21 February 2021
Journey to the islands of Malta and you can travel back in time. There are a variety of fascinating historical sites dotted across these Mediterranean landscapes, giving you a unique holiday itinerary.
Situated off the coast of Sicily at the crossroads between the East and West Mediterranean, the Maltese islands have attracted wave after wave of settlers over the centuries. Each wave, from the Phoenicians who settled on these three islands eons ago, to the Romans who dominated them in Late Antiquity, and the Normans who ruled over them in the Middle Ages, have all left their mark. Explore the legacy of these people by visiting the remains of their great civilisations throughout the islands.
For a good starting point, head to the National Museum of Archaeology in the national capital Valletta. Based on the centrally-located Republic Street, this museum houses artefacts created between the Neolithic (5000 B.C.) to the Phoenician (400 B.C.) periods of Maltese history. Highlights include the museum’s ‘anthropomorphic’ stone sarcophagi and ‘Horus & Anubis’ pendant, which both date back to the Phoenician period. Other must-see artefacts include its collection of Bronze Age daggers and the iconic ‘Sleeping Lady’ clay figure which was constructed between 3300 – 3000 B.C.
Built by knights in the 1500s, the entire city of Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site waiting to be explored. Make time to stop at the Saint John’s Co-Cathedral – a magnificent 16th Century marble-adorned baroque building which houses works by master artists like Caravaggio. Another site for your itinerary is the Grand Master’s Palace – which has served as the centre of Maltese political life for over three centuries. Visit the Palace’s grand staterooms, where you can gaze at twelve frescos by Mattia Perez d’Aleccio which depict the ‘Great Siege of 1565’, and its extensive armoury.
Malta hosts a treasure trove of ancient temples you can visit. One of the most renowned is Ħaġar Qim in the south of Malta Island. Built around 3600 – 3200 B.C. this ancient structure was once used to conduct religious rituals such as animal sacrifices. Walk among the decorated forecourt and stone caverns of Ħaġar Qim’s ruins, gaze at the large stone ‘megalith’ slabs which have held it up for aeons and visit its stone table-altars to gain insight into ancient religious practises of Malta.
Another must-see is Borġ in-Nadur in South Malta, where you can stroll among the ruins of a four-apse temple and tour the remains of a Bronze Age settlement. On the main island you’ll also discover the Tarxien Temples – a UNESCO World Heritage site housing decorated stone slabs and statues, and Buġibba Temple in St Paul’s Bay. Head to Malta’s Gozo island and tour the Ġgantija Temples; these gigantic limestone structures are the earliest known megalithic temples in Malta.
Head underground to access Malta’s star archaeological attraction – the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum in the east of the island. Built in three phases between 3600 and 2500 B.C. this underground cavity made up of rock-hewn halls, passages and chambers was once a burial site. Sign up to the Hypogeum tour and take in an introductory exhibition before you journey down below to learn about this unique site. Arrange your place well before you travel, as Hypogeum tours often fill up weeks in advance.
Another popular burial site is the St Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat, Malta. A warren of underground passages and tombs which were used by the Romans until the 4th Century A.D., the catacombs serve as archaeological evidence of the arrival of Christianity on Malta. Some of the ‘hypogea’ underground chambers in these catacombs are open to the public, allowing you to tour the site’s early Christian tombs, murals, and the rock agape circular tables which were used in Roman rituals.
There are various other historical sites to visit in Malta. Learn about everyday Roman life at the Domus Romana museum– a former villa which houses artefacts, marble statues and mosaic floors. Tour defensive structures such as the 16th Century Fort Ricasoli on the main island – which has been featured in films such as Gladiator, to learn about Maltese architecture. Head to Dingli in North Malta – also called ‘Clapham Junction’. Here you can see an impressively dense concentration of cart ruts from ages gone by, as well as various Punic tombs, shedding light on Malta’s intriguing past