History of Malta

Malta’s geographical position, strategically located at the crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, has always played a very important part in its history. Testament to this is the fact that Malta has been conquered and colonised by almost every civilisation in the region, including the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Moors, the Normans, the Spanish, the French and the British, among others.

This succession of  foreign conquerors,  which spans some 7,000 years , and the varying degrees of influence each conqueror left on the Maltese people, both by way of traditions, customs, language, as well as by way of historical sites, make the Maltese Islands what they are today. Malta was left with a wealth of monuments, art, traditions and customs.

The Shipwreck of St Paul, documented in the Christian Holy Scripture, the Christian Bible, was a real turning point for the islanders, and the event is still celebrated today on the 10th of February.

The Moors, however, did give Malta one very important thing: the only Semitic language in the world that is written in Latin script. That language is Maltese, and it has since grown to have a Semitic-based grammar, with massive influences from Romance and Anglo-Saxon languages in so far as vocabulary and linguistic trends. Although Maltese is spoken by less than a million people globally, its 500-year-old literary tradition is keeping it well alive.

Malta is also home to some of the world’s oldest freestanding, manmade structures – the most well-known of which are the Ġgantija Temples in the sister island of Gozo and one of the world’s first subterranean structures, the Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with the entire city of Valletta, which, in the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s, was considered to be the most fortified city in the world.

The biggest revolution in Malta’s architecture and art also happened during this time, when Malta was taken over by the Knights of St John – a Roman Catholic military and hospitaller order that is still active to this very day. Apart from the planning and construction of Valletta, the Knights also revamped the older city enclaves on the island, known as the Three Cities (Senglea, Vittoriosa and Cospicua), built several innumerable churches and chapels and funded and commissioned some of Malta’s most important and famous artworks, including the Beheading of St John by Caravaggio, St John’s Co-Cathedral’s marble flooring and the Flemish Tapestries.

Today, Malta’s history plays an important part in its diverse culture and age-old traditions; and while the country has moved away from being a fortress island to an independent, sovereign, business-centric nation, many Maltese still feel a direct link with their ancestors.