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Published by Baron Travel, 2019-11-26 01:04:24



Keywords: Malta,Gozo,Saacred Islands,vacation,getaway,travel,trip,Islands

in the heart of the Mediterranean


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10 Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean



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Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean


Whether you’re looking to get in touch or wander along mediaeval cobbled streets.Those
with your spiritual side, immerse looking further back will find the stillness of ancient
yourself in ancient history and rich Mdina a truly moving experience.
culture, or just escape, relax and
reflect, Malta provides the ideal destination for all If quiet contemplation is more your kind of
kinds of modern pilgrims. pilgrimage, rest the mind, body and soul in one of
our many spas and wellness centres, or head to
Embracing tradition and modernity in equal Gozo for blissful scenery and meditative walks.
measures, Malta is an island brimming with years
of culture, history, beauty and spirit. Boasting When the relaxation is over for the day, why
breathtaking architecture, inspirational natural not enjoy Malta’s laidback lifestyle and indulge in
vistas and a sun-drenched idyllic lifestyle, Malta has some fine wines, al fresco dining and beautiful
been an inspiration for visitors for hundreds of years. locations. Valletta is a hub of eateries, combining
traditional cuisine with cutting edge techniques,
A country steeped in history and tradition, while waterside chilled out drinks can be found in
Malta celebrates religious events with fervour and the areas of Portomaso and St Julians.
fireworks. Visitors to our islands can celebrate our
age-old traditions and discover the characteristic Alex Incorvaja
Maltese spirit by taking part in numerous festivals, MTA Director UK & Ireland
feasts and cultural events. The ‘festa’ season,
taking place from May right through the summer
into September, is the ideal time to celebrate the
traditional Maltese way.

For visitors coming to the island to immerse
themselves in history, a visit to Valletta is a must.
Stand in awe gazing at the magnificent cathedrals,


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Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

THE ISLANDS and where the gentle crusaders, the Knights
OF MALTA Hospitaller, would find home for 268 years.
Each era left monuments more spectacular and
If you stand at the top of any hill on more sacred than the last, creating on Malta and
Malta or Gozo, the panorama that Gozo a unique religious identity that has endured
reveals itself before you is distinct to this day. This is a country that has not only been
to these islands. In the distance, founded and shaped by a succession of deeply
craggy cliffs yield to the bright blue waters of the spiritual orders, but in which religious devotion
Mediterranean, while on solid ground, farmland, remains profoundly interwoven into everyday life.
vineyards and carob groves lie beneath the
breathtaking skylines of ancient fortress cities, The commitment to family ideals and the
rising majestically from the scrub. strength of the community is so pronounced in
But whichever way you look—along the cliffs, Malta that even some marriage vows used to
over the fields or into the oblige a husband to take his wife to her hometown
dramatic urban mazes—the to celebrate the annual festa—the moment where
landscape is punctuated the whole village pours onto the streets to offer
by the domes and towers of thanks to its patron saint.
magnificent places of worship.
They were constructed through It has also made Malta and Gozo one of the most
many thousands of years, but significant pilgrimage destinations in the world,
still stand tall and proud. where a visitor can marvel at the prehistoric
Malta is the Sacred
Island, where prehistoric ingenuity, walk in the
settlers built temples to footsteps of St Paul, or
their fertility goddess, where admire the treasures
the apostle Paul landed to commissioned by the
bring Christianity to Europe, Knights, all in celebration
of their faith. The islands
are much treasured and
greatly revered; they are
tranquil but vividly alive.

The Maltese
archipelago, comprising
the largest island Malta,
its smaller neighbour
Gozo and the tiny Comino,


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Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

measures only 316 square kilometres FAR LEFT TO RIGHT: THE NATIONAL LIBRARY, VALLETTA;
and has a population of around 410,000 ST MATTHEW’S CHAPEL, QRENDI; ST PAUL’S ISLANDS; CITADEL, GOZO.
people. But there are more than 360

churches across the islands, the huge

majority of which are in daily use.

Some of the parish churches are

immense structures, large enough

to accommodate vast congregations

and transform small villages into

bustling hubs. Others may be tiny

chapels, surviving against the odds

through centuries of turbulence, and

now boasting the modest charm

and adornments of a different era of

worship. St. Gaetano Parish Church

of Hamrun is now best known for the

statue and relic of Saint Gorg Preca,

Malta’s first Catholic saint.

