I have come to Malta with high expectations for culture but I found nature the only tempting feature of this rock hard place. While Malta tries to show its cultural heritage, there is little here to study apart from the obvious. Muslims ruled here over 200 years, 870 until 1097 but there is very little remnants of this in daily Maltese life. Except their language and reverence for family. And architecture. And the way they work in community, instead of as individuals. Oh, and their love for good food. So practically a lot more than the Maltese dare to embrace.
We stationed ourselves in the Land of Bread, Qormi that was once called Casal Fornaro, Bakers’ village. Maltese crave for bread from here and I intend to take a loaf, too. They do bread tasting in supermarkets which is cool so my bread-loving nature is at home.
While I am an enthusiast for culture, I failed to fill four days with new things that would enlighten me. There is a lot of history here. But. I think Malta is trying to catch up on its lost history by making elaborate brochures on things that are lovely but a little boring to eager minds like me. So we have settled for nature and explored Gozo, the Blue Lagoon on Comino island and swam around local rocks in Valletta. In Gozo we drove around in quirky corners and spent time with divers. The Blue Hole has 18 meter sea on one side and 50 meters on the other. It is a beautiful spot of the earth and hardly any crowd which is a plus on this tiny place.
So what Malta is? It is like your grumpy Sicilian auntie, grumbling most times but helpful, nonetheless. She is stern on the face all the time and unable to offer you gentleness and softness, even if she tried. But she is fierce and will not give up on you.
While I admire any country that builds its life on the sea, Malta is random and erratic. It has another challenge, too. Its rocks are hard to work with but she is adamant. It places hotels on any available square meter and heads upwards. Hence, construction work is permanent on the streets that follow no regular patterns. A bit like our Sicilian auntie, unpredictable in her temper, Malta surprises us with we cannot plan. So we jumped into the car and went around the entire island aimlessly while learning about its Islamic history.
This tiny country has been under occupation since its beginning and only gained independence in 1964. What a mindset people must have when you live under such conditions that your mind is always dictated by someone else! Such is the case with Malta, this tiny island that is the 18th country I enter in the Mediterranean.
This country’s position dictates everything about its daily life. Its location in the middle of the Med makes it a desirable location for those who are seeking bounty, weather and tradition. Islam came to Malta in 870CE, around the same time as Sicily as an attempt to be taken from the Byzantine empire. Emphemius sought the help of Ifriqiyah and the Aghlabids, a semi -independent emirate was eager to help. The Aghlabid emir of the time was Ziyadat Allah, but a highly respected qadi (judge), a student of Imam Malik, Asad b al Furat was deeply critical of Ziyadat’s policies. Ziyadat saw the request as an opportunity to get rid of Asad. He made contacts with the Umayyads and the two centuries occupation began in Malta and Sicily.
Between 870 and 1091 Malta was almost exclusively Muslim by religion. Even after the Norman Conquest they were allowed to retain their faith and practice it without much trouble. Ibn Athir wrote: “They (the Muslims) were treated kindly, they were protected, even against the Franks. Because of that, they had great love for King Roger”.
Ibn Jubair was similarly impressed as he wrote about life under William II of Sicily. He writes about how Muslims occupied high positions at the courts and he appointed many viziers for crucial roles.
In 1224 Frederic II expelled all Muslims from Malta, many was being transferred to Lucera whilst others found home in Albania.
In 1522 Suleyman the Magnificent laid a siege that lasted 6 months before the knights were starved to leave. The Spanish had their eye on Malta, too and in 1530 it became part of the Spanish empire. The rest of history is a tug of war between the British, French and the Italians until 1964 when Malta finally became independent.
And if history is too heavy, here is a small list of interesting things you did not know about Malta:
- It is the most populated country in Europe with 1304 people/ square km.
2. The first time Malta was run by native Maltese was after it gained its independence in 1964.
3. As many Maltese live abroad as in the archipelago of Malta itself. Because Malta is…
4. Not an island, it is an archipelago! Made up of 8 small islands, only 4 has human life on them.
5. Divorce was only made legal here in 2011! That is only 8 years ago…
6. Maltese language has Arabic grammar structure, its vocabulary is 40% at baseline of Arabic and the rest is flavoured with Spanish, French, Italian and Sicilian. Malti only became official in 1934. It is the only Semitic language written in Latin script.
7. The longest distance on the island is 27km and the widest point is around 15km.
8. Malta is completely free of forests and mountains. Not even one..
9. Valletta has a total area of 0.8 square km. It is so tiny that it is the smallest national capital in all of the European countries. And it is also Europe’s first planned city.
10. Its name comes from the colour of the stones here- this honey coloured city was named by the Phoenicians.