About Malta

The Maltese Islands

The Republic of Malta (Repubblika ta' Malta), is a small densely-populated island nation comprising an archipelago of seven islands, three of which are inhabited. It is located in the Mediterranean Sea within Southern Europe just 93 km (58 miles) south of Sicily and 288 km (179 miles) to its south is North Africa. Malta's capital city is the historic Valletta (Il-Belt ). Throughout much of its history, Malta has been considered a crucial strategic location due mainly to its physical position in the Mediterranean Sea. The island is commonly associated with the Knights of St. John who once ruled it. This, along with the historic Biblical shipwreck of St. Paul on the island, ingrained the strong Roman Catholic legacy which is still the official religion in Malta today. The official languages are Maltese and English, the latter a legacy from Malta's period as a British colony. Malta gained independence in 1964 and is currently a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. In 2004, Malta joined the European Union.

History

Malta has been inhabited since Neolithic times (for over 7000 years). Large stone temples at Tarxien, Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, and Gozo are testament to the earliest civilisations. Some of these temples are believed to have been erected around 1000 years before the famous pyramids of Giza and are the oldest freestanding monuments in the world.

Following the disappearance of the Neolithic culture around 2000 B.C., the island was conquered by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans. In A.D. 60 St. Paul was shipwrecked in Malta. The site was hence named St. Paul's Bay. During his stay he converted the then pagan population to Christianity and Malta has remained Christian ever since, with the exception of a period during Arab occupation.

In AD870 Malta was conquered by the Arabs and remained under Arab rule until around 1090. The strong influence of Arabic in the Maltese language can be traced to this period of occupation. Following the Arab rule, the Norman Sicilians took Malta from the Arabs and restored Christianity. The Normans remained in power into the 1500s. It was in 1530 that Charles V handed Malta over to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. This was because the Knights had been driven out of Rhodes by Suleiman the Magnificent, and there was fear that he would invade Rome.

The Knights vastly improved living conditions across the Island by building hospitals, creating trade and commerce opportunities, and erecting strong fortifications. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent sent his navy to remove the Knights from Malta and also make it his base from which the Ottomans could attack Southern Europe. Approximately 48,000 Ottomans landed at Marsaxlokk and took over the countryside. The local population withdrew to the fortifications - Forts St. Elmo, St. Angelo, and St. Michael - where they were attacked at the end of May. History books tell us that the Knight's forces numbered around 6,000 only, giving the Ottomans a huge advantage. Despite this, the Knight's forces held out for many months. They endured horrific fighting and massive assaults for over three months. By early September, relief forces arrived to aid the Knights. The Ottomans abandoned the siege and along with it, the island. 25,000 to 30,000 Ottoman and 2,500 for the Knight's soldiers along with a further 7000 Maltese men, women, and children were killed. The Great Siege of 1565 was over and Malta had established itself as an important strategic fortress.

After the victory, there was a surge in developments in culture, the arts, and architecture. Lavish new buildings were erected and the Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Vallette laid the foundation for a new fortress city, Valletta, which bore his name and became the Maltese capital. Over the next 268 years the Knights of St. John ruled the Maltese Islands. In 1798, Napoleon attacked and conquered the island. In the six days that followed the conquest, a civil code was laid down for Malta. Slavery was abolished and all Turkish slaves were freed. Napoleon himself created a primary and secondary education system and a more scientific based university replaced the old one. Once Napoleon left Malta, the Maltese revolted against the French occupiers. Nelson was requested to help rid Malta of the French and by 1800 the Maltese forces and the British Navy, led by Nelson, drove the French out.

The British Throne then took over Malta and for 160 years ruled the Islands. During World War II, Malta suffered relentless bombing by German forces. They were attempting to take over Malta due to its strategic location. More bombs were dropped on Malta in two months in 1942 than on London in the whole of the blitz. Malta still could not be conquered nor the Maltese spirit broken. This strength of character led King George VI to award the whole island the George Cross. In his message he said "To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta, to bear witness to a heroism and a devotion that will long be famous in history." This award is visible on the top left corner of the Maltese Flag.

In 1964, Independence was granted and Malta became a neutral republic. It was this neutrality and peacefulness that led Presidents Gorbachev and Bush to attend a summit aboard a ship anchored at Marsaxlokk bay. This summit effectively ended the Cold War. Today Malta is a member of the European Union and a popular tourist destination.

Places of Interest

Malta's rich history has left many attractions and places of interest.

Valletta hosts regular plays and concerts, as well as scores of exhibitions and street events. Valletta is home to The Museum of Archaeology, which houses a vast collection of prehistoric artifact, and also The War Museum at Fort St. Elmo. On Sundays, military parades in period costumes reenactments are worth seeing. There are also the impressive Grand Master's Palace and St. John's Co-cathedral, which are found in Valletta.

