Less than one hundred miles south from Sicily, the Maltese archipelago is an interesting synthesis of geography and history of the Mediterranean Sea.
From the point of view of landscape, low and arid hills shaped by man, with terracing for cereal crops intertwining with the Mediterranean scrubland, slope down to a rocky coastline, interspersed with bays and marinas that ensure today excellent landings for pleasure crafts and tourist beaches, historically attended by British visitors.
As for culture, Malta is a mix of history: the three islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, have always been a crossroads of populations, since 3,600 years b.c., when “the people of the temples” created a real megalithic civilization, erecting mighty buildings like in Ġgantija, Hagar Qim, Mnjdra, Ta Hagrat and Tarxien, then disappeared, perhaps because of a serious outbreak, about a thousand years later. Next came the Phoenicians, then followed by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, French and English.
The more original mark, however, has probably been left the Knights Templar of Malta, that ruled the islands between 1.530 and Napoleon’s invasion in 1798. The presence of monastic and military order can be found everywhere: not only in the walled and baroque city of Valletta, with its powerful military and civil engineering works (forts, battlements, watch towers, palaces and aqueducts), but also in the beautiful cathedrals and hundreds of churches scattered everywhere.
The Catholic character of Malta, an Apostolic site because of the landing of St. Paul in 60 d.c. celebrated by the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, where euthanasia and abortion are still illegal (the divorce was introduced only in 2011), is also strongly perceived in the architecture and urban structure of each town and village, where the parish church represents the town center and where typical village festivals are held in honor of the patron saint.
The Christian-Catholic culture elements result even more interesting when confronted with the presence of Arabs culture: the official language is Maltese (Il-malti), of Semitic origin, deriving from the Sicilian-Arabic language introduced by Arab rulers between 870 and 1091, and the coast villages remind of the atmosphere of the Arabic countries.
Since 1979 the Republic of Malta is a “neutral state” that seeks peace, security and social progress among all Nations, by virtue of accession to a policy of non-alignment and non-membership in any military alliance (condition, the latter, which in particular implies that no foreign military base is allowed in the territory of Malta). This situation aiming at a conscious political autonomy, is the result of what has been called the ‘”Maltese deal”, that is a series of political and military events and agreements which, at the turn of the seventies, in the cold war, have involved some Mediterranean states such as Malta, Libya and Italy, with the U.S. and the Soviet Union involvement, the superpowers of the time.
Therefore, moving today in Malta means to perceive the tonic heartbeat of a population that is living a time of strong economic growth and development, especially in tourism, supported by a rich history and a deep civic sense of identity based on the coexistence of cultures, lifestyles and languages, that, paradoxically, the island size – as a crossroads and not segregation – has not penalized but encouraged.