October 17, 2013
I did not know exactly what to expect. After all the Turkish siege of the Knights of Saint John is legendary as well as the unsinkable aircraft carrier experience during WWII. It is amazing that there is so much history and the place is still charming.
We entered the harbor earlier than scheduled. Leaped off the boat and found the tourist bus that I had planned to take. Boarded the Blue line and made our way through the impossibly narrow and crowded streets to the Tarxian Temples. These are Mesolithic structures dating back to 3600 BC or a thousand years before the pyramids. The stones may be the oldest free standing buildings in the world. We invited ourselves right in.
The temples were constructed of megaliths by Neolithic farmers much like the contemporary structures in the Irish Valley of the Boyne. They included similar circular patterns on the stone as in Ireland. Somewhat mind boggling to see these echoes separated by seas and continents. We were left to wander around and visualize the ceremonies of almost 300 generations or so ago. We left and found the bus.
Short commentary on tour buses. They provide affordable convenience at a price. You scramble upstairs and invariably find yourself behind the tallest person in the world or the next Ken Burns who eagerly waves with his camera in an excited and irritating manner. These folks must take even more pictures than Peggy and easily must have more boring slide shows/travel movies than I. Nonetheless, we get where we want with a minimum of poor commentary from the professional guides who were born to bore. Glad that we were not on the bus that died in the middle of a narrow street.
We made it to Mdina, the historic capital of Malta. You guessed it, the name is Arabic. The Arabs conquered the place briefly in the 9th Century being successors to the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. They in turn were booted out by the Vikings in the 10th Century who were in the process of becoming French. The Viking was named Roger, kind of like Roger the Kisser of Camino fame. Anyway, the Maltese people adapted to these rulers and their unique language reflects this process. It is somewhere between Italian, French, Arabic with the local accent. Fortunately for us the last occupier, the English, made their language stick to these now bilingual folks.
Mdina has cool defensive walls and a church dedicated to Saint Paul whose cruise ship crashed here for a while. I doubt if a church will be named after us as it was for Paul. We posed on the ramparts and avoided getting hit by trucks, cars and horse buggies. We made it back to the bus and continued our tour.
Went throughout a cute fishing village with an unpronounceable name with colorful fishing boats and a cute cat statue. The cat probably rescued someone by screeching and awakening the coast guard. I am making that up. Saw the Blue Grotto from the road and saw the incredible terracing by Maltese farmers that puts the Big Hill gardeners to shame.
We eventually returned to the center of this amazing place, Valetta. The port of Valetta was founded by the seagoing Knights of Saint John who had been booted out of Rhodes and Cyprus by the Turks by the early 16th century. Charles V gave this rocky island to the Knights and earned some points from the Pope in the process. The Knights decided that this was a good place to stand their ground. They hurriedly strengthened the Fort of Saint Elmo at the harbor entrance in time to resist a siege by 30,000 Turks. There only a few hundred knights with some Maltese volunteers. After seeing the walls, the Turks never had a chance. After catching some diseases and getting real thirsty, they departed and left the Knights and their Grand Master to enjoy the island until the arrival of that Corsican, Napoleon. The French occupation was brief as the British Navy coaxed them out in 1800. The Brits remained until 1964 and helped the Maltese resist the advances of Mussolini and Hitler during WWII.
The fortifications are both incredible and beautiful. Constructed of a yellow limestone, the colors easily disguise their warlike purpose. Pictures barely encompass the scene from the parapets. Even the Cops kiss the horses and the campaign hatted soldiers set off the battery guns in good spirits. The sun is dipping, the full moon is rising and the ship is getting ready to sail. All is well in Malta.
Are you bringing home a rock? Those buildings are great! The colors are lovely. You look like you are enjoying summer weather. Goldie is enjoying having Chris here. She cries at the door and he spends time with her. The pics were beautiful!
Mag just gave me the story of the valiant struggle put up by the English in WWII on Malta….guess the whole island got the George’s Cross. Never heard of the Tarxian Temples…..see, even your readers are learning something from your trips. Love the tiny little cars. Yellow limestone quite beautiful.
Can’t wait to have some time to explore some of these pics with you….curiosity has gotten the best of me!
My mother-in-law, Mary Frances Grech Matthews, spent ages 8-18 in Malta in WWII & survived in catecombs under churches during bombings (pretty much constant). Two churches were leveled over her, & in one, she was one of TWO survivors. When she speaks Maltese, it’s all Arabic to me, yet her maiden name of “Grech” means, “the Greek.” She went to a British private school, speaks English with yet a faint English clip, & still can converse in French. Her family members were Merchant Marines through the ages (go figure—sitting in the middle of the Mediterranean), including her father (which is why she was born in the USA, & returned to the USA after the war when she could get out of Malta on a destroyer–a US, minor-age citizen, trapped by war) & her grandfather, also a merchant marine, was buried in Marseilles, France. From family photos I have, half the Maltese members appear very Mediterranean/Arabic…the other half, fair Europeans…all in the same family! A crossroads of cultures! Thanks for the great photos…so nice to see what she once saw growing up in Valleta. I esp. liked photos of the sailboats in the harbor. She tells a story of having her own little sail boat at such a young age that she could take out all alone…like the equivalent of getting a bike for your 6th birthday or Christmas 🙂 She also described the narrow, medieval streets, & how—to get fresh milk, the goat-herders took their flocks through the streets twice a day & customers lowered their little tin cups from the rooms above—out the window—containing 5-cents. The goatsmen took the money & would milk a goat on the spot to fill that little tin cup, which the customer drew up into the upper living quarters. Your photos made these stories so much more visual & real to me 🙂 Can’t wait until you can share & describe your visits to these places in person with us!