Malta sits in the middle of the Mediterranean and has been an important site since Neolithic times. The island is sprinkled with ruins from Stone Age, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantium, Ottoman, Norman, Spanish, Napoleonic and British settlements. Ten intrepid CCI students set out to discover all that Malta has to offer.
Shortly after arrival, we embarked on a cruise of Valetta harbour.
This is one of the best natural harbours in Europe and the fortifications spoke of centuries of defence of the island. The Knights of St. John moved to the island after the Ottomans forced them from the Crusader center in Rhodes. The most famous, the Great Siege occurred in 1865 when Ottoman forces – at the peak of their power under the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent- attacked Malta but were defeated by the Knights led by Jean de La Valette (Valetta, a UNESCO site, is named for him). It also contains dry docks and a large tank where movies (like U-571 and Troy) staged their naval battles. There were hundreds of ships ranging from multi-million dollar yachts and sailboats to the colourful Maltese fishing boats.
On Saturday we bused around the island- passing through Mostra where the third largest domed church in Europe was built. During WWII a German bomb dropped on the church which was being used by the locals as a bomb shelter. The bomb failed to detonate and the church and those in it were saved. We spent several hours in Mdina (the former capital of the island- it is Arabic for ‘city’) wandering or riding in a buggy. Lunch was at Fontanella Tea Garden famous for its homemade desserts and views over the island.
After a scenic but windy ride through the country side - past St. Paul’s Bay, where St. Paul was washed ashore following a shipwreck while on his way to Rome to face trial and eventual execution, we explored the capital city of Valetta.
There are several churches of merit, like St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church and St. John’s Co-Cathedral built as the Church of the knights. Unfortunately there was a mass in process so we missed the huge Caravaggio (the Beheading of St. John) housed inside. Caravaggio escaped to Malta after a murder in Rome and was made a Knight in the order. His knighthood didn’t last long as he ended up in the local prison and escaped from there to return to Tuscany.
Our hotel was located on the waterfront walk that connects the north side of the island, so we had fabulous views of the Mediterranean and could walk off dinner or sit and admire Valetta’s lights in the evening.
Everyone enjoyed the visit and regretted having to leave early Sunday morning, but we were allowed one more look at the little green island from the air as we headed back to Rome.
Mrs. Irons Murray