Off the coast of Sicily lay the islands of Malta and Gozo. They are arid windswept islands of limestone. Raided, settled, conquered for millennia, these islands have a rich and complex history. Now tourism has taken over her harbors and cafes, as hotels and shops open to accommodate the crowds. In 2016, there were over 7,000,000 tourists who visited here.
Malta and her sister Gozo are well worth the visit with easy access from many points in Europe by a short flight. From Italy, you can fly from Palermo, Catania, Bari, Bologna, or Rome.
The natural harbors of Malta can accommodate the largest ships as a port of call. Many of the major cruise lines stop here, whose passengers clog the streets of Valletta, while the taxis create traffic jams on the newly paved roads. The Islands are clean as are the facades of the ochre golden buildings thanks to funding from the EU and due to the award of the title of European city of culture in 2018.
The city was founded on three small hills and is a mixture of fortifications left by the knights of St John and dwellings which date from the mid 1500s. The Maltese language reflects a mix Arabic, Maltese and a touch of Italian and English. The native people are difficult to identify as mixed as is the Maltese language with a myriad of cultures.
But the real history began 7,000 years ago and can still be visited today with a stop at “the temples”. The temples are found on both islands. They are older than the pyramids and not much else remains from that period, not pot shards, not dwellings, just a few beads and shells. From there history makes a leap to the Roman era and another jump past the dark ages to the 1500s’ when most of Malta’s current sites were constructed.
The jewel of the town is the cathedral of St John. A local Maltese hotel owner told me it is “the vatican on steroids.” Funded by the orders of the Knights of Malta from all participating countries, each chapel is ornately decorated with carved bas relief limestone painted in gold. The effect is impressive.
Malta and Gozo make a great addition to a trip to Sicily. We at the Italian Concierge recommend a 3 day stop at these unique islands. Contact us today to start planning your Sicilian Maltese adventure!