My favorite postcards to receive are probably those showing either a flag of the originating location or a map (bonus points for both on the same card)! I’m especially enamored with islands, particularly those with a rich history (with the attendant architecture) of a place such as Malta. Indeed, Malta has long been in my top ten list of desired destinations. I received this, my first postcard from the island, back in mid-August. Unfortunately, the stamp didn’t get postmarked (which, I’ve been informed, is a rather common occurrence there) so I’m not certain exactly when this was mailed. Roger and I had arranged the trade on July 25 and I mailed my card to him (a comic map of Phuket) on July 27, so I estimated that he mailed this on the 26th which would make a travel time of 22 days. That’s about average for mail from almost anywhere to Phuket.
According to Wikipedia, the Republic of Malta (Repubblika ta’ Malta in Maltese), is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea lying 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Italy, 176 miles (284 km) east of Tunisia, and 207 miles (333 km) north of Libya. The country covers just over 122 square miles (316 square kilometers), with a population of just under 450,000, making it one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries. Only the three largest islands — Malta, Gozo and Comino — are inhabited. The capital of Malta is Valletta, which at 0.8 km², is the smallest national capital in the European Union. Malta has two official languages: Maltese and English.
Malta’s location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British, have ruled the islands. Pottery found by archaeologists at the Skorba Temples resembles that found in Italy, and suggests that the Maltese islands were first settled in 5200 BCE mainly by Stone Age hunters or farmers who had arrived from the Italian island of Sicily, possibly the Sicani. The extinction of the dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants has been linked to the earliest arrival of humans on Malta. The population grew cereals, raised livestock and, in common with other ancient Mediterranean cultures, worshiped a fertility figure.
A culture of megalithic temple builders then either supplanted or arose from this early period. Around the time of 3500 BC, these people built some of the oldest existing free-standing structures in the world in the form of the megalithic Ġgantija temples on Gozo; other early temples include those at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. The temples have distinctive architecture, typically a complex trefoil design, and were used from 4000 to 2500 BCE. The culture apparently disappeared from the Maltese Islands around 2500 BC. Archaeologists speculate that the temple builders fell victim to famine or disease, but this is not certain. After 2500 BC, the Maltese Islands were depopulated for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants, a culture that cremated its dead and introduced smaller megalithic structures called dolmens.
Phoenician traders, who used the islands as a stop on their trade routes from the eastern Mediterranean to Cornwall, joined the natives on Malta. The Phoenicians inhabited the area now known as Mdina, and its surrounding town of Rabat, which they called Maleth. The Romans, who also much later inhabited Mdina, referred to it (and the island) as Melita. After the fall of Phoenicia in 332 BC, the area came under the control of Carthage, a former Phoenician colony. During this time the people on Malta mainly cultivated olives and carob and produced textiles.
During the First Punic War, the island was conquered after harsh fighting by Marcus Atilius Regulus. After the failure of his expedition, the island fell back in the hands of Carthage, only to be conquered again in 218 BC, during the Second Punic War, by Roman Consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus. Since then, Malta became Foederata Civitas, a designation that meant it was exempt from paying tribute or the rule of Roman law, and fell within the jurisdiction of the province of Sicily.
In the first century BC, Roman Senator and orator Cicero commented on the importance of the Temple of Juno, and on the extravagant behavior of the Roman governor of Sicily, Verres. The island was mentioned around this time by Pliny the Elder and Diodorus Siculus: the latter praised its harbors, the wealth of its inhabitants, its lavishly decorated houses and the quality of its textile products. In the second century, Emperor Hadrian upgraded the status of Malta to municipium or free town: the island’s local affairs were administered by four quattuorviri iuri dicundo and a municipal senate, while a Roman procurator, living in Mdina, represented the proconsul of Sicily.
In 58 AD, Paul the Apostle was washed up on the islands together with Luke the Evangelist after their ship was wrecked on the islands. Paul the Apostle remained on the islands three months, preaching the Christian faith, which has since thrived on Malta. Few archaeological relics survive in Malta today from the Roman period, the sole exception being the Roman Domus, just outside the walls of Mdina.
In 395, when the Roman Empire was divided for the last time at the death of Theodosius I, Malta, following Sicily, fell under the control of the Western Roman Empire. During the Migration Period as the Western Roman Empire declined, Malta came under attack and was conquered or occupied a number of times. From 454 to 464 the islands was subdued by the Vandals, and after 464 by the Ostrogoths. In 533, Belisarius, on his way to conquer the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa, reunited the islands under Imperial (Eastern) rule.
Little is known about the Byzantine rule in Malta: the island depended on the theme of Sicily and had Greek governors and a small Greek garrison. While the bulk of population continued to be constituted by the old, Latinized dwellers, during this period its religious allegiance oscillated between the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Byzantine rule introduced Greek families to the Maltese collective. Malta remained under the Byzantine Empire until 870, when it fell to the Arabs.
