There are very few countries Malta’s size which are so rich and varied in history, spreading from the prehistoric era right up to the present day. It is this history of a succession of civilizations and cultures, of struggle and war, of achievement in the face of adversity, of continuous improvement which makes Malta the proud and prosperous nation it is today and a popular tourist attraction worldwide.
Malta owes most of this historical wealth to her strategic location right at the centre of the Mediterranean.
The first settlers arrived in Malta and Gozo around 5000 BC from Sicily. The megalithic temple building phase started around 4000 BC. The earliest temples, such as the one at Ggantija in Gozo, were built by piling up to 50 tons of megaliths on top of each other, which even nowadays, with modern tools and machines would be a difficult task. The earliest civilization flourished in the 3rd millennium BC, erecting and carving astonishing temples but then mysteriously disappeared around 2000 BC and the Bronze Age moved in. The Phoenicians, who used Malta’s harbour as a centre for their trading activities, arrived in the 8th century BC. The entry of the Carthaginians increased the island’s strategic importance and attracted the attention of Rome. In 218 BC, following an invasion led by the Roman Consul Titus Sempronius, Malta fell under Roman rule that lasted more than 700 years.
St. Paul, the Apostle, was an important visitor for the Maltese people. He was shipwrecked on Malta in 60 AD on his way to Rome and he introduced Christianity to the natives of the islands, making the Maltese one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. To commemorate this event a small island in the North bears the name St.Paul’s Island.
Once again, ownership of Malta changed hands in 535 AD, with the Byzantine Empire taking over. In turn, the Greeks capitulated to the Arabs in 870 AD and Malta remained under Muslim rule until the end of the 11th century when in 1090 the Norman master of Sicily, Count Roger, came to Malta with a small group of people accompanying him and defeated the Arabs. The Roman Catholic Church was reestablished. For the next 400 years Malta’s history was closely linked to Sicily’s, and its rulers were a succession of Normans, Angevins (French), Aragonese and Castilians (Spanish).
In 1530 Charles V of Aragon handed over the Maltese islands to the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem who had been expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks. For the next 250 years Malta was a bulwark against Turkish ambitions in Europe. The best-known event in Maltese history, The Great Siege of Malta, occurred in 1565 when the Knights together with the Maltese heroically defended Malta from a major Ottoman invasion.
The mastery of the Knights ended in 1798, when Napoleon came to Malta. The French took over for two years but the Maltese were not happy with their occupation. With the help of the British the Maltese organized a successful revolution against the French. British rule lasted 180 years till 1964 when the Maltese islands gained their independence within the Commonwealth. Malta’s political status under the British reign underwent a series of changes in which many laws and principals were successfully granted and revoked accordingly. The Maltese economy became a business for Malta’s military facilities, and that is how the Dockyard developed into the economic stronghold of the islands.
During World War I, Malta provided shelter to many naval seamen and served as a military hospital. In 1921, Malta became self-governing although this power was shared with Britain. In 1936, Malta became once again a colonial regime. During World War II, Malta was exposed to severe aerial attacks from Italian and German bombers. In 1942, George the VI awarded the George Cross to the islands; this was the first time in history that a medal was awarded to any part of the Commonwealth. Since then the Maltese flag has carried the George Cross on it.
Malta became independent on September 21, 1964 and later on became a Republic in 1974. In 2003 the Maltese voted to join the European Union as from May 1, 2004.
Both Maltese and English are the official languages. The native language of Malta called ‘Malti’ is the Maltese word for ‘Maltese’. Maltese is of Semitic origin. It is the only Semitic language written in the Latin script. The language is a mixture of Arabic grammar and construction, combined with Sicilian, Italian, Spanish, French and English loan words. Italian is also widely spoken in Malta.