Malta, Day One: October 19, 2018
Sicily was fabulous (see posts 1 to 6) and we were looking forward to Malta because we had Maltese people there who would show us Rabat and Mdina. Our long-time friend and pastor, a Franciscan friar whom I had worked very closely with liturgically and musically at a local Brampton Ontario parish beginning in 1976, has Maltese roots. Relatives of his would pick us up at our hotel on Saturday morning, October 20 and show us their town of Rabat, where the Grotto of St. Paul is located and next to Mdina, the main ancient Arabic city on Malta.
And a cousin of mine, Mary, and her friend, Cathy, were by coincidence in Malta. They were going to arrive a few hours after us and were staying closeby in Valletta at the Grand Harbour Hotel. Our hotel, the Radisson Blu in Pembroke, less than 3 km from Valletta as the gull flies, was nevertheless 30 to 40 minutes by public bus northwest of Valletta – since it stopped often and followed the squiggly, attractive coast.
Malta has an excellent public transit system around the island and, as the next photos will show, public transit is well patronized. We used the #14 bus more than once every day.
We were part of a Group of Seven who added Malta to Insight Vacations’ Sicily tour. We each did our own things in Malta. Our loose “Group” was picked up at the airport by someone named Anne who explained what Insight, our tour company, had available for us in the way of optional activities and processed us in a nice big area at the Radisson Blu after our airport bus dropped us off. She showed us where to take the #14 bus. Pembroke was near the start of the #14’s route into Valletta, so getting a seat was never a problem.
We visited the amazing, opulent, St. John’s Co-Cathedral first. It boasts two Caravaggios and a ceiling that took the magnificent Italian, Mattia Preti, six years to complete. Caravaggio, by then a fugitive, was befriended by the Knights of St. John who were/are wealthy and powerful. I hunt down Caravaggio paintings wherever I go. I’m fascinated by his crazy life and his chiaroscuro style. He was one of the first artists who painted people who looked like you and me. “Caravaggio,” whose actual name was Michelangelo Merisi, signed only one of his many paintings, The Beheading of John the Baptist, ca. 1608. His other work in St. John’s is St. Jerome Writing.
Malta, tiny yet complex, has been the recipient of much interference for hundreds of years. Its history of sacrifice and resilience is the stuff of legend. Here are a few highlights:
In the 8th C. many Phoenicians arrived in Malta, displaced perhaps by rivalries in the Eastern Mediterranean following the birth of Islam. Those folks founded the beautiful city of Mdina. the Maltese language is closely related to Arabic. English is the other official language of Malta.
The Knights Hospitaller settled in Malta in 1530, where they met a people who spoke a form of Arabic. The Knights had been driven from their “home” on the island of Rhodes eight years earlier by the Ottoman Turks led by Süleyman the Magnificent.
In 1560 the Ottomans returned and destroyed the Spanish and allied Christian ships off Tunisia. Malta was ripe for the taking but the Turks didn’t come back to take over the Mediterranean until 1565. During the interim a much larger Spanish fleet had been prepared. The Ottomans captured St. Elmo, at the tip of Valletta, but did not take the island.
During WW II Malta was bombed by Hitler and Britain, being a key strategic port for allied navies to use in order to control the Mediterranean. Axis-controlled Sicily, a vital target for our allies, was nearby. Like the Sicilians, the Maltese ducked into the nearest catacombs and tunnels when the serious shit came down.
This and so many more events and experiences are described in an audio-visual presentation called The Malta Experience.
After viewing the amazing show there, we met Mary and Cathy at their hotel. The nearby Helen’s Kitchen, where we had enjoyed a delicious lunch, was closed for supper, but we found an acceptable place to eat and had a great time.
Friday’s last photo is of the Triton Fountain, recently restored. It is beautiful at night.