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Malta

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Travel Guide Europe Malta

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Introduction

Mosta Dome by night

Mosta Dome by night

© All Rights Reserved EliseJones

A mere dot in the Mediterranean on maps of Europe, Malta may well be Europe's most compact tribute to ancient history. The pre-historic temples at Hagar Qim date back to the Copper Age (or 3800 BC), making them the oldest human structures known to man. At Valletta, the architectural heritage of the Norman and baroque eras proudly line cobbled streets. Such illustrious historical figures as Ulysses and the apostle Paul set foot on Malta, giving the island a near-mythical past that is perfectly underscored by its ancient appearance.

The beauty about Malta is that once you have finished enjoying the amazing cities, towns and countryside, the beach is still there with the beautiful blue of the Mediterranean warmly inviting visitors into its midst. Diving around Malta is excellent, with superb visibility and stunning underwater scenery. And with an average summer temperature of 30 °C, Malta is a great way to unwind over summer.

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Brief History

Archeological evidence shows that the islands of Malta were inhabited already in 5200 B.C., probably by hunters and farmers that came from Sicily. Out of that a culture of megalithic temple builders arose. Around 3500 BC, these people built some of the oldest existing, free-standing structures in the world in the form of the megalithic Ġgantija temples on Gozo. More temples were built in the period from 4000 B.C. to 2500 B.C., when this culture seemed to have vanished from Malta. Around 700 BC, the Ancient Greeks settled on Malta, especially around the area where Valletta now stands. A century later the Phoenicians arrived. When their Empire fell, Malta came under influence of Carthage. During the First Punic War of 218 BC, tensions led the Maltese people to rebel against Carthage and turn control of their garrison over to the Romans. Over the years Malta was a wealthy part of the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire was split it feel under the control of the Byzantine Empire until 870 A.D..

After this peaceful period Malta was the target of many conquests. It was involved in the Byzantine-Arab wars, which led to a period under the rule of the Fatimid dynasty that ruled from the Emirate of Sicily. It was conquered by the Normans. It was in this period that the Maltese Cross came into use. The legend tells of King Roger I of Sicily tearing up his banner to make the cross as thanks for the support of the Maltese people. The island was passed on to the dynasty of the Hohenstaufens, which meant Malta was part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1266. A new turbulent era followed, with a revolt in Sicily, of which Malta was still a part of. In 1275 the Kingdom fell into the hands of the Kingdom of Aragon. In 1530 Charles I of Spain (Charles the Great) gave the islands to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. These knights formed a military religious order now known as the Knights of Malta, which had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522. The knights withstood a siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1565, at the time the greatest naval power in the Mediterranean. After the siege they decided to increase Malta's fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbour area, where the new city of Valletta, named in honour of Grand Master Jean de la Valette, was built.

The Knights' reign ended when Napoleon captured Malta on the way to Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1798. Napoleon asked for safe harbour to resupply his ships. But once he was safely inside Valletta's harbour he turned his guns against the Maltese, looting the place for a couple of days. The French financial and religious policies angered the Maltese who rebelled, forcing the French to retreat within the city fortifications. Great Britain, along with the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily, sent ammunition and aid to support the Maltese. Britain also sent warships which blockaded the islands. The French had to surrender in 1800. The Maltese leaders presented the island to Sir Alexander Ball, asking that the island become a British Dominion. In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire, a situation that lasted for 150 years.

Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 and became a Republic in 1974, whilst retaining membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. Malta became a member of the European Union in 2004 and it implemented the Schengen Agreement in 2007. In 2008 it also became a member of the eurozone.

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Geography

Malta is located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, 93 kilometres south of Sicily and 288 kilometres northeast of the coast of Tunisia. With a surface of just over 300 km² it is one of the smaller countries in Europe. Besides the three mail islands there are 17 uninhabited islands that are also a part of the Maltese archipelo. The highest point is Ta' Dmejrek at 253 metres, which is located on the main island. Only the three largest islands - Malta (Malta), Gozo (Għawdex), and Comino (Kemmuna) - are inhabited. The smaller islands are uninhabited. The islands of the archipelago lie on the Malta plateau, a shallow shelf formed from the high points of a land bridge between Sicily and North Africa that became isolated as sea levels rose after the last Ice Age. The archipelago is therefore situated in the zone between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates. Numerous bays along the indented coastline of the islands provide good harbours. The landscape consists of low hills with terraced fields. Although there are some small rivers at times of high rainfall, there are no permanent rivers or lakes on Malta. However, some watercourses have fresh water running all year round at Baħrija, l-Imtaħleb and San Martin, and at Lunzjata Valley in Gozo.

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Islands

Malta consists of 3 inhabited islands

  • Malta
  • Gozo (Għawdex)
  • Comino (Kemmuna)

Of these Malta is the major one and the location of the only airport. It will most likely be your point of entry. Gozo may be reached by a local ferry and also has some towns and population. Access to Comino is limited, especially out of season. Basically Comino has only one hotel and not much else and this hotel is open seasonal only (March-November).

