Being a small country, Malta has served as a neutral territory for meetings between the Cold War rivals George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Upon Independence the country retained the British Monarch as head of state, but eventually became a Republic, although remaining in the Commonwealth to the present. Interestingly, the Knights Hospitaller when expelled by the Napoleonic forces asserted their claims to sovereignty and under international law is one of the few sovereign entities not to possess one of the traditional perquisites of statehood: land (much like the Holy See before the establishment of the Vatican City State). Today it is a permanent observer at the United Nations.
The rules for alcohol consumption were also less struck than they are in the US. I was never asked for ID and even the tour boats and buses sold beers on while in transit. Food was simply splendid! It ranged from very expensive fresh seafood to cafes and daily-baked pastry goods.
It was really cool to have a colleague from university who’s Maltese, spoke Maltese, and was home for the break with us. She was able to arrange a tour with some really important people from the Maltese Parliament. The tour provided me with much information about politics and culture in Malta. Quite interesting was the possible extinction of the Maltese language or culture due to the ever-encroaching dominance of languages like English and increasing globalisation. Part of the history of Malta revolves around it’s involvement with the Allied forces during WWII. When visiting the city of Mosta, I was able to view the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady where a German Luftwaffe bomb dropped though its dome but fell to the floor amidst Mass with 300 worshipers unexploded. The church’s dome is the third largest in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Local legend attributes the miracle to intercession of the Virgin and a replica of the bomb is held on display within the church’s sacristy and its entry spot in the dome is painted a faint yellow against the otherwise white ceiling. The church, like many others in Malta was simply inspiring in composition and decoration. I’ve always enjoyed deciphering latin inscriptions and biblical paintings hidden within the ubiquitous iconography.