SBL Malta
The History of Malta

Malta has a rich history spanning 7,000 years. What sets it apart, is the fact that so much of this heritage is still visible, in the form of prehistoric temples, medieval towns, baroque churches and much more. Some of its old towns, like Mdina and Valletta, take you back through the ages. Their buildings and fortifications have not changed much since the days they were built, but they are still in daily use. That makes visiting them such a pleasant experience.

The Ggantija Temples in Gozo are thought to be the oldest manmade structures on earth. Another 6 megalithic temples were built in Malta, all of them Unesco World Heritage Sites. An amazing underground necropolis, the Hypogeum is another World Heritage Site that can be found on the islands; the capital Valletta is a World Heritage City.

The first known people to settle in Malta were the Phoenicians, who reached these shores on their trading ventures in the 9th century BC. They were followed by the Carthaginians, who made way for the Romans, who were to rule over the island for 7 centuries until the 3rd century AD. Arabs from North Africa occupied the islands from the 9th century to the 13th century. Their influence can be seen quite easily: including in many town names like Mdina and Rabat, Zebbug and Mgarr. Many words in Maltese are similar to their Arabic counterpart: dar (house), bir (source).

Norman rulers left their distinctive architecture in Mdina and other places. In 1530, Emperor Charles V gave the islands in loan to the Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. They would go on to stay until 1798, and leave an indelible mark on the islands in the form of splendid baroque architecture, notably in Valletta.

After the Knights' defeat by French troups, Malta was ruled by Napoleon for two years, but the French were soon driven out by the English. They were to be the last foreign rulers until independence in 1964.

This is of course just one way of looking at Malta's history. Two other important examples of cultural development are religion and the economy.

Religion

Malta was converted to Christianity in 60 AD. The event is recorded in the Bible, in the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostle in question was of course Paul, who shipwrecked here in that year. He was on his way to Rome, as a prisoner of the Romans. He stayed 3 months on the islands and found the population to be very friendly. That much, at least, has not changed! Christianity, in the form of Roman-Catholicism, has been very important for the social fabric of the Maltese through the many trials and tribulations of their history as described above.

There are 365 Roman Catholic churches, as well as a Scottish Methodist Church, a Bible Baptist Church, a synagogue, a mosque and a Greek Orthodox Church. Visitors are always impressed by the intricate architecture of many churches. Two cathedrals, in Valletta and Mdina stand out in their splendour. But even village churches get a complete makeover when it is time for the yearly feast: the 'festa'. Lasting a week, these are held mostly in Summer and are the highlight for their parish. The streets are adorned with statues, flags and banners, old-world stalls sell Maltese goodies like pastizzi and nougat. In a solemn procession, the statue of the patron saint of the parish is carried shoulder high through the streets. The festivities are rounded of with an impressive display of fireworks that light up the Summer skies.

Economy

Through the ages, agriculture and fishing have been important source of income for the Maltese. In the last century, many Maltese men found work in the British Navy. When Malta became a republic in 1974, the year also when the British base was closed down, the economy was in poor shape. It was then that tourism was developed. From humble beginnings, this industry now welcomes more than 1,200,000 tourists a year, arriving from all over the world. Most visitors come from the United Kingdom, followed by Germans, Italians, French and Dutch. Tourism represents about 40% of economic activity.

In the last 20 years a thriving export industry has been built up. At first mainly clothes were produced, such as jeans for many well-knows brands. But the largest exporter is now a manufacturer of electronic equipment, and all kinds of electronic and medical equipment are manufactured here, as well as medicines, tools and spectacles. Many banks have administrative offices in Malta, as well as countless e-gaming and financial services companies. Malta joined the European Union on May 1st 2004. It has one Commissioner and six Members in the European Parlament. The euro was introduced at the start of 2008.