A Few Facts About Malta

Despite intentions, I failed to read up on Malta before I came here. I knew a few things, like: because of its location between Italy and North Africa, it was strategic to control the island during World War II. Malta was bombed heavily by the Germans and Italians especially during the North African campaign. In 1943, bombing ceased but not before massive damage. If I recall, it was the most bombed area of anywhere in WWII. 

What I have learned so far, in my very brief time here, was that around Caravaggio’s time, the island suffered a similar attack. 

The Knights of St. John of Malta was a religious order that combined army and monastery. Religious warriors helping the sick and defending the Christian faith–a brief description. They were also known as Hospitaliers because of their focus on aiding the sick. You have seen their symbol, the Maltese Cross.

In 1565, the Turkish or Ottoman Empire tried to take over Malta, probably for the same reasons as Hitler and Mussolini. A siege lasted for almost 4 months before the Knights of Malta, against all odds, prevailed. The Grandmaster of the Knights, a brilliant strategist, was Jean de Vallette, hence the rebuilt area of the siege is now called Valletta. Under his direction, Malta and especially Valletta, an orderly grid of streets arose along with buildings furthering the purposes of the Knights Hospitalier including a massive hospital.

Jean de Vallette’s victory quickly became mythic so that by Caravaggio’s time, many, especially sons of noble house, wanted to be Knights of Malta. In Caravaggio’s case, becoming a Knight would help obtain a pardon for murder from the Pope.

But back to modern days. The areas away from the historical centre mostly date from after WWII. Malta was once part of the British Empire, upon which the sun never set–cue James Thompson “Rule Britannia”. They drive on the left. Most official signs are in English or English and Maltese. They use the Euro. 

I get the impression they kind of resent their heavily populated nearby neighbour, who dominates tv and other popular culture–a familiar sentiment? 

Almost everyone speaks Italian, English and Maltese. The Maltese language is a mixture not only of Italian, French and English but also earlier influences, most notably, Arabic. Jien jisimni means “my name is” according to a somewhat useless bit of paper picked up at the airport. Grazie, I was told by a guy I bought cheese from, is “thank you” in Maltese. 

We will visit the fort rebuilt under de Vallette’s command. 

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