Talk about “Small but Mighty”!
Its location south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Lybia has rendered the Mediterranean island nation of Malta strategically critical during historical global conflicts.
In 1565, the Ottoman Empire attempted to invade. The Knights Hospitaller’s fierce defense not only avoided it but also cracked the Ottoman’s sense of invulnerability, contributing to stopping their advance into the western Mediterranean.
Germany and Italy relentlessly bombarded Malta from the air during WW2. The then British colony was essential to the Allies as a base to disrupt Axis supplies to Lybia and secure British ones to Egypt.
Despite unthinkable suffering and losses, the Maltese people resisted and prevailed. King George VI awarded the George Cross to the entire island for their “heroism” and “devotion.” The George Cross was incorporated into the flag of Malta in 1943.
Today, Malta—the world’s tenth smallest country—it’s a European Union and eurozone member of half a million people, most of whom are Catholic, as demonstrated by the more than 300 churches and year-round patron saint festas—celebrated with marching bands, processions and daytime fireworks!
One of the island’s main sights, the Blue Grotto, is several sea caverns on the southeast coast near the town of Zurrieq. It’s only a 25-minute drive from the center of the capital Valletta.
After admiring the cave from the Babu Valley, drive or trek down to the town’s harbor, where local boat trips will give you a tour through the magnificent central arch and six other caves, including Honeymoon Cave, the Cat’s Cave and Reflection Cave.
Another 20-minute drive to the Northern region will take you to Dingli, one of the island’s highest points, as it sits approximately 800 feet above sea level. Because of the incomparable views it affords, it’s another popular area for hiking.
In the nearby central town of Attard, we admired beautiful public gardens and Baroque architecture, including San Anton Palace—the early 17th-century country villa of Antoine de Paule, a knight of the Order of St. John.
Back in Valletta, we checked out the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at St George’s Square, a ritual that originated during the 17th century when the Knights of St John ruled over Malta.
Other worthy sights include the National Library of Malta in Republic Square, housed in a late 18th-century Neoclassical building. It was founded in 1776 by Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc out of the collections of the knight Louis Guérin de Tencin.
The Saint John’s Co-Cathedral was commissioned by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière and built by the Order of St. John between 1572-77. Its ornate Baroque interior stands in sharp contrast with the modest facade.
We retreated to our room’s terrace in our hotel, located on the historical Old Theater Street. From there, the massive dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel can be seen up close. We planned dinner and our next day’s trip to the Blue Lagoon (photo featured).
Located between the islands of Comino and Cominotto in the middle of the Mediterranean and accessible via a 25-minute ferry ride from Malta, the Blue Lagoon is one of the region’s (and, perhaps, the world’s) most breathtaking spots.
Featuring crystal-clear calm waters surrounded by rugged cliffs, the Blue Lagoon can be a bit of a tourist trap if visiting during the high summer tourist season. Perhaps its popularity has been aided by films like “Troy” and “Swept Away.”
If you want to lay all day and sunbathe in this paradise, it’s OK. You can also take lazy swims or practice snorkeling, diving, or even kayaking. We took a hike on the impressive cliffs that treated us with the most beautiful views of the Mediterranean sea we’d ever experienced.
After a day of almost unbearable natural beauty, we came full circle at the Great Siege Monument, commemorating the 1565 Great Siege of Malta with three bronze figures (Faith, Valor and Civilization) standing on top of a granite base.
A memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist and anti-corruption activist who was murdered on October 16, 2017, had been set up by the brave and just people of Malta.