents of Europe and Africa, whose news naturally overshadows that of this tiny nation in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
However, Malta should not be overlooked. What it lacks in size, Malta makes up for in history, stunning scenery, and fun things to do. This article will set the scene for why it holds the influences it does, why Malta is worth visiting, and answer one of the most common questions of all, 'Where is Malta?'
Where Is Malta?
The Republic of Malta is a small independent country archipelago, or group of islands, in southern Europe's central Mediterranean Sea. It is just over 110 miles south of the Italian island of Sicily, 241 miles east of the Northern African country of Tunisia, and 283 miles north of Libya.
Malta has been independent since 1964, a European Union member state since 2004, and has used the Euro as its currency since 2008.
What Is the Geography of Malta?
The 27-mile-long Maltese archipelago comprises several islands, some barren and uninhabited. The three main islands of note are:
- Malta: by far the largest island, at approximately 17 miles long (28 km) and 9 miles (14.5km) wide, with a total land area of just under 100 square miles (246 square km). It is the most urbanized island and home to more than 90% of the population, as well as the capital of the Maltese Islands, Valletta, main shipping ports, and Malta international airport;
- Gozo (or Għawdex in Maltese): a distant second largest, at approximately 26 square miles, 9 miles long and 5 miles wide; Gozo is approximately the size of Manhattan Island in New York. The population of Gozo makes up less than 10% of the total population, while the island itself is located to the northwest of the mainland. Gozo is accessible by a regular ferry operating between the two islands; and
- Comino (or Kemuna in Maltese): the third largest island at 1.5 square miles, allegedly only having 3 or 4 permanent residents, and home to the famous Blue Lagoon. Comino is situated right between Malta and Gozo.
Other uninhabited smaller islands include Cominotto, Filfla, St Paul's Islands, and Manoel Island.
Interestingly, during the last Ice Age, when sea levels were drastically lower than today, Malta formed part of a land bridge connecting the African and European continents. Malta is, in fact, on the African tectonic plate.
With the highest point a modest 250 meters above sea level, the northern and eastern parts of the Maltese Islands are relatively low-lying, with generally rocky coasts and some sandy beaches. The rest of the islands and Malta's southern and western coasts tend to have high cliffs descending into deep water.
The islands are hilly and arid, with quite a small area of permanent arable land, no natural forests, and no permanent rivers or fresh bodies of water. Malta's topography is typically Mediterranean, with olive, palm, citrus, and eucalyptus trees widely present.
That said, Malta is highly urbanized, with up to 35% of the islands' land area being developed. In fact, in the post-war era and with a boom in population, the small towns around the harbor area have merged into a single large metro area with minimal natural greenery.
What Is the Climate in Malta?
Malta has a true Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. As Malta is a seabound nation, the ocean is omnipresent, and humidity is often as high as 100%.
This means that the highs and lows tend to feel worse than they are. Admittedly, traditionally built houses in Malta are not very well-insulated, causing a hot summer's day to feel like a sauna and a winter chill penetrating deep into your bones.
- Spring: Spring in Malta tends to last from the end of March until the end of May. The weather is ordinarily fair, with lows dipping to around 55°F and highs reaching 77°F, although it can be unpredictable and subject to frequent wind and rain.
Traditionally, the swimming season opens around Easter, and while the sea temperature may be warm relative to northern Europe, it is still pretty chilly. That said, Spring and Fall are the mezzo-temp times of the year, where the sun is often out, and temperatures can be pleasant without scorching. During this time, the islands are at their greenest and tend to be, in my opinion at least, the best time to visit.
- Summer: Summer is the most popular time to visit the island, and with the influx of tourists, Malta's population often grows by multiples. This peak season lasts from the end of June until late August / early September.
Summers tend to be hot and dry, with temperatures very often above 90°F with modest lows in the mid-70s. There are frequent heat waves when temperatures regularly exceed 105°F during the hottest parts of the day.
Rain is practically non-existent, although accumulated humidity in August can lead to stormy showers towards the end of the season, even though the fair temperatures remain well into year-end;
- Fall: lasting from September until December, Fall in Malta is characterized by two phases: the initial storm period following the hot summers, which sometimes brings in sandy rain from the Sahara, and the 'second summer,' when sea and air temperatures remain relatively high and comparable with spring, until December. While rain and wind do make an appearance, the weather is broadly temperate and a welcomed respite from the summer heat;
- Winter: lasting from December until March, winters are comparatively mild for Europe, with temperatures seldom dipping below 50°F.
