Sicily and Malta.8

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Approaching Rabat from Valletta, Mdina comes first into view.

We were picked up at the Radisson Blu Hotel at 9:30 AM. Marlene drove us to Rabat. With us also were the ‘patriarch,” Frank, and Francesca, Marlene’s daughter. Our friend, Canadian Friar Ed, had introduced us to Frank on the phone before we left Canada. They showed us great kindness and had a treasure chest of knowledge to share.

The first place we visited was St. Paul’s Collegiate Church in Rabat known as the “Knight’s Church.” The Knights Hospitaller settled in Malta in 1530 after being driven from Rhodes by Süleyman the Magnificent in 1522. The Knights’ symbol is an 8-pointed cross, the symbolism of which, some say, is that the points represent the eight European langues of the Hospitallers: Auvergne, Provence, France, Aragon, Castille&Portugal, Italy, Germany, and the British Isles. Looks a bit like a stretch to me, but it makes it pretty clear that Arabic was not one of their original tongues…

Valletta, the “new” Maltese capital, was named after Jean Parisot de la Vallette, who fought bravely in Rhodes against the Ottomans and, as Grand Master, successfully defended Malta against them during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. De la Valette laid the first stone of Valletta in 1566, but did not live to see it finished.

Some photos from St. Paul’s in Rabat:

Then we exited the main Knights’ Church and visited St. Paul’s Grotto in an adjacent underground area where St. Paul stayed while successfully converting Publius, the Romans’ chief person on Malta, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Catacombs are a major part of this neighbourhood. There is also a large section that houses a museum to the Knights of Malta. Our hosts took us there. It contains portraits, statues and furniture related to the Knights.

We were treated to a delicious lunch by our gracious hosts, after which they showed us Mdina.

Our wonderful hosts returned us faithfully to our Pembroke Radisson Blu shortly before 5 PM, and then we “#14ed” into Valletta for supper and a little shopping, returning home after an early tropical sunset.

On Sunday we planned to visit the Blue Grotto and Marsaxlokk on a tour bus that Anne set up for us on Friday. That will be my last post on our Sicily and Malta 2018 tour.

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Tomb of Muhammad V

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We visited Morocco for 6 days on the guided part of our 2011 holiday in Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Do not shortchange yourself with the one day tour of that amazing, welcoming country.

Rabat is the capital. King Muhammad VI is, like his grandfather Muhammad V was, a much loved and wise ruler. They are part of a dynasty that has reigned since 1631 – the Alaouite Dynasty, founded by Moulay (Saint) Ali Cherif, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad via the prophet’s daughter, Fatima and his cousin, Ali. The Alouites are Sunni Muslims.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the fledgling United States and has had a treaty of friendship with the US that is the longest standing T of F in existence.

Under then “Sultan” Muhammad V, Morocco was an ally during WW II. Sultans reigned in Morocco but at that time it was a colony ruled in bits by France and Spain. Promises of self-rule were made in return for help during the war, but these were not kept. Movements grew here as they did around the world, in support of workers and autonomy. Muhammad V cautiously supported the independence movement. The French rewarded him with exile to Madagascar in 1953. This caused such trouble with the people that he was back within two years. Shortly thereafter Morocco became an independent kingdom, with the popular Sultan now the King.

His son, Hassan II, became king when papa died in 1961. Hassan was not a nice King and more than one attempt was made on his life. Malika Oufkir, daughter of a general implicated in a failed assasination, was imprisoned by Hassan, an ordeal that lasted 20 years and spawned a wonderful book, Stolen Lives, that Anita and I enjoyed reading in our Morocco research before taking the trip. Oufkir and her close family members eventually escaped from their isolated desert prison.

Hassan II died in 1999 and Muhammad VI, his son, replaced him. While some, again cautious, reforms have taken place, Muhammad VI is not without his problems, one of which is an outdated Islamic penal code that resulted in the suicide of a rape victim faced with the decidedly unpleasant ruling forcing her to marry her rapist.

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Looking away from Muhammad V’s tomb are the impressive remains of an interrupted (by his death in 1199) attempt by Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour to build a massive mosque (look at those columns!) and the largest, tallest minaret in the world. The red sandstone “Hassan Tower” was inspired by the beautiful Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech, also constructed under the reign of Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour. At the time the strict Almohad Caliphate controlled Morocco, a good chunk of coastal North Africa and southern Spain. By this time the Golden Age of Islamic Andalusia, which spread much culture, including Greek philosophy, throughout Europe had been taken over by this harsh way of interpreting Islam.

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The gate was protected by two of these colourful guards. Green is the colour of Islam.

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Above: The top of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.