There are also the enigmatic

prehistoric temples, still upright 6,000

years after they were built by Malta’s earliest treasures.The works of Caravaggio, Mattia Preti,

settlers. These people were the first to construct Lorenzo Gafà and Antoine de Favray, among other

designated sites through which to channel their masters, can be found throughout Malta.

devotion, and they remain awe-inspiring today. Even the ground beneath these islands is

More recently, the most justly revered of all sacred. The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni is the only

the buildings are the splendid cathedrals, in the prehistoric subterranean temple in the world, built

capital cities of Valletta and Victoria, as well as the more than 5,000 years ago. Many centuries later, a

ancient capital Mdina. Each has hosted key events similar network of catacombs beneath Rabat were

in the country’s long and splendid history, and hewn from the limestone by the nation’s earliest

despite frequent remodelling have emerged as the Christians as a place to bury their dead and to pray.

superlative structures you see today. There is another underground site in Rabat

They were designed by the finest architects and that is even more significant to pilgrims: St

are decorated with the most exceptional art and Paul’s Grotto, the chamber in which the apostle

Paul dwelled during his three

PHOTO: DANIEL CILIA months in Malta, and from

where he preached the word

that would convert the region to

Christianity. Paul was welcomed

by the governor Publius after a

shipwreck in AD 60, and thanks

to his teachings, Malta became

one of the first Christian nations

in the west.

The welcome to travellers in

Malta remains as wholehearted

today as it has ever been.

The country offers peace and

seclusion; splendour and an

opulent history. The Sacred

Island opens its arms and its

heart to be explored.

– 6–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

PREHISTORIC construction skills that still defy all explanation,
MALTA featuring some megaliths that weigh an estimated

20 tonnes, yet were assembled without the use
of machinery beyond round boulders used as
primitive casters.

The religious heritage of Malta and Gozo The earliest temples pre-date the Great
has been in development for more than Pyramids of Egypt by up to 1,000 years and yet
7,000 years. remain at least partially intact today. They are
The first inhabitants of the islands among the oldest, and most remarkable, free-
standing structures in the world and are inscribed
on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

arrived around 5600 BC, probably from Sicily, The temples are a mandatory stopping point

and were rudimentary subsistence farmers. But for visitors to Malta and Gozo as they provide

over the next 3,000 years, Malta the first stepping stone in an

and Gozo were also home to a MUST SEE: appreciation of the islands as a
civilisation known now as the HYPOGEUM OF place of reverence and devotion.
“temple builders”, a people of HAL-SAFLIENI The concentration of sites
unknown origin and largely suggest that the Maltese islands

unidentifiable customs, but Malta’s iconic subterranean were designated sacred even
who possessed staggering sanctuary and necropolis during prehistoric times, when
engineering acumen and is an almost perfectly intact they possibly attracted some of

profound spirituality. example of prehistoric the earliest pilgrims.

These people built at least architecture, the likes of The oldest examples of the

20 enormous temples on the which cannot be found temples are the two structures

islands, apparently dedicated to anywhere else in the world. at Ggantija in Gozo, so named

a fertility goddess. They display after the myth that they can only

– 7–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

have been constructed by giants. The temples CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: MNAJDRA TEMPLES; HAGAR QIM
stand side by side, surrounded by bougainvillea TEMPLES; HYPOGEUM; THE SLEEPING GODDESS OF FERTILITY
and olive trees, atop a plateau overlooking
much of the island. They are believed to date Museum of Archaeology
from approximately 3600 BC and are exceptional in Valletta.
examples of the “trefoil” style of structure,
arranged in the shape of a clover leaf. An education centre at
Hagar Qim offers detailed
Hemmed by a tall wall fashioned from slabs information concerning
of limestone, the temples each comprise five the temples’ discovery
apses leading from a central chamber, each of and also provides a
which maybe contained an altar and served a comprehensive contextual
specific ritual purpose. There is evidence of animal overview of all the islands’
sacrifice and several spectacular prehistoric
decorative patterns adorn monuments.
the walls. Originally the
temples would have been Arguably the
covered with a roof, and most outstanding
a symbolic “gate” would archaeological site in
likely have been drawn Malta, however, is the Hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni,
across the entrance to near Paola, buried deep beneath the narrow city
create an enclosed space streets. In 1902, construction workers employed on
of worship. a housing project were digging a cistern for a new
residential complex when they found themselves
The temples at Hagar inside a network of chambers expertly hewn
Qim and Mnajdra, which into the rock. They had discovered what is now
occupy a striking coastal known to be an ancient sanctuary and burial vault,
position in the south-east approximately 5,000 years old.
of Malta, are slightly more The Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum is unique. It is the
recent and even better only subterranean prehistoric temple in the world,
preserved. Hagar Qim stretching over at least three floors and to a depth of
even has sections of its 10 metres.Theories vary as to its original purpose: it
roof remaining, and recent investigations have contains more than 30 chambers that comprise both
determined that the temples have been precisely temple and necropolis, from which the remains of
positioned to channel sunlight during the summer some 7,000 people have been excavated.
and winter solstices. For obvious reasons, the Hypogeum is extremely
delicate and efforts to maintain its exceptional
Since their excavation at the beginning of the condition mean that only 60 visitors are permitted
last century, the sites have also yielded some of to enter per day. Booking ahead is therefore
the most important prehistoric finds in Europe, essential, but it should not be missed.
including the figurine known as the Venus of Malta
as well as an altar and an elaborately carved slab.
The priceless artefacts are now in the National