Although there have been very rare bouts of snow, frequent winter storms (Majistral - 'northwesters' and Grigal - 'northeasters') bring torrential rain and hail, often flooding parts of the islands.
What Languages Are Spoken in Malta?
The official languages of Malta are Maltese and English. Maltese is the only national language.
60% of the Maltese language is based on Arabic, and it is the only Semitic language that is written in a Latin script.
Historically, Malta had been controlled by the Byzantine Empire. In 870 AD, the Arab conquest of parts of southern Europe brought Malta under the control of the Abbasid Caliphates. This lasted until the Norman conquest in 1090 AD.
The Maltese language is a descendant of the Siculo-Arabic spoken in the Emirate of Sicily during that time (numbers, sentence construction, and some grammar derives from Arabic), albeit with extensive influences of Italian, French, and English over the years. It is the language of the law courts in Malta and is widely used in official channels.
That said, owing to Malta's historical ties with the British Empire, significant dependence on international tourism, and its sizeable expatriate population, English is the lingua franca and an official language. It is the language of education at the University of Malta, with all tertiary courses taught in English, except Maltese.
A visitor would be hard-pressed to find someone who speaks no English at all, other than in the smallest of most insular villages.
It is essential to note the cultural importance of Italian in Malta. Culturally, Maltese people are close to southern Italian people. Many Maltese people claim descent from Italy and Sicily, and Italian was historically used as the language of the ruling classes, education, and legislation.
Owing to Malta's proximity to Italy and its cultural similarities, Malta receives many visitors from Italy for tourism, studies, or work. According to the 2022 census, approximately 20,000 Italians call Malta home and remain the largest foreign-born group in Malta. Italian products and television are widely available, and many Maltese words are borrowed from Italian.
Consequently, Italian is widely understood and spoken in Malta - in specific demographics of Maltese people, it is more widely spoken or understood than English.
What Is the Capital of Malta?
Valletta is Malta's capital city and has been since 1570.
Valletta is situated on Mount Scibberras (also referred to as Xebb ir-Ras), a peninsula separating Malta's two principal harbors of its northeastern shores, the Grand Harbor (il-Port il-Kbir) and Marsamxett Harbour.
It is a fortified, walled city surrounded on three sides by water-facing bastions and on its one landward side by a deep ditch.
It is relatively tiny, barely over 0.2 square miles, and is Europe's southernmost and smallest capital city. It is also located within 6 miles of Malta's international airport.
Valletta is a relatively 'young' settlement, with its construction starting in 1566 following the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, in which the Hospitaller Knights of St John successfully repelled an Ottoman invasion (more on that later). It is one of Europe's first planned settlements, as evidenced by its grid pattern streets.
Although Valletta has always been the seat of government in Malta as a sovereign state, historically, the capital was previously in the Grand Harbor town of Birgu (also known as Vittoriosa) between 1530 and 1570, and before that, in the walled city of Mdina.
As recently as 1979, Malta's capital heaved with 25,000 residents. Although today with a modest population of only 5,000 people, Valletta is a commercial, tourist, and transportation hub with many commercial offices and government departments.
For reference, the town of Sliema is the nation's commercial hub, whereas the most populated town is St Paul's Bay (approximately 32,000 owing to the cheap cost of housing).
A Brief History of Malta
Evidence shows that human inhabitation of Malta started as early as 6,000 BCE, with agricultural settlers mainly coming from nearby Sicily. During the Stone Age (Neolithic and Megalithic) and Bronze Age periods, several temples were built across Malta, suggesting that Malta had some kind of spiritual importance to the people of the time.
Many of these temples still exist, with Ġgantija ('the place of the giants') in Gozo being one of the oldest freestanding structures in the world, estimated to be between 5,000 and 7,000 years old.
A common feature of the temples is the large stones used to construct them and the altars' alignment to coincide with the winter and summer solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes.
