The Mediterranean island nation of Malta is a fascinating place with a rich history and culture. Though small in size, Malta packs a big punch when it comes to intriguing facts and attractions. Here are 14 interesting facts to uncover about this hidden gem.
Nestled between Sicily and the North African coast, Malta has been a strategic crossroads throughout history. Successive waves of occupation have left their mark, from elaborate temple complexes built by ancient peoples to the magnificent fortified cities constructed by the Knights of St John. Beyond its illustrious past, contemporary Malta boasts pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a welcoming spirit. Delve into these remarkable facts to gain insight into this captivating country.
1. One of the world’s oldest free-standing structures is found in Malta
The megalithic temples of Malta and Gozo are the oldest free-standing stone structures in the world, predating Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt. These elaborate complexes were built between 3600 and 2500 BC by the mysterious Temple People and include ornate stonework, altars, and animal sculptures. The best example is the Ġgantija temples on Gozo, erected around 3600 BC and named after the Maltese word for “giant.”
2. Malta has a long history of foreign occupation
Due to its prime location, Malta has been conquered and colonized by various foreign powers throughout its history. The Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St John, French, and British have all ruled the islands at some point. Each left its mark through architecture, language, and culture. Malta has been an independent republic since 1974 1.
3. It was awarded the George Cross for bravery in WWII
Malta endured relentless bombing from Axis forces during WWII due to the Allies’ critical naval and air bases there. In 1942, King George VI awarded the George Cross to the entire population of Malta for their collective bravery and heroism while under siege 2. The George Cross now appears on Malta’s national flag and coat of arms.
4. Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet
Maltese descends from Siculo-Arabic, introduced during Arab rule between 870-1090 AD. It incorporates many Italian, French, and English words picked up during subsequent occupations. Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet. It is recognized as an official EU language and is spoken by all Maltese natives.
5. Malta has a rich history dating back to Neolithic times
The Maltese archipelago was first inhabited around 5200 BC by farmers from Sicily who built temples and other sophisticated structures. The islands have been continuously populated ever since, making Malta one of the oldest human settlements in the Mediterranean. Megalithic temples, Punic and Roman settlements, medieval cities, and Baroque churches testify to its diverse history.
6. Valletta is one of Europe’s smallest capital cities
Founded in 1566 by the Knights of St John, Valletta measures just 0.8 square kilometers 3. Its founder decreed it should occupy “no more space than necessary for a well-fortified city.” Packed into this tiny area are over 300 historic monuments, making it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. Valletta was named the European Capital of Culture in 2018.
7. Malta has a strategic location and excellent harbors
Positioned between Europe and North Africa, Malta has always been a crucial maritime crossroads. Its natural harbors – particularly the Grand Harbour around Valletta – made it an ideal base for Mediterranean shipping and naval operations. This strategic location helped Malta prosper but also left it vulnerable to foreign powers seeking control.
8. It is home to some of the world’s oldest freestanding monuments
The megalithic temples of Malta and Gozo were constructed between 3600 and 2500 BC by the enigmatic Temple People. The temples feature elaborate stonework, altars, animal sculptures, and oracular chambers. Ġgantija on Gozo is the world’s second oldest manmade freestanding structure, predated only by the mound at Carrowmore in Ireland.
9. Malta is a popular filming location
Malta’s stunning landscapes, Baroque architecture, and vast ports and shipyards have provided dramatic backdrops for many films and TV shows. Major productions shot in Malta include Troy, Gladiator, Captain Phillips, Game of Thrones, and more recently, scenes from the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie.
10. Malta has two official languages
Maltese and English are both official languages in Malta. All road signs, menus, and documents are presented in both languages. While nearly all Maltese speak English, Maltese is the national language and mother tongue. It reflects the islands’ rich history as a melting pot of Semitic, Romance, and Germanic influences.
11. The island of Gozo is more rural and laidback
Gozo, Malta’s sister island, has significant historical sites, including the Ġgantija temples, but a more relaxed, rural pace compared to Malta. With its rolling hills, greener landscape, and sleepy fishing villages, Gozo offers a quieter Mediterranean escape perfect for hiking, diving, and rural holidays. It’s just a 25-minute ferry ride from Malta.
12. Malta has a long tradition of fiestas
Each town and village in Malta has its festa (feast day) to celebrate the local patron saint. These fiestas feature religious processions, fireworks, brass bands, and elaborate street decorations. They offer visitors a glimpse into each community’s traditions and competitive spirit, as towns try to outdo each other with the grandest fiesta.
13. The Maltese islands have a mild, sunny climate
Malta enjoys pleasant Mediterranean weather year-round, with hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. The sea moderates the climate, keeping temperatures fairly constant. Average highs range from 15°C in winter to 31°C in summer. With over 300 sunny days per year, it’s an ideal destination for sunseekers.
14. Malta is a top diving destination
Encircled by the clear blue Mediterranean, Malta is acclaimed for its excellent scuba diving and snorkeling. Divers can explore shipwrecks, underwater caves, coral reefs, and more around the Maltese coastline and islands. Top dive sites include the HMS Maori wreck, the Blue Hole on Gozo, and the Santa Maria Caves.
From ancient temples to Baroque cities, Malta overflows with fascinating history and culture. Though small in size, it offers big experiences, from world-class diving to exuberant village feasts. Let these remarkable facts inspire you to uncover the rich offerings of this Mediterranean jewel for yourself.
- About Malta, residencymalta.gov.mt
- Award of the George Cross to Malta, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Award_of_the_George_Cross_to_Malta