– 8–

ST PAUL’S among the most important religious locations
ARRIVAL in the world. Paul would, of course, go on to be
& EARLY canonised and became one of three patron
CHRISTIANITY saints of Malta.

There is no more significant moment in According to Luke in the Acts of the Apostles,
the history of Malta than the shipwreck both he and Paul landed in Malta only by chance,
of AD 60 that landed the apostle Paul on when the boat carrying them to Crete (and
the island. During an approximate three- eventually Rome, where Paul was to be tried by
month stay on Malta, Paul introduced Christianity to Emperor Nero) was caught in a vicious winter
all levels of society, converting leaders and laypeople wind. It was forced on to the rocks of what was
alike and establishing on the island what remains then known as Melita, and although the specific
today a proud and widespread devotion to Christ. site can never be known for certain, it was
believed to be the area in the north east that has
Contemporary visitors can tread in Paul’s come to be named St Paul’s Island.
footsteps all the way across Malta, from the very
beach on which he initially arrived, through the Paul received a warm greeting from the
sites of his miracles, the underground grotto residents of Malta, even though he was a prisoner
in which he stayed, to the many outstanding of the Roman Empire. Almost immediately he
buildings of worship now dedicated to him. convinced his hosts they were in the presence of
an exceptional man. While gathering kindling to
Malta was one of the first places in the west start a fire, Paul was bitten by a venomous snake
to convert entirely to Christianity and Paul’s and was expected to die. But he overcame the
influential presence here places the island bite, casting the snake into the pyre, much to
the wonder of the Maltese governor Publius, who
invited the man of miracles to his home.

Paul then cured Publius’s gravely ill father of a
high fever and Publius, the “first man of Malta”,
quickly became an ardent convert, encouraging
Paul to spread the word across the country.

– 9–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean


All the sites of these early miracles can still be turn: the ceiling of the apse is decorated with a

visited on Malta. A statue marks the area of the series of frescos depicting scenes from his life,

shipwreck, and the chapel of San Pawl Milqi, a statue of Paul adorns the baptismal font and

which means “Saint Paul welcomed”, stands on the door to the sacristy contains another statue,

the site of Publius’s former country home, in which alongside that of St Peter, carved from wood.

he first hosted the apostle. Roman ruins have been Both these treasures survived the earthquake,

found here, although the simple Mediaeval chapel as did Mattia Preti’s outstanding, dramatic

that remains as the solitary intact building in the depiction in oil of the shipwreck, painted on

area was most likely built around 1616. Maltese stone, which hangs above the

Publius’s main residence was in Mdina, Malta’s altarpiece. Preti also painted the altarpiece

ancient capital city, and its site is now occupied itself, which shows Paul’s conversion on the

by one of the most glorious road to Damascus, as well

buildings dedicated to Paul: the as a painting in which Paul

Metropolitan Cathedral of Malta, DO NOT MISS: is depicted on a white horse
also known simply as St Paul’s defending Mdina
Cathedral. It takes centre stage at Rabat and Mdina are the
the heart of this bewitching town. best places to pay homage from barbarians in 1429.

to St Paul, with a cathedral, A statue of Publius stands just
church, catacombs and
A smaller church stood on grotto all bearing his name inside the main door. After his
the site from Norman times, and all a part in the vital conversion to Christianity by
extended in 1419, but after story of the saint on Malta.
much of the building was badly
damaged in the earthquake

of 1693, Lorenzo Gafà was

commissioned to oversee its extensive rebuilding,

designing the baroque masterpiece that was

consecrated in 1703. Gafà was at the height of his

powers, and St Paul’s is among his finest works.

