Malta is a name that many have heard but most know close to nothing about. This picturesque island nation is located just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, but you may recognize its ancient landscapes as the backdrop of historical epics like Troy (2004) and Alexander (2004), or it’s clear blue waters as the setting of the real-life thriller, Captain Phillips (2013). So, why is it worth visiting?
Thanks to its prized location in the heart of the Mediterranean, Malta has attracted the attention of ambitious empires and nations for centuries. Remarkable history still haunts the islands’ every corner, and relics of ancient civilizations continue to impact local culture. From 3600 B.C. through about 2500 B.C. was a time of prolific building on the main island known as the “temple period”—the Megalithic Temples of Malta are UNESCO-recognized heritage sites and widely regarded as the oldest free-standing structures on Earth.
Later, around 7 B.C., the Phoenicians used the islands as a base from which they could expand their exploration and trade throughout the region. They named the island Malat, which means “safe haven.” The Carthaginians came into control of the islands from around 400 B.C. until they fell to the Roman Republic almost 200 years later. The territory would remain under Roman control for 10 centuries, and in that time its inhabitants fully adopted Roman culture and language.
The Vandals conquered the islands in A.D. 440 and then Byzantine general Belisarius captured it for the province of Sicily in A.D. 533. In 870, Arabs came from North Africa, followed (200 years later) by the Normans. Over the next five centuries, Malta was controlled by the Spanish, the French and then the British until 1964, when it became an independent state.
Maltese cuisine is notably eclectic thanks to the islands’ varied history. Dishes take influence from the nation’s tumultuous past—you’ll find Italian, Middle Eastern and even British tastes and traditions on Maltese menus.
Stuffat tal-fenek, or slow-cooked rabbit stew, is often regarded as the national dish and has been a popular meal since the French brought rabbit domestication techniques to the island in the 1800s. Immensely popular on the island of Gozo, Ġbejna are small round cheeses that can be served fresh (for a flavor and texture similar to Italian mozzarella) or sun-cured for a nuttier taste.
Where to go
Pronounced “em-dee-nah,” this part of the city of Rabat has been the main island’s primary settlement for three centuries. It was fortified by the Romans to separate the area from the rest of the town (Mdina and Rabat translate to “fort” and “suburb” in Arabic).
The Maltese capital is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the large number of historic structures that can be found in the small city, including St. John’s Co-Cathedral, known for its subdued exterior and elaborately decorated interior.
The Blue Grotto
This series of seven caverns and inlets are known for their crystal blue waters and impressive rock formations. Visitors can often be found scuba diving, snorkeling or swimming in the picturesque caves.
Have you been to Malta? Tell us in the comments!