4 Reasons to Make It to Marvelous Malta

L2F-Jun-16-pic-Malta-Valletta-skyline-INTERPIXELS-shutterstock_125319017-640x427.jpg?profile=RESIZE_710x             INTERPIXELS

by José Alejandro Adamuz

On one of the quirkiest islands (well, archipelago) in the Mediterranean Sea, you'll find a fascinating society that's one of Europe's most densely populated, essentially founded during the mediaeval Crusades by a quasi-military Catholic religious order, the Knights of Malta; and where locals drive on the left and are basically bilingual in English and the native language - Europe's only Semitic tongue, largely a hybrid of Arabic and Sicilian.

Furthermore, this singular country of just 316 square kilometres (122 sq. miles) and 445,000 people has been ruled and influenced over the course of its history by a motley parade of settlers, invaders, and colonisers dating back to the ancient Phoenicians and Romans, followed by the Arabs which so shaped its language, Sicilians (ditto), then colonising powers i ncluding Spain, France, and finally - until Maltese independence in 1964 - Great Britain, whose legacy includes English as a co-official language.

And so today, the architectural, historic, and cultural treasures bequeathed by a diverse history mix with dramatic scenery (including some sweet beaches) and Europe's best diving, to offer visitors a magnificent Mediterranean morsel indeed. Here are five of the coolest things about Malta:

TBP-pic-multinational-Game-of-Thrones-Malta-Azure-Window-zlikovec-shutterstock_270967652-640x427.jpg?profile=RESIZE_710x            Zlikovec

Maltese Landscapes

Flying into capital Valletta, you'll be impressed by lots of contrasting scenery - the dramatic coastline, the city's majestic architecture, and perhaps above all the shining azure sea surrounding it all; arriving by boat (this is also a popular cruise port), you'll see the impressive city's skyline (top) loom before you as you pull into its harbour. And once you're here, exploring the coast in particular will have you snapping megabytes worth of photos at spots such as the beaches of Comino; the picturesque (albeit unpronounecably named) coastal town of Marsaxlokk; and the island of Gozo's famous Tieqa Żerqa (Azure Window, above), so impressive it was chosen as backdrop for a key scene in Game of Thrones (sadly, however, the Azure Window is no more, having collapsed during a 2017 storm).

Maltese Culture/History

Despite its small size, this country can boast three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni (the world's only known prehistoric temple, dating back to 3300 BC); several other megalithic temples billed as the world's oldest freestanding manmade structures (at least 3600 BC, and perhaps even older); and the entirety of Valletta's Old Town (much of it dating to the 16th century), which besides its marvelous architecture is also home to masterworks in several distinguished art museums as well as churches (the Co-Cathedral of St. John, for example, is home to one of Caravaggio's most important works, The Decapitation of St. John).