The cathedral celebrates St Paul at almost every

– 10–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

after Malta’s third patron saint, who is

also believed to have sought refuge here,

date from the AD 4 and still contain

some exquisite frescos painted directly

onto the rocks. St Paul’s Catacombs are

even older and may have been the final

resting place for more than 1,000 people.

There are also a couple of sites outside

of Rabat and Mdina where St Paul is

fervently celebrated, in particular the

Collegiate Parish Church of St Paul’s

Shipwreck in Valletta. The church

contains a rare relic from St Paul—a small

fragment of his right wrist-bone—and also

a segment of the column on which he was

beheaded in Rome. They are both given

due prominence in a church

Paul, Publius became the first “When we had escaped, packed with treasures, including
then they learned that the
Bishop of Malta and later the island was called Malta. an altarpiece painted by the
country’s first saint. The natives showed us French master Antoine de Favray
uncommon kindness; for and work by both Melchiorre and
Outside of Mdina lies they kindled a fire, and Lorenzo Gafà.
the area known as Rabat, received us all, because
meaning “suburb”, which has of the present rain, and The relic—a tiny shard—may
become most revered for the be the only part of Paul’s body
extraordinary networks of because of the cold.” still in Malta, but his influence
catacombs that lie beneath it. has been powerfully felt for
Most significant among them close to 2,000 years.

is the cavern now known as (THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, CHAPTER
St Paul’s Grotto, where Paul 28, VERSES 1-2)

dwelled during his time on the

island, and from which he preached. ST PAUL’S CHURCH – RABAT, MALTA.
The grotto, which is now beneath the 17th- ABOVE LEFT: ST AGATHA’S CATACOMBS.

century St Paul’s Church, is among the most

sacred sites on the island and is plainly adorned,

save for a statue of St Paul donated by Grand

Master Pinto in 1748 and a silver galley given by

the Knights of St John in 1960, 1,900 years after

the shipwreck. The church above contains Stefano

Erardi’s magnificent painting of the shipwreck,

from 1683, and is attached to the Sanctuary of St

Publius, founded in 1617 by a Spanish hermit and

then redesigned by Gafa.

Early Christians were not permitted to bury

their dead within the city walls, and the natural

caves around Rabat were extended to become

vast labyrinths of tunnels, employed to serve as

both burial spaces and underground temples.

They most likely stretch significantly further than

have ever been excavated and give a haunting

insight into the lives of early Christians.

St Agatha’s Crypt and Catacombs, named

– 11–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

MEDIAEVAL ground of a tranquil walled cemetery. But more
MALTA spectacularly, in nine panels on the side walls,
and two on the rear, are vivid colour frescoes
In common with much of Europe depicting apostles, martyrs and saints. They
during the mediaeval era, Malta was a were most likely copied from those in the former
turbulent place. As such, relatively little chapel (accounting for the archaic style) by a
from the period prior to the steadying Sicilian painter named Garinu, and are fascinating
arrival of the Knights of St John survived a examples of devotional art.
succession of incursions.
However, both the Annunciation Chapel at For about 200 years, the chapel of Santa Marija ta
Hal Millieri and the Chapel of Santa Marija ta’ Bir Miftuh, built around 1436, served as the parish
Bir Miftuh, in the south of the island, are sublime church for several villages in the area. But the
examples of mediaeval architecture that have construction of the nearby parish church in Gudja
survived years of vandalism and neglect. They also robbed Bir Miftuh not only of its significance, but
both contain some outstanding frescos that also much of its materials: sections were demolished
are brilliantly representative of an otherwise to provide the limestone for the new building.
under-seen form.
There were once at least four churches The church fell into abandonment until it was
in Hal Millieri, serving a thriving village on rescued and restored in the 1970s, when fragments
the site of a former Roman settlement. But
as patrons moved away, the churches were of what was once a
demolished or fell into ruin, leaving only two, vast fresco depicting
including the Annunciation Chapel, which the Last Judgment was
was most likely built in the 1450s on the site discovered over the
of a similar 13th-century structure. main door.The dress of
In architectural terms, it is charming for its a female figure in the
simplicity: a modest 38sq/m chapel beneath painting specifically
a pointed-arch ceiling, set slightly below the dates the picture to 1480.

