Saturday, January 9, 2010

Malta, a Few Remarks

Hickory has just returned from Malta, which is warm and sunny even in January, the beer is tolerable and the people very pleasant indeed, among the friendliest and most relaxed I've ever come across. When I got home it was snowing and, as I might have mentioned, I don't live in Aberdeen but in the south of Spain. I should have stayed in Malta.

I nearly did, in fact, the weather across the north of Europe causing chaos in the south, doubtless because of the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

Malta is known for a number of things, one of them being the great sieges. In 1565 the Turks tried to take it from the Knights, and failed, and during WWII it resisted everything the Axis threw at it, which was a lot. The reason for this success doubtless has a lot to do with the character of those doing the resisting, but the reason it was possible in the first place is that La Valletta is not just a citadel, it's a fortress, a 200ft high peninsula sticking out into the bay with walls up to 50ft thick all around, and as high as they need to be. Within the walls are more castles and forts. Just looking at it drains the will to conquest from you.

If you see nothing else you need to see the Cathedral and the Grand Masters' Palace. The Cathedral has a couple of Caravaggio's and the floor is covered with tombstones that have designs picked out in coloured marble and the odd touch of gold.

Anyhow, this is not a travelogue, I'll be showing you the holiday snaps next. Onward towards the point, for there is one.

What is isn't widely known for is the megalithic temples, a number of them, the oldest around 6,000 yrs old, and probably the oldest free-standing man-made structure on Earth. They presumably had some kind of ceremonial purpose, and there are things they call altars, and there is lots of speculation, but not much is known yet, and perhaps never will be. The fact that they are identified as having been built by the ‘Megalithic Temple Culture’ suggests a lack of further information.

Everyone has occupied or tried to conquer Malta at one time or another, and everyone else has traded with it. The Greeks, the Romans, the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Arabs, the Turks, the French, the Italians, the British, they’ve all been there. The Archaeological museums are full of artefacts from all kinds of cultures ancient and modern, from pre-Hellenic geometric pottery to mummified crocodiles, and skeletons of many ages, some still in their original place in the catacombs, which is just a bit disturbing.

I wondered if it was the only country in Europe, or indeed in the world, without a railway. Well it isn’t. Andorra, San Marino and, surprisingly, Iceland, don’t have railways either, and around the world there are a few more, including some large countries in Africa. Malta did have a single railway line until the 1930’s, but it has been completely dismantled.

OK so maybe there isn’t really a point to this post, and it is just a travelogue. On which note, pop across to Gozo if you go there. It has a mediaeval Citadel, the oldest of the temples, at Ggantija, some proper beaches, good country for walking in, and on the road to the port you get to see things that you wouldn’t normal bother with, including the islet that St Paul was supposedly shipwrecked on. And back on Malta, eat at The Kitchen, on Triq it-Torri (Tower Street) in Sliema. Maltese cuisine consists mostly of rabbit and swordfish, but here they provide much greater variety, and very well done.

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