History and Culture

History of the Maltese Islands

The history of Malta is a long and colourful one dating back approximately 7000 years.

The Maltese Islands went through a golden Neolithic period, the remains of which are the mysterious temples dedicated to the goddess of fertility. Later on, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Byzantines, all passed through Malta and left their traces on the island.

In 60 AD, St. Paul was shipwrecked on the island while travelling to Rome and introduced Christianity to the Maltese people. The Arabs conquered Malta in 870 AD and left an important mark on the Maltese language and the island’s architecture. Until 1530 Malta was an extension of Sicily, with the Normans, the Aragonese and other conquerors who ruled over Sicily also governing the Maltese Islands. It was Charles V who passed Malta on to the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem who ruled over the island from 1530 to 1798. The Knights took Malta through a golden era, making it a key player in the cultural scene of the 17th and 18th century. The artistic and cultural lives of the Maltese Islands were injected with the presence of artists such as Caravaggio, Mattia Preti and Favray who were commissioned by the Knights to embellish churches, palaces and auberges. Their works may still be seen in various museums and other renowned places of interest around the island.

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte took over the Maltese islands from the Knights while on his way to Egypt. The French presence on the islands was short lived, as the English, who were requested by the Maltese to help them against the French, took over the islands in 1800. 

British rule in Malta lasted until 1964 when Malta became independent. The Maltese adopted the British system of administration, education and legislation. Modern Malta became a Republic in 1974 and joined the European Union in May 2004.

Culture

With 7,000 years of history, the Maltese Islands are steeped in culture and heritage. This historic legacy, unique in the Mediterranean, is reflected in the country’s national architecture and collections. There are so many areas of heritage and culture which one can explore – the 16th century masterpiece Grandmasters’ Palace, which is now the house of parliament; the “Sacra Infermeria”, which is now a fully equipped conference centre; the St. James Centre for Creativity – a superbly restored fortification where contemporary works of art are exhibited against the original rough-textured walls and rediscovered spaces. With these buildings and others, past and present blend into an enduring and admirable lesson in the art of living.


Theatre and music are also very popular on the Islands. A variety of theatres - including  Valletta's Manoel Theatre and two opera houses in Victoria (Gozo) - as well as several open-air venues offer a wide selection of plays, musicals, operas and concerts.  There is always something to do on the Maltese islands.