Maltese Prehistory and early civilisations

Maltese Islands were inhabited since 5200 BC in the Stone Age, by nomad hunters most probably coming from Sicily. Since its Prehistory, Malta has been shaped by several civilisations throughout the centuries: it has been colonised by Greeks, falling then under the control of Carthage and then Rome. Between the populations that influenced Malta the most with their culture there are definitely the Arabs and the Normans, who ruled the archipelago respectively for 220 and 440 years.

The Knights of St. John in Malta

Malta is universally known for the Order of the Knights of St. John, originally instituted to cure wounded soldiers at the crusades, they were given the island of Malta by Charles V. They introduced Italian language on the island, built the city of Valletta and plenty of fortifications, and developed the cultural heritage. They resisted the Great Siege of the Ottoman Empire, but surrended to the French conquest of Napoleon on his way to Egypt.

Malta as a British Colony

Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire in 1800, and its strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea increased its importance especially after the opening of the Suez Canal. Malta was under the protection of Britain during the Second World War, but it was still heavily bombarded by Italian and German aviation.

Malta’s Independence and EU membership

Malta considered forwarding integration with Britain, but after subsequent British government, Malta was declared independent on the 21st of September, 1964 and a Republic on the 13rd December, 1979. The country flourished during the last decades of the twentieth century and Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone in 2008.

 

 
 

Maltese Culture

 

The Maltese Islands have an extremely rich culture, entwined with their eclectic history and dating back hundreds of years. As a result, the Islands are home to numerous lively activities and events, including annual feasts and special occasions.


Among the many festivals and traditions is Carnival, held for a week in February, ahead of the more sombre period of Lent. On this occasion, children and adults dress in fancy costumes and join extravagant parades with bright Carnival floats in Valletta. More macabre celebrations are held in Nadur, Gozo.

Following on from this, the weeks leading up to Easter are honoured by the Maltese, who flock to church to commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ. Solemn processions make their way through the streets with men in penitence bearing a cross.

Then, following on from Easter, is the Feast of San Grigor. For this, a religious procession leaves the chapel of St Clement in Zejtun on the Wednesday following Easter Sunday, after which people picnic in the fishing village Marsaxlokk. After this, l-Imnarja takes place to celebrate the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul on 29th June. This is a country harvest and folk festival, as well as a religious holiday, and is marked by families picnicking in Buskett Gardens, with an agricultural show and horse and donkey races.

As a predominantly Catholic country, religious activities take place pretty much throughout the year in Malta. In particular, Malta and Gozo’s towns and villages come alive with street decorations, statues, flags, food stalls and band marches for their festas
. Beginning after Easter Sunday and continuing into September, these festas are a celebration of the village’s patron saint. They often end with ground-mechanised fireworks or luminous sky fireworks exploding into colourful shapes.

And fireworks continue to be important at other times of the year, with the now-traditional Malta Fireworks Festival held in spring. The Grand Harbour in Valletta provides an idyllic setting for this spectacular display of fireworks, designed by foreign and local pyrotechnic companies.
Ending the year is, of course, Christmas. This is the second most important celebration for local Catholics, and is enjoyed across the country with crib displays and carol services organised. The pantomime is one of the season’s highlights as well as the spiritual candlelit carol singing at St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta.

 

OTHER CELEBRATIONS

Numerous other celebrations are held throughout the year in Malta, including:

   Victory Day: A public holiday on 8th September marks three important dates for Malta: Our Lady’s birth, the end of the Great Siege of 1565 and the day the Italian navy surrendered to the British during WWII. The rowing regatta in Grand Harbour is a source of great local pride.

   In Guardia: Re-enactments of the inspection of the fort and garrison by the Grand Bailiff of the Order of the Knights of St John are held on Sundays throughout the year.

   Alarme: Re-enactments of Malta’s rebellion against Napoleon’s rule in 1800, which led to the liberation from the unpopular French, are held on the third Sunday of most months between February and November.

   Notte Bianca: Malta takes pride in participating in this annual all-night cultural initiative of countries around the world. Valletta’s museums and historical buildings are open free and events are held across the capital city.