I found so many unusual things on this small island in the Mediterranean Sea – Malta, that I have no idea where to start from. Probably with the language. Just imagine European looking people, Christian Catholics by religion, speaking kind of Arabic dialect with an Italian accent and writing it with Latin letters. Correct, the Maltese language has nothing to do with the rest of the European languages. The only common feature is that the Maltese are writing from left to right, not like the typical Arabic from right to left.
In the 9th century, the island had been conquered by the Moors who left a serious trace in the culture, traditions, and lifestyle on the island. The main impact, still very much alive, is the insular, official for the country, language, which is a remote cousin of the Arabic. The Arabic native speakers would hardly understand the Maltese, heavily influenced by Italian. Let’s say, the similarity nowadays is about 30% to 40%. But in Malta, even today, the main greeting is Merhba (the Arabic Marhaba) which means “Hello” and most probably you will hear Sahha (same in Arabic) for goodbye, with the meaning of wishing you good health.
To be precise, I should admit that everyone in Malta speaks also fluent English. The English language is a kind of official language here. Malta is well known as the best place to study and improve English for non-native speakers. Plenty of English schools on the island, special exchange programs, and English teaching camps. In fact, no one in the shops speaks in Maltese with the customers, because everyone is used to communicate in English.
The peculiarities do not end with the language. It’s believed, that millions of years ago, Malta and Sicily had been one whole piece of land, linked to the mainland. In clear weather, the island of Sicily and its volcano Etna could be seen from Malta. Every day a ferry goes from Malta to Sicily and the islands keep maintaining very close relations. I have been told that one of the widely practiced traditions in Malta when a baby is born (mostly baby boy) the family to plant three trees, comes actually from Sicily.
In the middle of October, starts one of the most popular sailing races that attracts plenty of competitors from all over Europe, a race that goes around Sicily and finishes back to Malta. The food, cooking habits, and traditions are also very similar on both islands.
Speaking of food, it’s considered a sin to visit Malta and not to order its most famous dishes. One of them is Lampuki, a kind of a dolphin fish, that is seasonal and could be ordered only from August to December. The best place to taste it, no doubt, is Marsaxlokk, the fishermen village with the famous Sunday early morning fish market. The very fresh catch could be bought directly from the fishermen boats. The word Marsa is widely spread on the island, and it’s the old Arabic word for a harbor, protected bay, or port.
If you don’t want or do not have the opportunity to cook it, nearby the market is full of cute cozy, and very colorful restaurants where the menus are rich in fish, mussels, fried octopus, and calamari. For a seafoodie like me, it was a true Paradise. In addition, the view to the Marsaxklokk bay is breathtaking with hundreds of vessels, painted in bright joyful colors.
Another peculiarity detected – the fishermen, who go far into the sea, are used to decorate their boats with Egyptian eyes, an ancient tradition imported in Malta by the Phoenicians. The locals believe that those eyes protect their boats from the sea storms and the sea beasts.
Going back from the sea to the land, you will notice that the city signboards are quite oddly located and installed. While driving or riding, the visitor suddenly finds themselves moving from a city to a city without leaving the inhabited area. Most of the cities are tightly linked with each other and it’s hard to define where the border is.
It’s common to see from both sides of the city signboard two neighboring houses that are actually located in two different cities. Or a traffic light located in one city that actually navigates the newcomers from the next city. I’ve never seen such a synergy before but in Malta, the land is highly valued, and everything is tight and narrow.
Something very popular that doesn’t need any announcement is the fact that Malta has been built, established, and developed by the Knights of the St. John order, called also templars, that arrived on the island in the 14th century. In the 15th and especially 16th century Malta was blossoming and became a significant fortress, harbor, and ship supply stop on the way to Africa. The knights’ heritage is everywhere and is very much honored by the locals. Spectacular knight tournaments and festivals are being organized annually and attract lots of foreign visitors with the help of an authentic and colorful style. You will often hear Malta being called the Templars’ island.
