Malta is a dream destination for culture and history buffs. It may be a small island but Malta has played an outsized role in history. Having come under the influence of many empires, it’s a melting pot of different cultures. From St. Paul to the Romans and the Knights of Malta, there’s so much culture to discover.
The cultural history of Malta stretches back before recorded history. You’ll find ancient temples so old they’re little understood, including some of the oldest known cave paintings. In between sunning yourself on the beach and drinking cocktails, you’ll have plenty of excuses to expand your mind.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
The Knights of Malta built this glorious cathedral between 1572 and 1577, quite a short period of time to build such a masterpiece. It was a great monument to the Baroque. The Knights of Malta are part of history and also myth. Founded in 1099 and an offshoot of the Knights Hospitaller, they’ve inspired a fair few conspiracy theories, not least the Da Vinci Code.
Caravaggio, the dissolute Italian genius, moved to Malta and joined the knights having burned all his bridges back home. His “Beheading of St. John The Baptist” was commissioned for the cathedral and it’s displayed there to this day. The Knights left in 1798 when the French took over Malta. The cathedral remains one of the great cultural attractions of Malta. It’s a must-see. You can visit the cathedral from 9:30am throughout the week – except for Sundays. It’s well worth the modest entrance fee.
The longest-running saluting battery on earth, these guns have protected the harbour for over 500 years. Perched on Valletta’s eastern ramparts, the cannons fire at noon every day. It’s worth the trip for the view alone. You’ll be able to see the cities of Cospicua, Senglea and Vittoriosa. Read More: A Gay Guide To Malta
St Paul’s Catacombs
Malta played an important role in early Christianity. St. Paul, a contemporary of Jesus is believed to have been shipwrecked in Malta. He could well have done, after all, Malta was one of the first parts of the then Roman empire to convert.
The catacombs are of Roman origin. They take the form of a cemetery complex and they were in use up until around the 8th-century. As the dead couldn’t be buried in the confines of the city – according to Roman law – the catacombs were built just outside Mdina. You can take a trip underground and take a walk through ancient Maltese history. St. Paul had nothing to do with them – the association to the saint derives from the myth that this cluster of catacombs was once connected with St Paul’s Grotto.
Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum
The Roman catacombs are superseded in age by the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. It was discovered in 1902 and it dates back to around 4000 BC. You’ll find very ancient red ochre wall paintings. Only ten visitors an hour can visit the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. It’s protected by an environmental management system. You’ll need to book your tickets weeks in advance if you’d like to visit. You can see burial rooms cut into the rocks and ancient shrines. The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum brings you face to face with the remains of civilizations so old we know almost nothing about it.
National Museum Of Archaeology
The National Museum Of Archaeology is located in Valletta in a stunning Baroque building. You’ll find treasures dating back to the Neolithic Period, Bronze Age daggers and the very ancient Venus of Malta. This is a great way to discover the early history of the island. You may be inspired to visit other archeological sites around the island if a particular period takes your fancy.
A megalithic temple complex older than the pyramids of Egypt. Yes, you heard that right. The Ġgantija Temples are otherworldly. Gobekli Tepe in Turkey is the only known religious structure of more ancient origins. These temples go back around 5500 years. As they’re so ancient, not much is known about the people who built them. The temples were built before the wheel was invented. How did they build them with such primitive materials? It must have been a hugely ambitious project.
Published: 25-Aug-2020 by Alex | Last Updated: 30-Sep-2020
On: Gay Malta