Fast forward a few thousand years, in approximately 750 BC, Phoenicians from the Levant, a maritime trading people in modern-day Lebanon, settled in Malta. The name Malta is thought to come from Maleth, which in the Phoenician language of the time meant 'port' or 'safety'. Many Punic tombs still survive across Malta from this era.
Eventually, the Phoenician trading network across the Mediterranean fell under the control of the Carthaginians, descendants from those original Phoenicians in Carthage, modern-day Tunis.
In approximately 150 BCE, during the Punic Wars fought between Carthage and Rome, Malta came under Roman control. During this time, many temples were repurposed to serve Roman gods rather than the last stone age or Punic gods.
Malta then took on the name Melita (from the Greek word 'honey').
The earliest settlements in Malta, around modern-day Mdina and Rabat, still have evidence of Roman civilization, with the 'Roman Villa' and some ruined bathhouses in the vicinities.
One of Malta's claims to fame is the alleged shipwreck of St Paul, the apostle, on the island during a storm in 59AD on his way from Jerusalem to Rome to face trial, where he was eventually executed.
Allegedly converting the population to Christianity and ridding the snakes of the island from their venom, St Paul is still ubiquitous in Maltese culture, lending his name to churches, feasts, and locations across the islands.
Arab Conquest and Norman Settlement
Following the decline of the Roman empire, Malta eventually fell under Byzantine influence and carried on in relative anonymity for several centuries.
Following the birth of Islam in Arabia, parts of the Levant and North Africa eventually came under the control of the Abbasid Caliphate, which eventually conquered large parts of Spain, and parts of Southern Italy, including Sicily and Malta, in 870 AD.
Records during this time are limited, as it is thought that Malta went through a period of depopulation between 800 AD and 1200 AD.
Although only brief, the impact of the Arab conquest is still tangible today, impacting language, place names, and architecture. Many Maltese surnames still have Arab origins. Some proponents believe that the Arabic influence on Malta was not direct but imported to Malta when it was re-settled by peoples from Southern Italy, who imported their dialects of Siculo-Arabic.
Malta was then conquered by Normans in 1080 AD and incorporated as a fief into the kingdom of Sicily. For some time, Arabs were allowed to coexist in Malta until they were expelled entirely in the mid-1200s.
Through a series of political realignments, the Kingdom of Sicily changed hands several times, eventually ending up in the hands of the Spanish Crown. Malta remained part of this structure until 1530 AD.
The Knights of Malta
Following the death of the Prophet Mohammed in or around 670 AD, Islam spread rapidly throughout the Middle East, claiming the regions of the Eastern Mediterranean, including Egypt and Jerusalem, from the Byzantine Empire.
It is important to note that maritime exploration was not that developed, and this region formed part of the trade routes at the end of the Silk Road, connecting Europe to Asia. While this was a religious and cultural conquest, much of European trade with Asia fell into Muslim control.
Christendom eventually waged a series of holy wars in the Levant, now known as the Crusades. It remains unclear whether it was a genuine desire to 'liberate' the Holy Lands from Muslim control to allow pilgrims to visit Jerusalem or to secure lucrative trade routes.
Several military church organizations arose during the Crusades, including the Knights of St John or the Knights Hospitallers in or around 1099 after the conquest of Jerusalem. These are distinct from the Knights Templars, which were a different organization.
The Knights of St John were established out of the eight languages of the order, which gave rise to the eight-pointed cross synonymous with the Knights Hospitallers.
The tide of the Crusades eventually turned. In 1291, Jerusalem was recaptured in the name of Islam, this time by the Seljuk Turks under the control of Saladin, which eventually became the Ottoman Empire.
The Order was expelled from Jerusalem and relocated briefly to Acre, in the Kingdom of Tripoli, before making their way to Cyprus.
At this point, the Knights Hospitallers had become a military organization adept in naval warfare. From their bases in the Mediterranean, they continued to harass the Ottomans as the empire spread and consumed all of the Byzantine Empire, parts of Eastern Europe, and eventually, Constantinople itself.
The European Kingdoms saw the rise of the Ottoman Empire as an existential threat to themselves and Christianity. As a result, they sought to repel the growing empire and thus provided extensive support to the Order of St John.