HAL MILLIERI CHURCH. The church is sparsely
RIGHT: ST NICHOLAS HAL adorned—a plain
MILLIERI CHURCH. rectangular plan, with a
series of pointed arches
inside, supporting the
stone roof slabs. But
it demonstrates a very
confident builder, who
left a seven-foot span
between arches, which
is far more daring
than other builders of
the period.


You will not find a more
modest nor more charming
chapel on all of Malta than the
Annunciation Chapel at Hal
Millieri, with its remarkable
series of ancient frescos. A
spirited recent restoration
project now makes it accessible
(via pre-arrangement).


Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

THE ERA OF Having successfully protected the island, the
THE KNIGHTS Knights decided to make it their permanent base,
constructing Valletta across the Grand Harbour
Modern Malta, and in particular from their original capital in Birgu. In so doing,
Valletta, owes almost all of its they transformed a craggy peninsula into the
glorious landscape to the Knights breathtaking walled city you see today, which has
of St John, also known as the stood proud for nearly 450 years and is inscribed
Knights Hospitaller, a Christian military order of in its entirety on the UNESCO World Heritage
the Middle Ages. The knights made Malta their List. Almost every building condensed into this
home from 1530 until 1798 and built the capital city most exquisite city has its history in the era of
almost from scratch. the Knights.

The Knights originally came to Malta after Without question the crowning glory, and
yielding control of Rhodes to the rampaging the single most iconic of all the Knights’
armies of Suleiman the Magnificent and initially achievements in Valletta, is St John’s
treated their new residence ostensibly as a base Co-Cathedral, declared by the British writer
from which to regroup before attempting to Sir Walter Scott to possess the “most striking
reclaim their former land. But in 1565, the Knights interior I have ever seen”. Even among the many
scored their most remarkable military triumph, treasures of the majestic capital, St John’s
overcoming hugely unfavourable odds to defend remains exceptional. It is a dazzling, 360-degree
Malta from yet another Turkish attack, in what triumph of architectural and artistic brilliance,
became known as the Great Siege. steeped in the most lavish decoration and richly
indicative of the Knights’ status as the wealthiest,
most powerful and prominent celebrants and
defenders of Catholicism in the region.

– 13–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

St John’s was originally planned and constructed detail. Caravaggio’s masterpiece, “The Beheading
in the 1570s as the Knights’ central, conventual of St John the Baptist”, was originally painted
church, when it was a fairly austere replacement for the oratory wall on which it still hangs and
for St Lawrence’s in Birgu. Behind what remains a it is telling that such an astonishing piece feels
relatively plain exterior are eight chapels around a appropriately housed.
near 60-metre nave, each dedicated to a different
langue of the Knights. However, through many Throughout almost all of Valletta’s history, the
years of enlargement and modification, most Grand Master’s Palace, which was constructed
notably during the high Baroque era of the 17th in the late 16th century and was one of the
century, the decorations became increasingly first buildings in the new city, has housed the
more elaborate as the jewels and precious metals most important figures in the various Maltese
of the Knights took pride of place. authorities. It was home to the British governor
until 1928 and then the president of an independent
The Italian painter Mattia Preti was Malta. But as its name suggests, it originated
commissioned to embellish the ceiling and several as the residence of the Grand Master of the
of the chapels, transforming the entire interior into Knights—the order’s leader—and served the
a singular masterpiece. The friezes on the barrel Hospitallers for their entire stay.
vaulted ceiling depict various scenes from the life
of St John the Baptist and employ some innovative Today, it is another immaculate structure in the
shadowing techniques to make the figures appear centre of Valletta, surrounding and surrounded by
three dimensional. courtyards and city squares. The magnificent state
rooms and armoury are open to the public and offer
Each of the chapels contains treasure upon a tantalising glimpse of the treasures amassed
treasure and even the floor of the church, inlaid by the Knights—tapestries, friezes, furniture and
with the marble tombstones of the Knights ceramics—as well as the beautiful and often brutal
interred below, is bursting with multicoloured equipment they have employed to protect them.

– 14–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

(The “Freedom Monument” in

the small landscaped garden

in front commemorates the

friendly departure of the British

military presence in 1979.) The

church is a splendid Baroque

structure, designed in the 17th

century by Lorenzo Gafa, who

was born and raised here. St

Lawrence’s remains an important

central building in Birgu, whose

charming labyrinth of narrow

streets are among the most

atmospheric on the island.

