Just south of Sicily, Malta is an island nation that has imported and adopted the various cultures that showed up on its shores over the millenia. The first arrivals came from Sicily, bringing agriculture and hunting to what was a human-free area. Much like the mammoth and the sabre-toothed cat, Malta had its own unique fauna which was made extinct by hunting and competition with humans: the Dwarf Hippo and the Dwarf Elephant.
These early settlers built megalithic temples, many of which still stand and are the oldest structures on Malta. The island remained obscure until Phoenician colonisers discovered the island and assimilated the original inhabitants. Situated in the middle of the Mediterranean, Malta was an ideal spot for a trading hub. When the Phoenicians faded from history, Malta fell into the hands of Carthage, a Phoenician colony itself and the same Carthage that would later battle with Rome for control of the Mediterranean.
By the time it fell into the hands of the Romans, Malta was known for its wealth, prosperity and production of high-quality textiles. For most of its history as Romen territory, Malta was exempt from tribute payments and Roman cultural assimilation was a slow process, with Phoenician and Greek influence remaining in its culture and language.
As the Western Roman Empire slowly withered away in the 300s and 400s, Malta was invaded by the Vandals, a seafaring people that carved up an empire on the African coast. When the famous Byzantine general Belisarius took the island in a campaign against the Vandals, the island was again handed over to the Eastern Roman Empire, or the Byzantines as most call them.
The history of Malta under the Byzantines is somewhat obscure, and 300 years later it was swept up in the Islamic Conquests, alongside Sicily, the Iberian Peninsula and much of North Africa. Much of the island was destroyed and eventually conquered by raiders, and the island lost its once-renowned wealth alongside its population. Like many Islamic emirates that existed at the time, a degree of religious freedom was allowed, and agriculture was improved through advanced irrigation techniques developed during a rapid development of technology centred in the Muslim world.
While the Arabs eventually recolonised and restored the island to its former glory, their rule over the island was short-lived. Norman forces under Roger I took the islands and reinstated Christianity, with Malta’s flag being inspired by a possibly apocryphal story of Roger tearing off a part of his banner to give to the Maltese. Over the next few hundred years, Muslims were persecuted and eventually driven out of Malta, in a similar process to the Spanish Reconquista.
The next few hundred years saw Malta fall under the rule of several European states, eventually becoming an outpost of the Knights Hospitaller, a Catholic military order similar to the historical Knights Templar. The Hospitaller had come from Rhodes, an island near the coast of Turkey after the Ottoman Empire had taken it through a bloody siege.
The Knights brought both their martial prowess and the animosity of the Ottomans with them to Malta, and in 1565, the Ottomans attempted to take Malta and regain control of the Mediterranean. The Great Siege of Malta concluded with a hard-fought victory for the Christian forces, and the devastating Battle of Lepanto 6 years later shattered the Ottoman Navy, rendering them unable to attack Malta or deal with the increasing pressure placed on them by the various Christian powers. The presence of the Hospitallers allowed for the creation of much of the architecture that dots Valletta, a city named after the Grand Master of the Order.
Things were quiet for much of Malta’s history after the Ottomans were defeated, but its relative isolation from European politics meant that it couldn’t adapt to the radical politics birthed by the French Revolution, which in turn swept through much of the world. The Maltese population no longer thought highly of the Knights, and when Napoleon betrayed them in 1798, Malta was quietly incorporated into the French Empire.
The French soldiers left behind in Malta were eventually as hated as the Knights Hospitaller they had overthrown, mainly due to their contempt for religion, manifested by the ransacking of churches to pay for Napoleon’s military campaigns. Despite this, the French achieved a great deal in Malta for the scant two years they held it: Administrative and judicial reforms, the abolition of slavery, and the development of public education for the majority of Maltese people.
Malta passed from the French to the British, where it became a part of the British Empire. Malta again became an important trade hub after the Suez Canal opened. During the Second World War, the Axis powers tried and failed to capture Malta, subjecting it to a long siege as well as aerial attacks, earning the island nation the George Cross, a civilian decoration for bravery in the face of danger. The George Cross proudly features in the Maltese Flag.
As decolonisation began to define the post-war world, Malta became independent of the British Empire in 1964 through negotiations. Queen Elizabeth II is still the official Head of State, but similar to Canada, the actual government is seperate from the UK’s. Malta entered the European Union in 2004, and adopted the Euro in 2008.
Since then, Malta has become one of the main tourist destinations in the Mediterranean, due to its rich history and distinct culture, produced through thousands of years of peoples and cultures coming and going. Malta is a popular stopping point on a superyacht cruise, with You Charter Direct offering several cruises that pass by the area and other coastal attractions along the Mediterranean Sea.