By 1309, the Knights of St John had retreated to the island of Rhodes and continued to cause a nuisance to the Ottomans. Ottoman rule spread across parts of Europe and North Africa, and the Knights were eventually expelled from Rhodes in 1522.
The European Kingdoms feared that if the seemingly unstoppable growth of the Ottoman Empire were not curtailed, they would eventually take over Europe. Indeed, the Ottomans would eventually get as far on land as Budapest and Vienna.
The Holy Roman Emperor at the time, Charles V, a Hapsburg, was the Archduke of Austria and King of Spain, and through the extensive and complicated web of marriages, had become the King of Sicily, which included Malta at the time. In 1530, Charles V gave Malta to the Knights Hospitallers.
The Knights of St John arrived in Malta in 1530 to find a barren, arid, and impoverished island with no permanent freshwater sources and few permanent settlements that pirates from the Barbary coast frequently attacked.
Malta's redeeming feature was its sheltered deep water natural ports. As they were a military order, the first order of business for the Knights was to relocate the then capital of Mdina, located on a hill in the center of Malta, to Birgu, a fortified settlement in the Grand Harbor.
The Great Seige
Over the coming years, the Knights continued reinforcing the island and repelling attacks. This was not without its challenges - in 1551, for example, the entire population of Gozo was carried away into slavery following an attack on the fortified Citadel at Rabat, Gozo's capital.
In May 1565, a force of some 200 Ottoman ships which, depending on the sources, could amount to some 40,000 troops, made landfall in Malta. The local defenders were heavily outnumbered, with a garrison of 6,000 knights, Italian and Spanish soldiers, and local Maltese militia.
The Ottomans laid siege to the Knights' fortifications around the Grand Harbor, attacking the fortified cities of Birgu and Isla and their respective fortresses, Fort St Angelo and Fort St Michael, as well as Fort St Elmo on Mount Xebb ir-Ras. The plan was to occupy the harbors to allow the Ottoman ships to shelter before the 'warring season,' typically between May and September, elapsed.
On the other hand, the Knights were promised a supporting force of soldiers to be sent from Sicily to help to repel the attackers and were told to sit tight.
Despite the Ottomans' superior numbers and firepower, the Knights held out for several weeks until Fort St Elmo eventually fell, much later than planned. This allowed the Knights to hold out long enough until, in early September, a relief force of some 8,000 soldiers from Sicily landed in Malta and successfully pushed back the Ottomans to their ships. The damage was immense, with the fortified cities crumbling and the population depleted, but the island was saved.
While the battle between the Christian kingdoms and the Ottoman Empire continued for several years after that, the Siege of Malta was the turning point that marked the halt of the growth of the empire and its eventual decline. In turn, the Knights had cemented their position in Malta and remained there until 1798.
During this time, they constructed the current capital city, Valletta, named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, the order's grandmaster who led Malta's defense during the Siege. They built extensive fortifications across the islands and introduced basic health care and institutions.
In 1789 the French Revolution took hold, and the French monarchy was overthrown. Many of the Knights of St John were of French extraction, some of which became sympathetic to anti-monarchist sentiments - and the Order of St John was the vestiges of a classist system and broadly supported by the monarchies of Europe.
In 1798, certain French knights who became discontent with the governance of Malta and sympathetic to the causes of one Napoleon Bonaparte invited the French army to take over Malta, and the knights were expelled after 268 years.
The British Colonial Era
The French occupation did not last long, and following an 18-month siege, the British forces under the control of Lord Nelson expelled the French soldiers, with Malta then falling under British control.
Malta was a de facto protectorate of the British Empire until 1814, when it was made official.
It is important to note that these were dire times - the fortress economy of the Knights left with them. Between droughts and plagues, the agricultural economy of the time was utterly destroyed. The local cotton industry could not compete with cotton grown in the New World or Africa.
While conditions did improve slightly in the early days of colonial rule, it was not until the British, looking for the fastest sea route to India, that things in Malta started to improve dramatically. The opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1867 saw Malta benefit hugely from British trade, as ships on the way to or from India would stop to unload goods. The military presence also gave a boost to local shipyards.
It's worth noting here that culturally and for centuries, Malta had always been aligned with Italy. This resulted in the Maltese ruling class pushing back against their colonial overlords, even though Malta fared relatively well up to and after the first world war.
