The first settlers arrived around 5000 BC from nearby Sicily. Beginning around 3500 BC, an organized society developed with a clergy of oracles, megalithic temples and a cult of the Mother Goddess. It disappeared around 2000 BC for unknown reasons. Malta was later a Phoenician colony from around 1000 BC to 700 BC when it fell to the Greek who called it Melita. A century later passed in the hands of Carthage, then of Rome in 200 BC and Malta was awarded to the Eastern Roman Empire in 395 AD. It was occupied by Arabs in 870 until a Norman army conquered it in 1090.
Malta was later made a feudal fief of the kingdom of Sicily and the Emperor Charles V granted it in 1530 to the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, who ruled it until the 19th century. Napoleon invaded and occupied the islands in 1798 but the British naval officer Horatio Nelson besieged Valletta and compelled the withdrawal of the French in 1799. In 1814, Malta became part of the British Empire as a crown colony. Malta withstood heavy bombing by the German and Italian air forces during WW II. The colony as a whole was awarded the George Cross for heroism by George VI, king of Great Britain in 1942.
It was granted internal self-government in 1961 and became fully independent in 1964 with George Borg Olivier as prime minister. He was defeated by the labour Party in 1971 and Dominic Mintoff became prime minister. The island became a republic in 1974. It began to collaborate closely with Libya and refused to renew its leases with NATO in 1979. In 1984, Mintoff resigned and was succeeded by his education minister, Carmelo Mifsud-Bonnici.
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I got here on the overnight ferry from Tripoli at 9 o'clock in the morning. My guidebook had warned that the fare would be an exorbitant 170 dollars but I paid only 25 dollars for a bunk in a six berth cabin (including breakfast).
What a magnificent sight was to sail into Valletta's Grand harbour on this bright sunny day!
This is the Libyan ferry that brought me here. It was huge and modern, most of the passengers were Libyan individuals and traders coming here to buy goods not available in Libya.
Fortress Valletta is built on a rocky peninsula isolated from the mainland by a huge ditch crossed by this bridge leading to the city's main entrance gate.
Republic street, the city's main artery, goes from the city gate to fort Saint Elmo at the tip of the peninsula. I visited the excellent National Museum which is located on this street but I missed the Saint Elmo Military Museum which was closed when I was there.
This is Fort Saint Angelo guarding the eastern side of the Grand harbour with Fort Ricasoli.
With half a dozen secondary forts defending its approaches in this part of the island, fortress Valletta was almost impregnable. It resisted an epic siege by the Turks in 1665 and bravely withstood all efforts of Nazi Germany to subdue it during the second world war.
Senglea, also on the eastern side of the Grand Harbour. To be exact it must be said that Valletta was taken by Napoleon in 1798, but it was more less with the consent of the Knights.
Below on the left, St John's Cathedral, built in 1575, whose plain exterior belies the opulence within. On the right, Merchants street which is typical of Valletta's residential areas.
This view of the Grand Harbour's entrance was taken from Upper Barracks Square whose colonnades can be seen in the first photo of this series.
Naturally I could not miss visiting some of the archaeological sites. This is all that is left of a statue of the Mother Goddess found at Tarxien not far from Valletta. Other representations of this goddess found elsewhere in the islands show equally large proportions hence the name "Fat Lady".
Between 5500 and 4000 years ago the Maltese islands were inhabited by a successful agricultural society that had sufficient surpluses and the required technical ability to build several megalithic temples which are believed to be the first of their kind in the world.
The size, number and distribution of these temples as well as the fineness of the stone work involved imply the existence of a strong and stable central government in the hands of a ruling clergy capable of mustering the community's surpluses for their construction.
These megalithic portals open onto a succession of two lobed rounded spaces deemed to symbolize the fertile interior of Mother Earth, goddess of cyclical renewal. In some places the temples are associated with man-made caverns used as the burial place for thousands of individuals whose bones were evidently rearranged periodically.
Back to modern times where religion, renewal and death are still closely associated. Just before leaving for the Balkans, I took this picture of the 100 ton gun installed in Fort Rinella which was built especially for it between 1878 and 1886. In fact it weighed 152 tons with its carriage. It could fire at one ton shell three miles and pierce no less than 21 inches of armor at that distance. There was only one other built like it and it is in Gibraltar.
I was in Africa when the Kosovo crisis led to NATO's intervention against the Miloševic regime in Belgrade. I had amply observed how the cohabitation of distinct ethnic groups on the same territory can lead to tribal politics and the supremacy of one of them over the others. The "ethnic cleansing" that had been going on in the Balkans was taking violence one step further. I just had to go and see for myself before the whole powder keg blew up as it did in 1914, causing WW I.