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.