During the second world war, however, Malta's strategic importance in the center of the Mediterranean Sea came to a head again. The forces of Italy and Germany sought to break the British supply chain by bombarding Malta.
Between 1940 and 1942, Malta became one of the most bombed places in history. Large swathes of the harbor area were leveled, thousands of people lost their lives, and Malta was days away from surrender when a re-supply mission, named Operation Pedestal, arrived in Malta on 15 August 1942. 15 August, the Feast of St Mary, earned the convoy the name 'Santa Marija Convoy,' which still holds significance today.
After the stranglehold of German bombing was broken, Allied powers launched an onward attack on Italy and, eventually, Germany to end the war. Malta was devastated, and the economy was in ruins, and many people left Malta for new lives in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.
Post-War and Independence
Though victorious, the writing was on the wall for the British Empire, which was forced to dissemble its vast empire.
As India gained independence in 1948, the Mediterranean shipping routes became less critical to the British. While discussions took place to integrate Malta into the Crown eventually, this never materialized.
Nationalist sentiment and the jilting of the Maltese leadership at the time caused the local political class to fight for and gain independence in 1964, but Malta remained a dominion. The British negotiated a 15-year lease of the military bases in Malta for the Mediterranean British fleet to remain in Malta until 1979.
Malta became a republic in 1974, and the fleet eventually left in 1979, drastically impacting the fortress economy. Up to half of the local population was employed by the colonial government and the local armed forces or indirectly servicing the local government, which caused the economy to take a significant hit.
Malta also became more insular, and with the growing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet sphere of influence, Malta started aligning itself with the socialist governments of North Korea, the Peoples' Republic of China, and Libya.
In 1987, Malta elected a new government that aligned Malta with the West and eventually started its process to join the European Union, which concluded in 2004. Malta adopted the Euro as its currency in 2008.
9 Reasons To Visit From a Local's Perspective
So what is there to see in Malta? Having lived in Malta for many years, here are some insider insights.
To dispel any misunderstandings or misperceptions upfront, I will set out a few things that you should not go to Malta for:
- Beaches: Malta has a limited coastline with few sandy beaches. Factor in over-tourism, package tourists, and the limited available space, going to a relaxing beach in Malta can be the equivalent of expecting to go on a date with Brad Pitt but meeting his cousin 'Arm Pitt' instead.
You could go to Spain and enjoy better-maintained and less crowded beaches at a more competitive rate. If you really want to see the best of Malta's waters or have a more luxurious beach experience, it would be to charter a yacht or go to a private beach club and escape the crowds.
- Cheap getaways: gone are the days when Malta could offer a cheap getaway. The fact is that Malta does not have the economies of scale nor the facilities to compete on price with an all-inclusive in Spain, Italy, or Turkey.
Malta has been the victim of its success in that prices and wages have risen sharply, and barring some extremely attractive off-season offers for flights and accommodation, Malta is just not that great value. That being said, off-season offers are the way to go if you can do so.
With that out of the way and setting the expectations, there are still beautiful things to do and see in Malta that are unique and fun that a local would enjoy.
Here Are 9 Things To Do and See in Malta:
Malta's capital city is a unique destination many travelers will appreciate. Valletta is a great day trip for sightseeing, offering some fantastic dining options and an entire history of a country at your fingertips, with museums, palaces, and even underground tunnels beneath the city.
It is also well connected to other parts of Malta, with the Three Cities accessible across the Grand Harbor. Gozo is also within reach, thanks to the recently introduced fast ferry service.
Located in Hal Saflieni, the Hypogeum is one of Malta's most remarkable megalithic temples because it is underground. Access to the temples is restricted due to strict humidity and carbon dioxide controls, so while tickets are not expensive, the limited availability makes it an exclusive experience.
3. Off-The-Beaten-Path Food Experiences
Malta has its share of fine dining experiences, but some of the most satisfying and refreshing can be in the quaintest places.
For example, enjoying:
- the ubiquitous 'hobż biż-żejt' in a cozy cafe (translated literally as 'bread with oil,' but is essentially a tuna sandwich on steroids),
- a pastizz (curried pea or cheese pastry) with a milky 'te fit-tazza' (tea in a glass).