Malta became involved in the Muslim–Byzantine Wars, and the conquest of Malta is closely linked with that of Sicily that began in 827 after admiral Euphemius’ betrayal of his fellow Byzantines, requesting that the Aghlabids invade the island. It was practically uninhabited until it was recolonized by the Muslims from Sicily in 1048–1049 AD. It is uncertain whether this new settlement took place as a consequence of demographic expansion in Sicily, as a result of a higher standard of living in Sicily, or as a result of civil war which broke out among Muslim rulers of Sicily in 1038. The Muslims introduced new irrigation, some fruits and cotton and the Siculo-Arabic language was adopted on the island from Sicily: it would eventually evolve into the Maltese language.
The Christians on the island were allowed freedom of religion; they had to pay jizya, a tax for non-Muslims, but were exempt from the tax that Muslims had to pay (zakat).
The Normans captured Malta in 1091, as part of their conquest of Sicily. The Norman leader, Roger I of Sicily, was welcomed by the native Christians. The notion that Count Roger I reportedly tore off a portion of his checkered red-and-white banner and presented it to the Maltese — forming the basis of the modern flag of Malta in gratitude for having fought on his behalf — is founded in myth.
The Norman period was productive; Malta became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Sicily which also covered the island of Sicily and the southern half of the Italian Peninsula. The Catholic Church was reinstated as the state religion with Malta under the See of Palermo, and some Norman architecture sprung up around Malta especially in its ancient capital Mdina. Tancred, King of Sicily, the last Norman monarch, made Malta a fief of the kingdom and installed a count of Malta. As the islands were much desired due to their strategic importance, it was during this time the men of Malta were militarized to fend off capture attempts; early counts were skilled Genoese privateers.
The kingdom passed on to the dynasty of Hohenstaufen from 1194 until 1266. During this period, when Frederick II of Hohenstaufen began to reorganize his Sicilian kingdom, Western culture and religion began to exert their influence more intensely. Malta formed part of the Holy Roman Empire for 72 years. Malta was declared a county and a marquisate, but its trade was totally ruined. For a long time it remained solely a fortified garrison.
A mass expulsion of Arabs occurred in 1224 and the entire Christian male population of Celano in Abruzzo was deported to Malta in the same year. In 1249 Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, decreed that all remaining Muslims be expelled from Malta or impelled to convert. For a brief period the kingdom passed to the Capetian House of Anjou, but high taxes made the dynasty unpopular in Malta, due in part to Charles of Anjou’s war against the Republic of Genoa, and the island of Gozo was sacked in 1275. A large revolt on Sicily known as the Sicilian Vespers followed these attacks, that saw the Peninsula separating into the Kingdom of Naples.
Malta was ruled by the House of Barcelona, an Aragonese dynasty from 1282 to 1409, with the Aragonese aiding the Maltese insurgents in the Sicilian Vespers in a naval battle in Grand Harbour in 1283. Relatives of the kings of Aragon ruled the island until 1409, when it formally passed to the Crown of Aragon. Early on in the Aragonese ascendancy, the sons of the monarchy received the title, “Count of Malta”. During this time much of the local nobility was created. However, by 1397 the bearing of the title “Count of Malta” reverted to a feudal basis with two families fighting over the distinction, which caused some conflict. This led the Martin I of Sicily to abolish the title. Dispute over the title returned when the title was reinstated a few years later and the Maltese, led by the local nobility, rose up against Count Gonsalvo Monroy. Although they opposed the Count, the Maltese voiced their loyalty to the Sicilian Crown, which so impressed Alfonso V of Aragon that he did not punish the people for their rebellion. Instead, he promised never to grant the title to a third party, and incorporated it back into the crown. The city of Mdina was given the title of Città Notabile as a result of this sequence of events.
On 23 March 1530, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, gave the islands to the Knights Hospitaller under the leadership of Frenchman Philippe Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Order, in perpetual lease for which they had to pay an annual tribute of one single Maltese Falcon. These knights, a military religious order now known as the Knights of Malta, had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522.
The knights, led by Frenchman Jean Parisot de Valette, Grand Master of the Order, withstood the Great Siege of Malta by the Ottomans in 1565. The knights, with the help of Spanish and Maltese forces, were victorious and repelled the attack. After the siege they decided to increase Malta’s fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbor area, where the new city of Valletta, named in honor of Valette, was built. They also established watchtowers along the coasts — the Wignacourt, Lascaris and De Redin towers — named after the Grand Masters who ordered the work. The Knights’ presence on the island saw the completion of many architectural and cultural projects, including the embellishment of Città Vittoriosa (modern Birgu), the construction of new cities including Città Rohan (modern Żebbuġ) and Città Hompesch (modern Żabbar) and the introduction of new academic and social resources. Approximately 11,000 people out of a population of 60,000 died of plague in 1675.
