Mdina cathedral

A wonderful interior view of St Paul's Cathedral, Mdina

More about Malta

Malta comprises a cluster of more than 15 islands—only three of which are inhabited—right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It has a fascinating history stretching back thousands of years before the Roman era when St Paul, according to the biblical Acts of the Apostles, is alleged to have been shipwrecked on the island; he came to be revered as a god when a potentially lethal snake-bite left him unharmed. Malta’s colourful past includes a famous siege in 1565, during which the Ottoman Turks, acting on the orders of their Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, heavily outnumbered the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. At that time the Turks were vying with Christian Europe for domination of the Mediterranean, but strategic errors on the part of the Turkish forces gave the victory to the Knights who then enjoyed uninterrupted suzerainty until conquered by Napoleon in 1798. Malta became part of the British Empire in 1814, and played its part in World War II.  The population showed such courage under bombardment that George VI awarded the George Cross to the whole island. It was granted independence in 1964.

The British feel at home on Malta, where several remnants of colonial administration remain: vehicles drive on the left, English signage predominates, and the electricity sockets are the three-pin UK variety!  The island charms its visitors with fascinating juxtapositions: old orange-and-white ‘Leyland’ buses share the roads with Maltese karrozin (horse-drawn carriages); elaborate baroque architecture towers in striking contrast to traditional mediterranean whitewashed houses; and the native language, which is Arabic in origin, is written in familar western script.  Add plenty of sunshine, low rainfall, comfortably warm spring weather, and a mediterranean cuisine enlivened by culinary influences from north Africa, Spain and Italy, and you can understand why a weekend singing Messiah in Malta might be such an attractive proposition!

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