Similarly, one can disappear into a tiny village in Gozo and buy:
- warm, traditionally fired 'hobża' or 'ftira' (two varieties of local sourdough bread) from a local bakery, often only discernable by the pile of firewood outside the door
- some fresh local 'ġbenjiet' (goats' cheese)
4. Village Feast Season:
Between the end of June and the beginning of September, there is at least one village feast every weekend. Sometimes, there are several on the same day and several in the same town. With this comes a certain rivalry between villages that can become quite…heated.
The first thing to note is the fireworks. In the build-up to a village feast, there will be enough fireworks to make you think a war has started. This revelry is just the build-up to the spectacular finale on the night of the 'big feast,' typically on a Saturday.
Big brass bands come out to entertain throngs of crowds, local food vendors set up, visitors teem the streets, and the whole town center shuts down. Love them or hate them, village feasts are worth experiencing - if for no other reason than to find out what all the noise is about.
While Malta has changed drastically over the last decade, the smaller sister island of Gozo still has a rural and parochial charm. Firstly, the landscape is quite different from Malta, with a lot more hills and greenery. It is also much more sparsely populated and has some of the top tourist sites, including:
- Ggantija temples
- Sannat cliffs
- Mgarr ix-Xini Bay
- the Citadel
- Xlendi Bay (as a child, we would visit Xlendi Bay for lunch and a swim and then wash off the salt with a freezing yet refreshing shower at the Fontana washhouses)
- the Inland Sea at Dwejra and,
- Ramla l-Hamra (Red Sand) Bay
If time allows, it's worth stopping to pick up local handicrafts like soft sheep wool rugs or bizzilla (traditional Maltese lace).
6. Charter a Yacht
As previously mentioned, beaches can be challenging. The way to experience summer is a charter, preferably on a weekday to avoid the weekend rush, on a yacht or cabin cruiser.
Enjoy otherwise inaccessible bays like Crystal Lagoon or renowned dive sites. A word of warning: you can be subject to the fickle nature of prevailing winds due to safety. Jellyfish can also make it a challenge to predict your exact destination. That said, it is possible to experience some great days out on a boat with friends and family.
The old capital of Malta, Mdina, also called the 'silent city,' is a tiny walled city sitting atop a hill in the center of the island of Malta.
Most recently famous for its starring role in Game of Thrones (season 1), Mdina is the traditional seat of nobility in Malta, with gorgeous squares, quaint tearooms, and beautiful houses.
At its heart is the Roman Catholic Co-Cathedral of St Paul, which is ornate and often decked out in special liveries at certain times of the year. The Xara Palace Hotel is also a unique stay, with its restaurant, De Mondion, being one of Malta's first Michelin-star eateries.
8. Go to a Maltese Wedding
The prerequisite here is actually receiving an invite, but once you've scored one, you're in for a treat.
Whereas, say, English weddings can be austere events with few guests, limited food, and paid bars, Maltese weddings, typically in summer, are planned out years in advance.
Hundreds of guests, food for days (including canapes, finger foods, and hand-held food over several hours), open bars with top-shelf drinks, and usually some pretty good entertainment (think big brass bands playing renditions of modern favorites and former Eurovision stars), a good wedding is only memorable from the pictures.
Marsaxlokk is a quaint fishing village in the southeast of the island. While it is pretty ordinary and residential, the seashore comes alive on Sundays with hawkers, fish sellers, vendors, cafes, and restaurants.
It is a visceral experience to see fishermen come ashore with their catches. In particular, consider doing this during lampuki (mahi-mahi or dolphin fish) season for the bright colors, typically from the end of August to the beginning of October.
FAQs About Malta:
What is the Official Religion of Malta?
Although Malta is a secular state, the official religion of Malta is Roman Catholicism, and religion plays a central part in the lives of the locals, with religious ceremonies and traditions forming rites of passage throughout the peoples' lives.
Is Malta part of Spain or Italy?
Malta was historically part of the Kingdom of Sicily, part of the Spanish Crown until 1530. Fast forward to today, and Malta is now a sovereign and independent country.
In short, it is not part of Spain or Italy.
Is Malta still a British Territory?
Malta gained independence on 21 September 1964 but remained a dominion (i.e., the Crown was still the head of state).