The Knights’ reign ended when Napoleon captured Malta on his way to Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1798. Over the years preceding Napoleon’s capture of the islands, the power of the Knights had declined and the Order had become unpopular. This was around the time when the universal values of freedom and liberty were incarnated by the French Revolution. People from both inside the Order and outside appealed to Napoleon Bonaparte to oust the Knights. Napoleon Bonaparte did not hesitate. His fleet arrived in 1798, en route to his expedition of Egypt. As a ruse towards the Knights, Napoleon asked for safe harbor to resupply his ships, and then turned his guns against his hosts once safely inside Valletta. Grand Master Hompesch capitulated, and Napoleon entered Malta.
From June 12-18, 1798, Napoleon resided at the Palazzo Parisio in Valletta. He reformed national administration with the creation of a Government Commission, twelve municipalities, a public finance administration, the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, the abolition of slavery and the granting of freedom to all Turkish and Jewish slaves. On the judicial level, a family code was framed and twelve judges were nominated. Public education was organized along principles laid down by Bonaparte himself, providing for primary and secondary education. He then sailed for Egypt leaving a substantial garrison on Malta.
The French forces left behind became unpopular with the Maltese, due particularly to the French forces’ hostility towards Catholicism and pillaging of local churches to fund Napoleon’s war efforts. French financial and religious policies so angered the Maltese that they rebelled, forcing the French to depart. Great Britain, along with the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily, sent ammunition and aid to the Maltese and Britain also sent her navy, which blockaded the islands.
General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois surrendered his French forces in 1800. Maltese leaders presented the island to Sir Alexander Ball, asking that the island become a British Dominion. The Maltese people created a Declaration of Rights in which they agreed to come “under the protection and sovereignty of the King of the free people, His Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”. The Declaration also stated that “his Majesty has no right to cede these Islands to any power…if he chooses to withdraw his protection, and abandon his sovereignty, the right of electing another sovereign, or of the governing of these Islands, belongs to us, the inhabitants and aborigines alone, and without control.”
In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire and was used as a shipping way-station and fleet headquarters. After the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Malta’s position halfway between the Strait of Gibraltar and Egypt proved to be its main asset, and it was considered an important stop on the way to India, a central trade route for the British. Because of its position, several culinary and botanical products were introduced in Malta; some examples include wheat for bread making and bacon.
Between 1915 and 1918, during the First World War, Malta became known as the Nurse of the Mediterranean due to the large number of wounded soldiers who were accommodated in Malta. In 1919, British troops fired on a rally protesting against new taxes, killing four Maltese men. The event, known as Sette Giugno (Italian for 7 June), is commemorated every year and is one of five National Days.
Before the Second World War, Valletta was the location of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet’s headquarters. However, despite Winston Churchill’s objections, the command was moved to Alexandria, Egypt, in April 1937 fearing it was too susceptible to air attacks from Europe. During World War II, Malta played an important role for the Allies; being a British colony, situated close to Sicily and the Axis shipping lanes, Malta was bombarded by the Italian and German air forces. It was used by the British to launch attacks on the Italian navy and had a submarine base. It was also used as a listening post, reading German radio messages including Enigma traffic.
The bravery of the Maltese people during the second Siege of Malta moved King George VI to award the George Cross to Malta on a collective basis on April 15, 1942, “to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”. Some historians argue that the award caused Britain to incur disproportionate losses in defending Malta, as British credibility would have suffered if Malta surrendered, as British forces in Singapore had done. A depiction of the George Cross now appears in the upper hoist corner of the Flag of Malta. The collective award remained unique until April 1999, when the Royal Ulster Constabulary became the second — and, to date, the only other — recipient of a collective George Cross.
Malta achieved its independence on September 21, 1964 (Independence Day) after intense negotiations with the United Kingdom, led by Maltese Prime Minister George Borġ Olivier. Under its 1964 constitution, Malta initially retained Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta and thus Head of State, with a Governor-General exercising executive authority on her behalf. In 1971, the Malta Labour Party led by Dom Mintoff won the General Elections, resulting in Malta declaring itself a republic on December 13, 1974 (Republic Day) within the Commonwealth, with the President as head of state. A defense agreement signed soon after independence (and re-negotiated in 1972) expired on March 31, 1979.
Malta adopted a policy of neutrality in 1980. In 1989, Malta was the venue of a summit between United States President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, their first face-to-face encounter, which signaled the end of the Cold War. Malta joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.
Malta is a popular tourist destination with 1.6 million tourists per year drawn by its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, Valletta, and seven Megalithic Temples, which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world. Tourism infrastructure has increased dramatically over the years and a number of good-quality hotels are present on the island, although overdevelopment and the destruction of traditional housing is of growing concern. An increasing number of Maltese now travel abroad on holiday. In recent years, Malta has advertised itself as a medical tourism destination, and a number of health tourism providers are developing the industry.