7,000 years of history has ensured that there is plenty to see. There are the Megalithic Temples (including Ggantija, the oldest freestanding temple in the world), the underground catacombs or St. Paul's and St. Agate's, The Knights of St. John's significant sites - such as Fort St. Angelo and Fort Rinella (home to the world's largest canon), W.W.II significant sites - such as the Mgarr war shelter, Mtarfa ex-British military buildings, The Armoury and the Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa are but a few.

The Museum of Roman Antiquities (commonly referred to as "The Roman Villa") and various catacombs are to be found in Rabat. In the fortified medieval city of Mdina, visitors will come across everything from Napoleonic troops to flower festivals. The Cathedral and its museum as well as the torturous Mdina dungeons and the Mdina Experience are a must see for any visitor. Mdina is also home to an impressive artistic collection at the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Caravaggio's Beheading of St. John at St. John's co-Cathedral and medieval Palazzo Falzon, which houses a large collection of antiques.

Nadur in Gozo is well known for its carnival. If visiting Malta during carnival, the parade in Valletta is recommended. Children will enjoy activity and fun parks, which include the old film set of Popeye Village.

For anyone who enjoys water sports, Scuba diving is an avid sport on the Islands. One can also take a harbor cruise, swim at the Blue Grotto in Comino and St. Peters Pool in Marsascala, rent a jet-ski, charter a yacht, visit Mgarr Ix-Xini cove in Gozo and para-kite from one of the sandy beaches to get a birds eye view of Malta.

Malta's rural life is fascinating, offering charming villages & captivating folklore. There are 365 spectacular churches, with the Mosta church being famous for its large dome (third largest dome in Europe).

Other places to visit include the three cities in Cottonera, the fortified Citadel in Gozo, the fishing village of Marsaxlokk - On Sunday morning there is a market held there. Other markets include the open-air market outside Valletta or the It-Tokk Victoria market in Gozo.

Medical Services

Medical care in Malta is available through both public and private hospitals. The quality of medical care in Malta is excellent. Hospitals are modern and supported by a regional network of health centers. Travelers do not normally require certificates of vaccination or immunisation to enter the Maltese Islands. Visitors from EU member states should make sure that they have a European Health Insurance card. It is advisable that all visitors, irrespective of their nationality, take out a personal medical insurance policy. Malta has reciprocal health agreements with Australia and the United Kingdom. Nationals of these countries, visiting the Islands for no longer than one month, are entitled to free medical and hospital care in both Malta and Gozo. Visitors receiving special medical treatment should bring a medical prescription or a letter of introduction from their family doctor, in case they need to purchase particular medicines.

The water is safe to drink.

Public Hospitals

Malta

Mater Dei Hospital

B'Kara By-pass

B'Kara MSD 2090

Tel: ( 356) 25450000

E-mail: mdh@gov.mt

Gozo

Gozo General Hospital,

Victoria.

Tel: ( 356) 21561600

Fax: ( 356) 21560881

More information on health services can be obtained here.

Pharmacies

Pharmacies are found throughout the Islands and are open during normal shopping hours. On Sundays, chemists open on a roster from 09.00 until 12.30 in Malta and from 07.30 until 11.00 in Gozo. Click here for Pharmacy Roster.

Beaches

Malta, Gozo and Comino have many beautiful beaches all around the coast of the islands, including several popular beaches as well as numerous coves off the beaten track and little beaches sometimes only accessible by sea.

The swimming and sunbathing season starts in April, when the weather becomes much warmer. Temperatures vary from mid 20s (Celsius) to mid 30s (Calcium) throughout summer, cooling down somewhat by the end of October.

The most popular sandy beaches are the neighboring beaches of Ghajn Tuffieha and Golden Bay in Malta , and Ramla beach in Gozo. Malta's sandy beaches are mainly to the north part of the island, and the most suitable stretches of flat white rocks are along the western side of the island. The eastern coastline consists mainly of sheer cliffs, with wied iz-Zurrieq near Zurrieq or Ghar Lapsi near Siggiewi popular with Scuba diving groups.

The Maltese coastal waters are generally clean and safe for swimming as there are no tides. Some bays are exposed to north and north-easterly winds which do produce some strong undercurrents at times.

The Maltese Archipelago lies virtually at the centre of the Mediterranean and has a latitude more southerly than that of northern Tunisia. Care must be taken to avoid over exposure to the sun, even in winter. Children and especially babies need extra protection from the sun. Sunbathing is not advisable during the strongest sunlight between the hours of 11am and 3pm in peak summer months.

