The island of Malta lies two hundred miles from the coast of Africa and fifty from Italy. Its position in the middle of the Mediterranean put it smack dab in the middle of the action for nearly all of its history. It has been invaded and/or conquered by Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Berbers, Turks, French and British. Although most of the buildings we saw today looked quite old, the island was pretty well flattened during World War II. Nearly all the buildings are made out of local limestone which has a golden tint. This gives the island a unified look, punctuated by the brightly painted balconies and doors many locals favor. During the 1500’s various countries sent knights to Malta whose primary mission was to provide medical treatment for all the soldiers attacking each other in the area.
After one particularly unpleasant siege by the Turks in 1566, the city built a wall all around and a moat was dug beneath them by slaves to ensure that the next invaders were kept out. As the slaves dug the moat deeper and deeper, the materials they generated went up on the tops of the walls and there were spots where we could look down 300 feet and admire the results of their hard work. Today the entire old city is a World Heritage site.
Since the British were the last occupiers before Malta became an independent country in 1964, all vehicles drive on the left, although our guide said most people prefer to drive in the shade wherever that may be. The island has 300 days of sunshine a year and gets quite hot in the summer. It’s easy to understand why this lovely island is a favorite vacation spot for the Brits. The British legacy means that almost everyone speaks English, which is a good thing since the local language is a mix of Phoenician and Arabic that is full of “x” and “kk” and other unpronounceable letter combinations.
The capital Valletta lies on a natural harbor protected by a break water and provides a safe haven for countless yachts and pleasure boats. Getting a cruise ship inside is a bit of a trick, but there are times when eight of them are moored here at once. Malta gets about 500,000 cruise visitors annually, which brings much needed revenue without straining the limited water facilities on the island. It only rains in the winter and the ground is porous and the water is hard to capture. Expensive desalination plants provide most of the drinking water. What agricultural fields we saw today were about the size of a suburban back yard.
Although cruisers rarely patronize the local restaurants, it looked like you could get about any international cuisine you could imagine - the result of all those invaders leaving behind their favorite recipes.
Our favorite stop was at a fishing village - Marasaxlokk. The brightly painted fishing boats glowed in the sunshine. Although Malta is a small island, our visit only scratched the surface. Malta is on the list for a return engagement.