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

Gozo

Gozo is the smaller island of Malta. It may be reached by a ferry. It has a more laid back feel and includes its capital called Rabat. The hilltop capital is centered around a church that lacks a dome due to lack of funding in the era of its construction, but in the interior the dome is painted on the vault. Another interesting location are the temples of Ggantia, the first prehistoric place discovered in Malta (unlike many other Maltese temples they were not buried by time). As such it still boasts some 19th century graffiti left by travellers of the era gone-by. These temples are also the largest of the prehistoric Maltese temples. Back in the 19th century they were thought to be Greek or Roman now their true origin in the much older Maltese prehistoric culture is known. Gozo also has interesting nature on its west coast.

Rotunda of St Marija Assunta

Mosta Dome

Mosta Dome

© All Rights Reserved EliseJones

Rotunda of St Marija Assunta, also known as Mosta Dome, is a stunning church in Mosta. Built in the 19th century its dome is one of the largest in the world with a diameter of 37 metres. The construction of the church was not completed until the 1860s, but while it was being built the old church was left in the center and torn down upon completion of the new dome. On April 9, 1942 a 200 kg bomb was dropped on the dome by a German bomber and broke through the dome but did not explode sparing the lives of over 300 people awaiting for an evening mass.

St. John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta

St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta was built by the Knights of Malta between 1573 and 1578. It was designed by a Maltese military architect named Gerolamo Cassar, which gave the cathedral a military fort-like look. The inside is covered with extremely ornate murals and paintings with lots of gold gilding. There are also eight rich side chapels that are each dedicated to a different patron saint. Several famous paintings including "The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1608)" by Caravaggio are located in the Cathedral.

Valletta Old Town

Valletta was the first planned city in Europe. Built on a peninsula and covered from the island interior by a massive wall it is build on a grid layout that reminds of the wealth and power of the Hospitallier Order (also known as Order of St. John, Order of Malta) which was once based here. Among the interesting locations of Valletta are the St. John co-cathedral (see above), the original hospital of the order (building these hospitals, more than luxurious by contemporary standards, for their knights and even the poor is what signified the Order and gave it the "Hospitallier" name). Hospital visit is coupled with Malta Eperience movie - in Malta you will see many such purpose-built tourist movie theaters which always show one and the same movie about the particular location. Malta Experience is based in the capital and tells the story of Malta as a while.

Three Cities

Three cities on the opposite (eastern) gulf shore from Valletta are the former center of Malta before Valletta was constructed. They include some interesting fortifications and a more Medditerranean-like unordered architecture (i.e. no straight streets like in Valletta). Now they are part of the only agglomeration of the country which also includes Valletta, Floriana and other cities. These cities, while still named such, are in fact more like neighbourhoods of the same large city today. But due to their separate origins every "city" still has a very unique atmosphere.

Hagar Qim

Hagar Qim is an ancient temple that dates back to 3200 BC. The temple was first excavated in 1839 and many amazing relics have been found. There are also several other temples near by like Mnajdra, which are worth a visit. Many of the more famous relics are on display in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. Hagar Qim is located on the southern tip of the island of Malta.

Beaches

The islands of Malta and Gozo are the homes to some of the most amazing beaches in the world ideal for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. There are sandy beaches and rock beaches, which are rock shoreline that gently enters the water. There are countless beaches to choose from offering different activities. For more information on the different beaches click here.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Hypogeum, located in Paola, is the only prehistoric subterranean temple in the world. Definitely impressive, but you need to pre-book well in advance as etremely strict limitations are put in place on the number of tourists per day.
  • The Sacra Infermeria (MCC) is located in Valletta.
  • Water Sports - go sailing and motor boating on Malta's beautiful coast.
  • Boat Cruises, especially from Sliema, can be a great activity.
  • Trekking and Horse Riding are great ways to explore the hills around the islands..
  • Meditation centers are abound, so take a deep breath and relax.
  • Fishing for some delicious fish in the these pristine Mediterranean waters is always a great time.
  • Malta Classic Car Collection is a great car museum located in Qawra.

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Events and Festivals

Malta has hosted the huge MTV event 'Isle of MTV' in june every year since 2007. The concert is free of charge and has a capacity of more than 50,000 people. The concert attracts the biggest artists of the year. Previous artists with an appearance in Isle of MTV include Lady Gaga and The Black Eyed Peas.

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Weather

It is said to have the best weather in Europe and it is easy to see why. Malta has warm, dry and sunny summers and mild winters. In summer, average temperatures are around 30 °C during the day and around 20 °C at night, thoug occasionally temperatures hit 40 °C degrees when winds blowing from Africa bring hot weather. Winters are mild, around 16 °C during the day and 10 °C at night. There is almost no rain in the summermonths from May to September, most of it falls between October and February with December being the wettest month at 110 mm of rain. Spring and autumn are pleasant times for a visit with warm, dry and sunny conditions but not overly hot.