Climate

Malta's climate is typical of the Mediterranean region. i.e. the summers are hot, dry, and very sunny whilst the winters are mild and a little rainy. During May to October temperatures average around 32C (90F) with around 10-11 hours of sunshine average per day. Between November and April temperatures average around 14C (57F) but still with an average of 6.5 hours of sunshine each day. Annual rainfall in Malta is low, averaging 578mm a year, and during the summer months there can be very long dry spells without a drop of rain. Swimming is possible all year round with the sea temperature rarely dropping below 15C (59F) and reaching as high as 26C (79F).

Food

Maltese cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean cuisine with Sicilian and North African influences. While the Maltese subscribe to the philosophy that fresh, seasonal produce is best and make the most of their abundant natural resources, one can also find out of season produce. Fruit and vegetables grown locally include zucchini, artichokes, tomatoes, potatoes, figs, peaches, melons, apricots and citrus. Fresh produce forms the basis of many Maltese dishes.

Although Maltese food is influenced by the country's Mediterranean neighbours Malta also boasts its own unique dishes. Pastizzi (cheese cakes or pea cakes), flaky pastry filled with cheese or vegetables, is popular in Malta and is available from specialised Pastizzerias and is also served in most cafes. Lampuki pie, made with the local dorado fish and vegetables, is one of the country's best loved dishes. Aljotta is a well known fish soup with marjoram, tomatoes, garlic and rice. Other fish popular in Malta include sea bass, stonefish, bream, red mullet, swordfish and tuna. Lobsters and octopus are also extremely popular, and seafood forms an integral part of the Maltese diet. Maltese bread (il-Hobz tal-Malti) is one of a kind. Traditionally the bread is made from sour dough, left over from the previous day, and is renowned for being crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. A popular snack is Hobz biz-zejt, which comprises of Maltese bread served with tomatoes, tuna, olives, capers, onions and olive oil. Rabbit in either tomato sauce, or fired with garlic, is a much-loved dish. Pastry is also used a lot in both savoury and sweet forms. Popular sweets include Nougat, macaroons and the Italian influenced dessert kannoli - fried pastry rolled up and filled with ricotta and either chocolate chips or fruit.

There is a very good choice of restaurants and cafes to suit everyone's tastes. There are several restaurants offering international cuisine, most popular being Italian, Chinese and Asian. Table service is normal, but many bars and cafes have table and/or counter service. Maltese beer is excellent, and foreign beers are also available. Al in all, there is a wide variety of good food and good and inexpensive Maltese wine as well as foreign wines and spirits. Licensing hours of bars, restaurants and cafes are usually 0900-0100 and beyond.

Education

The educational system in Malta is divided into three core branches being:

  • primary education, which includes ages five to eleven,
  • secondary education which includes students aged from eleven to sixteen and
  • tertiary education for students that have passed the first two primary stages.

Malta has one University which is recognized by major foreign Universities worldwide. Education in Malta is compulsory for students aged from five to sixteen years old.

Maltese parents can send their children to State, Church or Private Schools under the current system. The Maltese Educational System is essentially based on the British education model.

After three years of secondary schooling, students can the opt to transfer into trade school which is a system which leads to employment or to further technical education and training through various apprenticeship schemes. Secondary school students can choose to proceed through sixth form to university, or to one of the several specialized vocational schools located on the island.

There are many schools which belong to the Catholic Church teaching primary and secondary college in Malta. There are also several independent schools.

The Maltese educational institutions including the state, private, and religious sectors provide an extensive education system which caters for all the island nations schooling requirements. The State primary school system is localized in every Maltese village and the State secondary school system is streamlined into the secondary school system.

Studying in Malta offers a wide range of choices whether you are considering a language course, or higher education. Courses are fairly inexpensive compared with the rest of the EU and the standards are very high in particular at the University of Malta which is one of the oldest educational establishments in the world.

There are also over 50 language schools located on the island in all the popular towns, including Sliema, St. Julian's (the nightlife hub) and Valetta. More language schools can also be found on the smaller island of Gozo, which offers more of a slower lifestyle in contrast to the Malta mainland. Ferries connect the two islands daily.

Camping

There is one official camping site in Malta which is located at Dahlet ix-Xmajjar, near the White Tower, l/o Armier. It is situated in approximately 30m from the shoreline, and occupies an area of over 11 tumoli. The campsite is limited to the setting up of tents, which are pitched on high quality turf (grass). The campsite is fully enclosed, security is provided 24 hours per day, and fire-points are situated throughout the camp.

