Dive into the mesmerizing depth of Malta’s history, a small archipelago with an incredibly rich past that holds tales of prehistoric temples, heroic knights, strategic military importance, and a unique blend of cultures. The influence of various civilizations over thousands of years has left Malta with an enviable historical legacy, making it a veritable open-air museum. Let’s embark on this historical journey.
1. Prehistoric Times
Malta’s history dates back to around 5200 BC with the arrival of settlers from the island of Sicily. These settlers left a lasting impact, establishing a unique prehistoric culture. The most outstanding legacy from this period are the Megalithic Temples. Sites like Ġgantija, Hagar Qim, and Mnajdra, among others, are considered the oldest free-standing structures in the world, predating Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.
2. Phoenicians, Romans, and Byzantines
The Phoenicians, an ancient maritime trading culture, arrived in Malta around 800 BC. They made the islands an essential stop on their expansive trade routes. The Romans later annexed Malta in 218 BC, followed by the Byzantines in 535 AD. During these eras, Malta prospered, and many artifacts, including the Roman Villa (Domvs Romana) in Rabat, bear testament to these times.
3. Arab Influence
In 870 AD, the Arabs conquered Malta, leaving a substantial influence, particularly on the Maltese language, which is of Semitic origin. They introduced new irrigation methods, contributing to the flourishing of agriculture, and constructed the Mdina, the then capital of Malta.
4. The Knights of St. John
One of the most significant chapters in Maltese history opened in 1530 when the islands were given to the Sovereign Military Order of St. John. The Knights of St. John made Malta their home, enhancing its strategic importance and fortifying it against the Ottoman Turks. The Great Siege of 1565, when Malta heroically resisted a four-month siege by the Ottomans, is one of the pivotal moments in the island’s history. Post-siege, the knights built the city of Valletta, named after Grand Master Jean de Vallette.
5. French Occupation and British Rule
Napoleon Bonaparte took Malta from the Knights in 1798 during his expedition to Egypt. The French rule was short-lived, and following a two-year rebellion by the Maltese, the British took control of Malta in 1800. Malta’s strategic location made it an essential naval base for the British during the World War periods. The bravery of the Maltese people during the intensive bombing of World War II earned the entire island the George Cross, which is now displayed on the national flag.
6. Independence and Beyond
Malta gained independence from Britain in 1964 and became a Republic ten years later. Since 2004, Malta has been a part of the European Union and in 2008 adopted the Euro as its currency.
Malta’s fascinating history is a tapestry woven with threads from different eras and cultures, each leaving its unique imprint. Today, Malta stands proud, a historical jewel in the heart of the Mediterranean, a testimony to human resilience, and a melting pot of cultures. A visit to Malta offers an immersive, enriching walk through the corridors of time, a journey that promises to be as enduring as the history of this remarkable archipelago.