St Lawrence also served for

200 years as the church of the

Roman inquisition, which was

based in Birgu. Despite the

Knights’ unswerving devotion

and an organised secular justice

system, Malta was subject to a

papal inquisition from 1574-1798. The Inquisitor’s

Palace was originally constructed as a civil

law courts for the Knights but then became

permanent home to the 62 envoys dispatched from

Rome, with the general remit to curb heretical

beliefs and uphold the Vatican’s ideals in Malta.

It was clearly a very well-respected role and 27

inquisitors went on to become cardinals, two of

whom became pope: Alexander VII and Innocent

XII. Comprehensive records still exist for almost all

of the inquisitors’ time on the island, which reveal

their methods to be considerably

BIRGU/VITTORIOSA DO NOT MISS: less stern than the notorious
ABOVE: GRANG MASTER’S PALACE, VALLETTA. Spanish inquisition. Torture was
exceptionally rare, and execution
Every awesome building in
Such is the scale of the and around Valletta owes unheard of, with those adjudged
Knights’ development of Valletta a debt of gratitude to the to have committed the most
that it is almost impossible now Knights Hospitaller. But serious crimes either imprisoned
to envisage the place before their spiritual home, the or exiled.
them. However, the shape of the St John’s Co-Cathedral, is
Grand Harbour, which surrounds their defining glory. The building is still
the city, has not changed too recognisably part residence,
part courtroom and part prison,

significantly and one can with its largest chambers

orientate oneself to the sight of the so-called Three and courtyards now transformed into museum

Cities across the water by standing in Upper galleries. It houses an exhibition of Maltese

Barrakka Gardens, where the Knights once took ethnography and galleries that explain the role of

their relaxation. the inquisition in Malta’s urban religious culture.

A gondola trip around the Grand Harbour can There are some splendid paintings, statues and

land in the Birgu marina, directly outside the main altarpieces on display and some of the former

entrance to St Lawrence Collegiate Church. possessions of the inquisitors.

– 15–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

THE MARIAN region and Benedict XVI gave a hand-crafted
CULT IN golden rose to the shrine.

As you would expect, the Cathedral of the
Assumption in Victoria, Gozo, designed by Malta’s

MALTA most celebrated baroque architect, Lorenzo Gafà,
is magnificent.

The present structure was greatly restored in the

Wherever one turns in Malta or early 18th century after suffering dreadful damage
Gozo, be it in the city or exploring from the earthquake of 1693. The cathedral is
the less populated regions, one is housed within the immense fortifications of the
never far from a site of religious Citadella and is built entirely from local limestone.
It also has one of the most spectacular trompe
l’oeil paintings on the islands: the grand dome is

significance. The islands are beautifully scattered no such thing, rather a masterpiece of illusion by

with churches and sanctuaries, monasteries and Antonio Manuele of Messina.

sites of miracles, each of which is worthy

of a visitor’s attention. Many are dedicated DO NOT MISS:
to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Two of the most notable examples are Among Malta and Gozo’s
the Parish Church of St Mary in Mosta countless wonderful parish
and the Rotunda Church in Xewkija, churches, Xaghra Church,

on Gozo, both of which are towering built in 1815, is particularly

structures with enormous domes that can outstanding. Also visit

be seen from miles around. Both domes the Carmelite Church

are bigger than the one that sits atop St and Priory in Mdina, a

Paul’s Cathedral in London, yet are found functioning monastery and
in towns only a fraction of the size. museum, where visitors
can experience the life of
One famous story from Mosta involves the Carmelite monks in
a bomb from the Luftwaffe penetrating Malta. Mellieha sanctuary
the roof, landing amid a sheltering contains a painting
congregation, yet not exploding. Everyone originally thought to have
in the church escaped without injury been made by St Luke.
despite a night’s vicious bombardment.

The Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary

of Ta’ Pinu, on Gozo, is now dominated by an SANCTUARY OF OUR LADY OF MELLIEHA.
outstanding Romanesque basilica, opened in 1932. ABOVE: PARISH CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION IN MOSTA.

However, at the end of the 19th century, there

was only a small chapel here, which was a regular

stopping point for a local woman named Karmela

Grima and her friend Francesco Portelli. Both

independently heard the voice of the Virgin Mary

calling them on this site and the latter’s ailing

mother was miraculously healed.