No one knows where another peculiar tradition on the island comes from and if it is somehow linked with the Knights’ ages. The old churches on the island have been designed with two clocks over the facade (the usual is one). One of the clocks shows the correct time, the other one – the wrong one. The local Maltese believe that the wrong and the correct timing is meant to confuse the devil, who doesn’t know when the day starts and is prevented to mess up with the people’s lives. Most of the two-clock churches could be seen in the Maltese villages.
Another local peculiarity and pride are the famous Maltese balconies. I do not know much of them but was told that it’s not easy to design and build it. They are considered a masterpiece of the local architecture. The Maltese balconies are everywhere, especially in the big cities, in different colors, shapes, and sizes, a nice touch to the traditional Maltese architectural style. In Malta, nearly everything is built from limestone that looks very solid and firm, and impressively indestructible.
As an island, Malta is quite a windy place. Fighting the stormy wind, the locals started planting cactuses all over the island. I know, it sounds bizarre, but cactuses are believed to be a wind shelter. In addition, their fruits are harvested very carefully and are considered a delicacy. I tasted them, very fresh and juicy, with the same seeds as the Guava fruit inside. The taste is like a very sweet watermelon.
If you are wondering where to stay on the island, I would recommend my favorite places – Sliema and Vittoriossa. All attractions, restaurants, bars, malls, life, in general, is in Sliema. It could be a bit crowded, messy, and chaotic though, and if you are looking for a quiet place, Sliema might not be the right choice. I managed to find a very quiet and cozy apartment in the narrow streets of Sliema, that was a great catch.
The sophisticated part of the island is Valletta, the capital of Malta, or the nearby linked to its cities – Paola, Marsa, and Vittoriossa. Most of the sightseeings are located in Valletta. Sliema and Valletta could be easily walked through, so both of them are a great choice. Anyway, the best way to explore Malta is the hop on hop off bus, which first stop is in Sliema.
I won’t recommend driving in Malta, especially for a regular right-hand driving European. As a former British colony, Malta adopts the left-hand driving. Considering also the terrible traffic and the narrow streets, in my opinion, driving in Malta is better to be skipped. The hop on hop off bus costs 20 Euros per person per day. There are comfortably combined packages that include the most famous lines – South (red) and North (blue), plus a boat tour. The bus runs every 30 minutes and wherever you hop off, it’s easy to catch the next bus.
You probably do not know about Malta + some useful tips:
- The biggest Mediterranean shark has been caught nearby the island of Malta. 9-meter-long and its pictures are almost in each café or joint you visit on the island.
- No venom snakes on the island. There is a legend when St Pavel arrived in Malta a few years after Jesus crucifixion, a white snake had bitten him. St Pavel turned that snake into sand and since then, the snakes on the island vanished.
- Malta is the winner in most of the fireworks competitions in the world as the most creative fireworks producer and presenter. The most difficult firework to be created is the blue one.
- The legendary ship from the movie sequence The Pirates of the Caribbean called the Black Pearl is on the docks of Malta and could be seen during the boat tour.
- More than 100 Hollywood movies have been filmed in Malta because of the spectacular background – lots of medieval and renaissance castles, palaces, arches, and towers.
- Most of the people from the area of Zurrieq in Malta are born with green or blue eyes. No one knows why and where this dominant gene is coming from.
- UBER is banned on the island but there is a similar taxi application called E-cabs. The same policy, structure, and payment methods. Better download it before arriving in Malta. Never take a white-colored taxi, they are extremely expensive.
- Malta is the country where the campaign of harvesting the vineyards starts much earlier than in the rest of Europe – usually at the end of July.
- The oldest medieval cemetery with ideally preserved monuments from 12 and 13 century is in Malta
- Napoleon conquered Malta without a single shot. In 1798 on the way to Egypt, he requested to stop on the island for supplying his ships. His request was declined by the knights on the island. Getting offended and angry, he captured Malta, and it had been a French territory for 2 years till 1800.
- Contemporary Malta is desperately trying to find petrol around the island. Being very close to the rich in petrol Libya, for 14 years Malta had been searching for this important natural resource with no success so far.
There is much more to be said and observed in Malta but I believe I’ve managed to see and visit a lot. No doubt, I’ll be back to upgrade on all the emotions and super memories gathered in those 3 awesome days in Malta.