For more information contact:

ADVENTURE CAMPSITE MALTA

Tel: (+356) 21521105

E-mail: info@maltacampsite.com

Water and Electricity

The electrical supply is 230 volts +/- 10%. The frequency of the supply is 50 hertz. The three-pin rectangular plug system is used, as in Britain. Adapters are very easy to find.

Tap water is safe to drink throughout the Maltese Islands. Local and imported bottled mineral water is also available.

Diplomatic Representation

Diplomatic Representation in Malta and Diplomatic Missions of Malta can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website.

Public Holidays

Public holidays observed in Malta are:

  • 1st January - New Year's Day
  • 10th February - St. Paul's Shipwreck
  • 19th March - St. Joseph
  • 31st March - Freedom Day
  • March / April (date changes) - Good Friday
  • 1st May - Labour Day
  • 7th June - Sette Giugno
  • 29th June - St. Peter and St. Paul (L-Imnarja)
  • 15th August - The Assumption (Santa Marija)
  • 8th September - Our Lady of Victories
  • 21st September - Independence Day
  • 8th December - Immaculate Conception
  • 13th December - Republic Day
  • 25th December - Christmas Day

Religion and Worship

While the majority of the Maltese are Roman Catholic, other religious denominations are also represented. There are small Anglican, Church of Scotland, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Methodists and Muslim communities.

Services are normally all day on Sundays, but some churches offer services Saturday evenings or during the week.

Services available on the Maltese islands include: Anglican, Adventists, Baha'i, Bible Baptist, Buddhist, Greek Catholic, Christian Evangelical Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Church of Scotland, Evangelical Church of Germany, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah's witnesses, Jewish and Muslim services, as well as the Roman Catholic ones.

Banks and Financial Services

On 1st January 2008 Malta adopted the Euro as its currency. On 1st February 2008 the Euro became the only legal tender currency in Malta and Gozo.

Banks are normally open until early afternoon from Monday to Friday, and until midday on Saturday. Some banks/branches work longer hours. Summer and winter opening hours may differ.

Exchange bureau at Malta International Airport are open 24 hours a day. International bank cards are accepted and foreign currency is easily exchanged. Banks, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and exchange bureau can be found all over the Islands.

The majority of hotels, larger shops and restaurants also accept payment in the main international currencies. Conversion charges may be applied where outlets opt to accept payment in currencies other than the Euro.

In line with EU legislation on controls of cash entering or leaving the Community, any person entering or leaving Malta carrying cash or other monetary value of which is equal to or in excess of 10,000 or equivalent is obliged to fill in the appropriate declaration form available from the Customs.

Transport

The public transport service on Malta and Gozo is a good way to get around - and you get to see the Islands too. The main bus terminus in Malta is in Valletta, just outside the City Gate. Malta buses are orange and show the route number on the front. Malta bus routes leave from and go to Valletta. A few do operate circular routes, but this is not the norm - an express bus service links the principal resorts with Sliema, Marsaxlokk, Mdina, the Three Cities and the main sandy beaches. All buses to Valletta pass through Floriana. In towns and villages, the bus terminus is generally found on or near the main square. From here, buses go to practically every corner of the Island. The average length of a bus trip in Malta is 20 to 30 minutes: the longest trip takes 50 minutes.

To go to Gozo by public transport, board a bus to Cirkewwa, then go as a foot passenger on the ferry, and take a Gozo bus to the capital Victoria. In Gozo, the bus terminus is in Main Gate Street, Victoria. Buses in Gozo are gray with a central red band and show the route number on the front. Unlike in Malta, Gozo buses operate along circular routes, leaving from and returning to Victoria without scheduled stops at termini. A regular service runs to and from Mgarr, route 25, and is timed to coincide with the ferry timetable.

More information on buses, routes and timetables can be found here.

If you opt to drive, remember to drive on the left-hand side of the road. There are speed limits of 80 km/h on the open road and 50 km/h in built- up areas. Comprehensive insurance is advisable. National or international driving licenses are accepted.

If you are planning to cross over to Gozo, the sister island of Malta, you can use the Gozo ferry service, which carries passengers and cars between Malta and Gozo. The trip takes about 30 minutes. For more information, visit the Gozo Channel website.

Cruise ships call at the Grand Harbour in Valletta. The harbour's Lascaris Wharf (known as the Valletta Waterfront), located in the Grand Harbour has been enlarged and is being upgraded as a dedicated cruise ship terminal with duty-free facilities. The Valletta Waterfront is minutes away from the Capital City, Valletta and offers check-in and baggage facilities, porterage, tax-free shopping, a tourist information service on site, food and beverage facilities, retail facilities, taxi services as well as a public bus service. For more information click here.