What was once a lonely chapel soon became

one of the most visited places on Malta and Gozo

as numerous pilgrims visited from far and wide,

seeking similar blessing by the grace of Our

Lady of Pinu. The huge Basilica was built to pay

appropriate respect and to accommodate the

pilgrims, as well as their varied votive offerings.

John Paul II prayed here during his visit to the

– 16–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

RELIGIOUS was renowned as one of the first artists to instil
ART religious paintings with human realism, and the

The religious art of Malta can stand figures in the painting, which are near life-size,
comparison with works found anywhere show him at his most exquisite.
else in the world. One need only know
that the undisputed masterpiece of Carravagio eventually fell out with the Knights
and fled again—he was officially disrobed in front
of his masterpiece—but his artistic influence
in the country endured. Mattia Preti (1613-1699)
followed in Caravaggio’s footsteps not only from
Italy to Malta, but also into the bosom of the

one of history’s most exceptional talents—“The Knights, who made him a Knight of Grace.

Beheading of St John” by Michelangelo Merisi, aka Steadily Preti became the most respected

Caravaggio—was commissioned, religious artist of the Baroque

painted and hangs still in Valletta, era in the country and his career

to realise that the country can rub DO NOT MISS: reached a spectacular highlight
with his series of paintings in
shoulders with the best.
For individual brilliance,
Caravaggio (1571-1610) was the art inside St John’s St John’s Cathedral. Preti’s
born and died in Italy, but spent Co-Cathedral, which work now hangs in almost all
some of his most prolific working includes the masterpieces of the most prominent religious
years in Malta, where he was of both Caravaggio and buildings in Malta and Gozo and
inducted as an honorary Knight Preti. But the collection he is buried in Valletta.
of St John. In 1606, the Grand and the setting of the
Master Alof de Wignacourt Wignacourt Museum are Although little can match the
had offered the roguish genius also outstanding. experience of seeing fine art in the
refuge after he was involved in buildings it was commissioned to
adorn, Malta also has numerous

a murder and fled from Rome, galleries and art museums with

and Caravaggio painted “The Beheading” in 1608 some outstanding work on display. The newly

specifically to hang in St John’s Co-Cathedral. refurbished Wignacourt Collegiate Museum, in a

It was the only painting Caravaggio ever signed former residence of the Chaplains of the Knights

(in a drip of blood beneath John’s severed head) above St Paul’s Grotto in Rabat, is among the

and it represents a near-perfect distillation all of very best establishments in which to view a finely

the artist’s most celebrated traits. Caravaggio curated selection of religious art.


– 17–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

FESTAS LIJA FIREWORKS. the food and drink.
Villagers take mass

Malta remains an attractive together, and then
destination all year, but if you wish cheer the statue
to sample the island at the very out of the church
peak of its traditional splendour, and through the
streets. Celebrations
continue through

you should visit during festa season. the night beneath

During at least one long weekend per year, every a sky specked with

village in Malta and Gozo throws rambunctious fireworks.

celebrations in honour of its patron saint. A statue By the end, the

of the saint, which for most of the year stays inside mountains of paper

the church, is held aloft and marched can reach waist-

through the streets as the centrepiece MALTA AND height and the town
of a flamboyant parade. It is the SIGNIFICANT remains together
climax of two days’ revelry and a FESTAS for the clean-up process. Then
year’s preparation. almost immediately fund-raising
Feb 10 – ST PAUL THE and organisation begins for next
Towns take enormous pride in the year’s celebrations, with the only
festas and anticipate them greatly. SHIPWRECK, VALLETTA insistence that they are once again
Families are reunited, houses are given more extravagant than before.
a fresh coat of paint and residents Mar 19 – ST JOSEPH,
dress in their finest clothes and Holy Week, which precedes Easter

jewellery. They throw open their doors Jun – ST PHILIP, ZEBBUG Sunday, is even more important

to neighbours and then pour en masse Jun (LAST SUNDAY) in the religious calendar, although
on to bunting-draped streets, where celebrations tend to take a slightly
buildings are brightly illuminated and – ST GEORGE, QORMI more somber tone.
ticker tape rains from the sky.
Jun (LAST SUNDAY) The most significant of a series of
Drinks flow and the villagers feast on events takes place on Good Friday,



sweet local delicacies. The town band Jul – OUR LADY OF when churches are stripped of their
club, through which the organisation more extravagant decoration and
is often channelled, provides a musical MOUNT CARMEL, villagers, some dressed as Biblical
accompaniment as the parade weaves BALLUTA, ST JULIANS characters or hauling chains as



