Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Brief History of Malta

Commander K. by the Azure Window, Gozo
Malta is an archipelago of rocky limestone islands that lie at the center of the Mediterranean.  Humans have lived on Malta for over 7,000 years.  These little islands represent a microcosm of Europe as a whole and have an awful lot of history.

Gganjita Temple, Gozo
On the small island of Gozo you will find the Ggantija Temples -- a megalithic pagan complex that dates back to 3600 - 3000 BC and bears a resemblance to Stonehenge.  Here Stone age man expressed his longing for the divine with rituals of life and fertility.  These temples also resemble Filitosa on the island of Corsica (see earlier post Corsica, May 28, 12012).

Commander K. at the Ggantija Temples, Gozo
The first arrivals were stone age people coming in boats from the much larger island of Sicily which lies about 60 miles to the North.  The Phoenicians settled on island between 800 and 480 BC and used their safe harbours as a trading post.  They were followed by the Carthaginians and the Romans.

Phoenician pottery
National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta
St. Paul writes in Acts in the New Testament "we discovered that the island was called Melita (Malta). The natives treated us with uncommon kindness. Because of the driving rain and cold they lit a fire and made us all welcome."  St.  Paul encountered a serpent who did not harm him and healed the father of Publius, a local Roman official.

In 870 the Arabs conquered Malta.  Their influence endures today in the Malti language -- consider the town of Mdina which means "fortified town" as in Arabic.  They ruled until 1090 when Malta was conquered by the Normans under Count Roger (it was a busy century for the Normans with England and Sicily).  The Knights Templar were driven out of Cyprus by the Turks and relocated to Malta in 1530.

Jean La Valette, Valletta Malta
The great Siege of Malta took place in 1565.  About 700 Knights of Malta, aided by several thousand local Maltese, held out against a Muslim army of over 30,000 warriors led by Mustafa Pasha. After three months and the death of one of Mustafa's favorite commanders, the Arabs abandoned the siege.   The Maltese resistance was led by Grand Master Jean La Valette.  In gratitude for his victory, he founded the city which is today Malta's capital -- Valletta.

St John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta
The Knights of Malta amassed great treasure and built great Baroque monuments such as St John's Co-Cathedral.  St. John's also features two Caravaggio (1573 - 1610) masterpieces, The Beheading of St. John and St. Jerome.  The Knights really did pay tribute to the King of Spain in the form of a Maltese Falcom and their treasure really was "the stuff that dreams are made of".

Napoleon plundered Malta, 1798
In 1798 General Napoleon, who must have shared Sam Spades' dreams, stopped, on his way to Egypt to sack Malta thus ending the long reign of the Knights.  Today in the Louvre museum in Paris you can find the jewel-encrusted Sword of Valletta that French troops looted with a description that reads "A gift from the people of Malta".  Admiral Nelson soon annihilated the French fleet at the battle of Aboukir bay stranding Napoleon's army in Egypt and making the defence of Malta impossible.  In 1800 the Royal navy, in conjunction with the local Maltese, overwhelmed and expelled the French forces.  Just as the Maltese welcomed St. Paul, they also welcomed the British as liberators from the rapacious French.

Queen Victoria, Valletta, Malta
Lord Nelson had himself dismissed Malta as being "a useless and enormous expense".  His successor, Admiral Lord Collingwood shared the view and called Malta "the most gossiping, gourmandizing place I ever heard of".  Nevertheless, strategically-positioned Malta would remain a British colonial possession for the next 164 years.

Madonna and Child, Mdina, Malta
Malta was used as a hospital station for troops engaged in the Crimean war and also during the First World War.  Nor were the British so foolish as to interfere with the island's devoted Roman Catholic faith.

Fort St. Angelo, Former Royal Navy base, Malta 
In 1882 one visitor to Malta wrote...

"Most Englishman at home are so far from warlike sights, that they are apt to forget that their country has after all shown herself great in war as in commerce.  But no man can forget that fact as he stands her upon the Baracca of Valletta and looks down upon the grab forts and the ironclad which sleep securely beneath their walls."   Source: Blue Water Empire, Robert Holland, 2012, www.amzn.com/0141036109

British Power in the Med
On June 10, 1943 Il Duce declared war on the Allies.  The next day Italian planes began bombing Malta.  Joined later by the Luftwaffe, Malta became the most bombed part of the planet during the Second World War.  The siege continued for the next three years as Axis forces attempted to starve the island out.  The island and its people suffered and fought back.  The entire island was awarded the George Cross by King George VI in 1943 -- it is still referred to today by some as the "St. George Island".  Malta was used as a springboard by the Allies for their invasion of Sicily and Italy.  The Maltese had survived their second great siege.

Message to Malta from King George VI

In 1964 the island gained its independence from Britain.

In 1979 the Royal Navy withdrew its base from Malta.  Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi, who supplied the island with cheap oil, attended the ceremony.  The strongman "in his arrogant showman form, gave the thumbs down when the Union Jack was lowered."  Source: Blue Water Empire, Robert Holland, 2012,  www.amzn.com/0141036109.

in 2008 The Republic of Malta joined the Euro.

Today, happily, Malta is invaded merely by hordes of tourists seeking sun, history, natural beauty, gourmandizing and a warm welcome from the Maltese people.




You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades here...www.americainvades.com or on Amazon...www.amzn.com/1940598427


2 comments:

Jim Hooper said...

I regret now we did not have more time there. We had no chance to try the local cuisine. How was the gourmandizing?

Christopher Kelly said...

Great Seafood. Lots of Italian influence. Pretty good wines. Excellent gourmandizing opportunities!