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Getting There

Being an island country, plane and boat are the only options to get to Malta.

By Plane

The Malta International Airport in Luqa is home to the national airline, Air Malta. Air Malta has regular connections to destinations in Europe, Africa and Middle East. Some other regional airlines flying into Malta include Air Méditerranée, BritishJET, MyTravel Airways, Ryanair and Thomsonfly. If you travel on a shoestring you may choose Ryanair or a package holiday.

By Boat

Italy

Tunisia
Grimaldi Lines travels between Tunis and Malta.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Harbourair Malta links Grand Harbour in Valletta to Mgarr Harbour on Gozo island.

By Train

There are no train services on Malta and the smaller islands.

By Car

There are numerous international and local companies that offer rental cars and you can pick them up at the airport, dowtown in Valletta and also in smaller places where there are hotels. Most roads are paved an in a regular shape, but the driving skills of locals are not. Although the mortality rate in traffic is the lowest in the European Union (source), it pays to be a careful and defensive driver!

Remember that traffic drives on the left in Malta and be sure to have an international driving permit. The prices of rental cars are among the cheapest in Europe and own transportation is the preferred method for most tourists. As a general rule, make sure that if you do hire a car in Malta the vehicle is checked for physical damage in the presence of the car hire representative. That helps avoid nasty surprises upon returning the vehicle.

By Bus

As of July 2011, bus service on the islands were taken over by Arriva. The old buses dating back to the British period that plied Malta's streets have been replaced by new buses. Buses are operated by Arriva, and schedules and routes can be found on the Arriva Malta website. Tickets can be bought on board, and fares run from €2.20 for a 2-hour ticket, €2.60 for a day pass or €12.00 for a 7-day pass for non-Malta residents.

By Boat

Gozochannel operates a passenger car ferry several times daily between Cirkewwa in Malta and Mgarr in Gozo. Thejourney time is about 25 minutes each way.
The Comino Hotel runs runs a ferry service to the island Comino from March to November.
Paradise Diving has daily services to Blue Lagoon from May to October.
There is also a ferry from Sliema Ferry Terminal to Valetta (the capital) and vice versa.

And of course there are also boats for tourists to visit parts of the island. You can do a trip to Gozo, a 360-degree trip of the island, or a 1.5 cruise of the creeks surrounding Valletta. All for a reasonable price.

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Red Tape

If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

Since 2008, Malta has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: ) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.

Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.

The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.

The €1 and €2 coins contain the Maltese cross, the 50 cents, 20 cents and 10 cents coins contain the Maltese coat of arms and the 5 cents, 2 cents and 1 cent coins contain Mnjaidra Temple.

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Language

Maltese, English and Italian are spoken on the island. Pretty much everyone speaks english on the island.
If you are going to Malta to see the real native Malta, do not expect English language to be spoken at all. Many people, almost all, in tourist areas speak English of some description but if you are in an English area, expect an English holiday too.

Maltese language is in fact a variant of Arabic, but it is written using Latin script rather than Arabic script as the island was Christened by the Order of St. John and therefore adopted the Latin culture rather. In addition to the Arabic roots the Maltese language has many loanwrods from English and Italian which are not present in Arabic. If you know all three languages you should be able to understand Maltese, if you know only some of them it will help you comprehend what locals are talking about.

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Eat

Typical Mediterranean food is served on Malta, though there are some local specialities.

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Drink

The main place for a bit of fun is the Paceville area. You'll find about 6 clubs, all a stone's throw from each other.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Malta. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Malta) where that disease is widely prevalent.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

It is seemingly very safe to walk around at night. Take normal precautions like you would do at home.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafés and Wi-Fi zones are quite abundant with connection rates peaking at 30Mbit/s. More and more small, independent cafes and restaurants are providing free WiFi hotspots.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The international telephone code for Malta is 356. Emergency number is 112 for all services.

The country has three mobile phone networks available: Vodafone, Go Mobile, and Melita Mobile. Due to international agreements with providers across the globe, Vodafone, GO and Melita are sure to be apart of your carriers roaming plan. To avoid high costs, buy a local SIM-card.

Post

Malta Post is the national postal service with generally cheap and reliable services, albeit not very fast. All post offices are open from around 8:00am till noon, some opening slightly earlier or closing later. The main offices stay open until around 4:00pm.
For sending international packages, you might consider companies like DHL, TNT or UPS.

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Quick Facts

Malta flag

Map of Malta

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Capital
Valletta
Population
400,000
Government
Republic
Religions
Christianity (Catholic)
Languages
Maltese, English
Calling Code
+356
Nationality
Maltese
Local name
Time Zone
UTC +1
Daylight Saving
UTC +2

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