its way through the town. Aug 6 an act of penance, carry statues
Although the celebrations may OF OUR LORD, LIJA depicting the Passion of the Christ
appear chaotic, they are underpinned through the streets.
by religious devotion and a strict Aug 10 – ST LAWRENCE,
Two days later, on Easter Sunday,

sense of community. The tradition Aug – ST GAETAN, a procession returns in significantly
began with the Knights of St John, more buoyant mood. Christ has been
as a day to give thanks to the church HAMRUN resurrected, bells peel in celebration,
and to provide a day of feasting and and the statue races through the
Aug 15 –THE


celebration for even the less fortunate AND VILLAGES INCLUDING streets back to the church, carried by
people. As the influence of the band MOSTA AND VICTORIA GOZO) exuberant bearers.
clubs grew during British rule, the


festas developed further and became Sep 8 – NATIVITY OF QORMI – EASTER SUNDAY.
much more extravagant affairs.
The preparations serve to unite and LOCALITIES – SENGLEA,

engage the community in numerous XAGHRA, GOZO)
common purposes: fund-raising,
orchestrating the music, decorating Dec 8 – IMMACULATE


the town and church, and preparing

Skopri Malta

Malta £72Fly to from

> Only 3 hours away One way including taxes and charges

> Convenient timings and 20kg free baggage allowance This offer is valid on Air Malta direct services
between UK and Malta. Seats are subject to
> Daily Flights from London Heathrow and London availability. Terms and conditions apply.
Gatwick, and 4 times weekly from Manchester.
Book online at

– 19–

Malta and Gozo THE SACRED ISLANDS in the heart of the Mediterranean

GMT +1

The Islands: Driving:

The three main islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino are Driving is on the left. The speed limit is 64 km/h
inhabited, while the three smaller islands, Cominotto, on country roads and 40 km/h in built-up areas.
Filfla and St Paul’s Island, are uninhabited. International and national driving licences are
required for car hire.

Location: Travel information:
Located in the centre of the Mediterranean, the
Maltese islands are about 93 Kilometres south of Sicily. There are direct flights from Air Malta, the
national carrier, as well as a number of low-cost
Size: airlines departing from 15 international and
Malta is the largest landmass of the Maltese regional airports on a weekly basis.
Islands and covers 246sq/km with 136 kilometres
of coastline. Gozo is approximately 67sq/km and Less than three hours from Britain with
has 50 kilometres of coastline. Comino covers Malta’s International Airport just 20 minutes from
only 2.7sq/km. the capital Valletta. Key UK airports that operate to
Malta include London airports Heathrow, Gatwick,
Population: Luton and Stansted, Manchester, Birmingham,
The population of the Islands is more than 410,000. Newcastle, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, Exeter,
Norwich, Bristol, Leeds-Bradford, Liverpool,
Language: Glasgow and East Midlands. There are also flights
The official languages are Maltese and English. from Dublin. For further information on all airlines
Many residents are multilingual. that fly into Malta from international gateways
please visit
The official currency is the euro. Many hotels, larger Accommodation on Malta & Gozo:
shops and restaurants also accept foreign currency.
Malta and Gozo offer a selection of 2* to 5* hotels,
Entry requirements: Guesthouses, Boutique Style hotels and apartments,
Entry visas are not required by anyone holding Villas, Rustic Famhouses and Retreat houses.
a passport from the European Union. Please
check with the Malta High Commission for entry
requirements of any other nationalities. – list of hotels, guesthouses, villas.
Telephone: 020 7292 4800.
Climate: – list of retreat houses with all relevant
Malta has a typical Mediterranean climate with information and list of village feasts.
hot, dry summers and mild, and humid winters. – all information on Gozo
J FMAM J J A S O N D provided by the Ministry for Gozo.

further information:

visit or call the Malta Tourism
Authority UK office on 020 8877 6990.

Days of 18 22 25 28 28 30 30 29 27 24 21 17
Malta The Malta Tourism Authority would like to thank
the following for contributing images to this
Temperature 14 15 16 20 24 29 31 33 29 25 16 12 supplement: Clive Vella, Mario Galea, Daniel Cilia,
(C) Malta Michael Jurick,

Hours of 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 11 9 8 7 6 Published by PelusaCreate in conjunction with MTA
Sunshine UK Office and the MTA History & Culture Segment.

Rainfall 90 60 39 27 10 1 0 6 43 78 91 110
(mm) Malta

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