Tag Archives: Mediterranean

Christmas Interlude: Malta (III) To Gozo!

I spoke before about the way religion permeates the country’s life. In the U.S. for example, there are always court cases during the Christmas season with people suing for the removal of religious symbolism or the inclusion of as many major symbols of other faiths as possible. This issue didn’t seem to exist in Malta as there were nativity scenes in almost every public or government building. The airport, the hotels, sidewalks, and church and public squares were all bedecked with a manger, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. The elaborate detail included in some was simply astounding. There was one in a hotel that had an entire village with walled buildings and several floors with running water and tens of inhabitants. Almost all the harbour-side streets were draped in Christmas lighting as well.

To Gozo

Malta is actually made up of two islands in addition to that of Malta: Gozo and Comino. I was lucky to visit Gozo with a very adventurous friend who decided to climb cliffs and go diving off of them. I would have too! but it was too cold for my Caribbean taste :D! Below are a few of the places I visited while in Gozo. You should be able to spot the sites in the labelled photo gallery below.

MĠARR – This is Gozo’s main harbour with its many fishing boats, yachts and ferry boats.

RAMLA BAY – Its golden-reddish sand makes this beach different from all others in Gozo and Malta. Its real Maltese name is Ir-Ramla il-Ħamra – the RedSandy Beach.

SAVINA CREATIVITY CENTRE – Cool place where local creative products are created, packaged, and sold.  such as taffy, sea salt, and olive oil.

MARSALFORN – A popular seaside resort. Reputed spot where St. Paul was shipwrecked on the way to Rome from Malta.

TA’ PINU SANCTUARY  – Basilica of Ta’ Pinu.

DWEJRA – With its famous Azure window. This is where my adventurous friend decided to jump off a cliff into the treacherous waters below to climb a big rock amidst the waves.

VICTORIA (known locally as Rabat)- Visited the Citadel, which one of the highest points on the island.

XEWKIJA –  A church dedicated to St. John The Baptist and is the Seat of the Knights of the Order of St. John.

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Christmas Interlude: Malta (II)

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.

Christmas Interlude: Malta I

I haven’t written anything in quite a while! I’ve been extremely busy with my vacation-turned-Masters-degree trip to Europe 😦 :D.

Well, I’ve finally got a break for Christmas and enjoyed it with a few good friends in the Mediterranean on the island of Malta. At less than £90 round trip, the flight there was a really good price. I used Thompson airlines, which offered a holiday service to the island and was allowed one checked bag and one carryon. Some of us stayed at a really cheap hotel that checked in at about 115 Euro for the full 7 days. The weather was beautiful and sunny: a wonderful >10 degrees more than London’s frigid 8-10°C. My hotel, nor the other hotel used by others in my group provided complimentary wi-fi, but free wifi was easy to find at numerous cafes and food stands along the coast where we stayed in Sliema. In the first few days, I was able to visit other cities (really little communities more than distinct cities) of Valleta, San Giljan (St. Julian), and Gzira. In Malta, the official languages are Maltese and English. Many of the signs were written in English to my simultaneous relief and chagrin. I learned the word for “street” in Maltese is “Triq,” which prefixes streets’ proper name (Triq Tas-Sliema = Sliema Street).  In Malta, tourism is a big source of GDP. There were lots of hotels, tours, and cheap easy transportation to and from the airport.

The Island’s history is filled with conquest and occupation including that of the Spanish, the Knights Hospitaller, French, and the British. Many of the things to which I have grown accustomed in the UK were present in Malta such driving on the left, and the chunky three-prong wall socket. There were traces of Arab and European (mainly Italian) influences in the language and family names. Being a 98% Roman Catholic country, the people proudly referred to themselves in a cultural and national way as “Catholic” and crucifixes visibly graced their shops and public buildings. Churches dominated the landscape, with domes and bell towers on almost every horizon and their monuments regularly consisted of crosses and hagiography, with almost every other site bearing a name related to Christ or the saints.

On Christmas day at noon, the entire country it seemed was awash with the sounds of bells in celebration of the Christian high feast. It was a really beautiful experience, that really filled me, as a student of political science, with awe at a modern Western democracy so actively claiming a visible religious identity. Even when we went to watch a movie, the theatre featured a Christmas choir with the most melodic voices! -> I’ve attached a short vid!

In the short while I was there I learned so much about Malta’s history and elements it shared with other countries. Many older Maltese churches had two bell towers with a clock on each, one with the right time and the other with the wrong time, historically, to fool the devil about what time the mass was to be held. You should be able to see this architectural phenomenon in some of the photos I’ve uploaded.

One of the coolest things about visiting places with such a rich and ancient history as Malta is its ability to recall its past through preservation and awareness, while at the same time introducing modern conveniences into the process. For example, you’ll see shiny metal elevators running on electricity alongside ancient limestone fortresses or a gargantuan oil rig sitting for repairs in the middle of a centuries-old harbour.