In 1974, Malta became a republic, meaning that the head of state was now a president (the first president being Sir Anthony Mamo, who was also incidentally the last Governor-General of Malta representing the then monarch, Queen Elizabeth II). At the time of writing, Dr. George Vella is the tenth President of the Republic of Malta
Malta maintains robust ties with the UK and other members of the Commonwealth. Malta also has historical ties to the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, as they spent many months in Malta when Prince Phillip was stationed in Malta with the British Navy.
What is the Ethnicity of Malta?
Malta is not homogenous. According to EUROSTAT, approximately 20% of the population is foreign-born, with equal numbers coming from the European Union and the UK and a smaller minority outside that group.
With that out of the way, one can delve into the native Maltese population. Whereas there are outliers for people who assimilated into the gene pool 'incidentally,' for example, by marriage or adoption, most Maltese people come from Italian or Southern Italian stock, with the gene pools being linked to specific towns in those regions.
While the most common surname in Malta is Borg, certain villages have a disproportionately high prevalence of other surnames. This is likely due to large family groups from single towns overseas settling in the same towns in Malta.
Although there is likely some North African and Levantine stock (possibly due to returning Maltese diaspora from French North Africa and Egypt), it is likely not the case that anyone is directly descended from temple builders of Phoenician traders.
Is Malta part of Africa or Europe?
This is an interesting question that is frequently asked in Google searches. Malta is a Christian European country, both genetically and in particular cultural aspects. That said, it is the southernmost country in Europe, and Valletta is the southernmost capital, further south even than the Northern African capitals of Tunis or Algiers.
Geographically, Malta is on the African plate. Socially, linguistically and historically, Malta has many ties to North Africa. For example, during the time of the Knights, French, British, and Maltese people moved relatively freely across the Mediterranean to work and live in other countries and cities - notably in Tunisia and Alexandria, Egypt.
While it would be factually incorrect to say Malta is an African country, it would be better to consider that up until relatively recently, the Mediterranean basin itself was a fairly fluid region, with political and economic dynamics pushing and pulling people across its waters long before the concept of nation-states and modern borders.
Why is Malta So Famous?
Malta is famous for many things, for example, being the smallest EU member state by size and population. That being said, if looking for a conversation piece, three things Malta is famous for are:
- Ggantija Temples: the oldest freestanding structures in the world - older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids, in case anyone asks.
- Valletta: Known as 'the city built by gentlemen, for gentlemen.' With its history, architecture, a plethora of churches, and breathtaking sites, Valletta is a genuinely unique capital city unlike any other in Europe. Its modest size means that you can wander around and see the whole town in relatively short order.
- More Maltese live outside Malta than inside Malta: remember the wartime devastation? Thousands of Maltese, often not knowing any English at all and often children, boarded ships to start new lives in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States in the post-war era to assist their families in rebuilding by sending money back to Malta.
Many returned, while others remained and made homes in their adoptive new countries. Anecdotally, there are now more Maltese abroad than there are in Malta.
So are there any 'children of Malta' of note? You might be familiar with Mayor Pete (Buttigieg), Presidential candidate in the 2020 US presidential election, Sharleen Spiteri from the rock band Texas and singer and guitarist Bryan Adams.
Is Malta Safe for American Tourists?
While you should always consider guidance from your country's foreign representatives for any specific risks towards people from your country, Malta is generally safe, with a relatively low incidence of violent crime.
Yes, there is the occasional tragic traffic event or the odd unfortunate incident in which a tourist might get caught up. Still, freak accidents and 'wrong-place/wrong time' incidents can happen anywhere.
Always exercise caution. For example, don't flash wads of cash or pick fights with unsavory characters in less frequented places. However, for the most part, you can enjoy an uneventful trip to Malta 99 times out of 100. There are no specific risks to call out for American tourists over any others.
How many days should I spend in Malta?
For a first-time visitor hoping to see everything, a five-day itinerary is sufficient to see many of the main sites. If you want to stretch it out and take it easy, a seven to ten-day vacation is enough to see everything.
If planned carefully, it may also leave you time to rent a car and a rural villa/farmhouse to get some pool time in. The perfect way to end a Mediterranean holiday!
This article originally appeared on Savoteur.