“Is Malta a country?”, we heard a fellow traveler ask his companion. Well, Jay and Tanya felt pretty smug that at least we knew Malta was indeed an independent country, partly because we knew the former US Ambassador here several years ago. But, we didn’t know much more than that and so weren’t really more terribly informed than our shipmate. So, we had to quickly get ourselves up to speed on the basics.
According to Lonely Planet, tiny Malta, and its neighboring island of Gozo, is the smallest country in the European Union, with a population of just over 400,000. It’s native language is Malti, which belongs to the same language group as Hebrew, Arabic and Amharic. Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, French and British. But, Malta is most usually associated with the Knights of St. John, an order of European aristocrats, who were given the islands in 1530 by Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. Without going into great detail, the Knights’ origins came from the Christian Crusades a few hundred years earlier. They were a charitable and religious order and took an oath to bring death and destruction to the infidel Muslims. For more than that, our readers will just have to look up more for themselves.
In more recent history, Malta served as an important shipping post for the British in the 19th century, expediting trade between the Far East and India, and was a strategic territory in the battle between the Allies and Nazi Germany in World War II. It has been an independent country since 1964 and joined the EU in 2004.
On our Sunday visit to Malta’s capital, Valletta, we got just a flavor of the place. Valletta is only about 1km x 600m in size so it’s impossible to get lost.
Local signs always say something about a place and Valletta is no exception. For example, we found where the “best rabbit in Malta” is served. Jay was also excited to see what he initially thought was a place for a great jazz party featuring Frank Zappa. But, apparently, that’s not really what was going on here.