What and who formed today’s Maltese culture? What is the story behind the fortification of so many Maltese cities? Why do the Maltese speak English and Maltese? Why do the Maltese drive on the left?
THE DEVELOPMENT OF MALTESE CULTURE THROUGH HISTORY
Malta has been occupied by a lot of different nations in the past: Arabs, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Byzantines. The first signs of human settlers are around 5200 BC. The oldest temple on the island, the temple complex of Mnajdra, dates back to 3600 BC and is still open for visitors. The traditional Maltese language is similar to old Arabic. After the Byzantines Sicily, the neighbour of Malta, took over. The Sicilians gave Malta to The Order of Saint John which was a catholic military. All nations had their influence on today's Maltese culture.
The Order of Saint John’s influence is still really obvious. This is not only because it was recent but because the 250 years The Order ruled over Malta is considered the Maltese golden age. Not only in terms of wealth but also in terms of architectural achievements. The current state of the capital of Malta, Valletta, is formed during the golden age. Valletta hold a lot of cultural heritage and is chosen to be Europe’s Capital of Culture 2018. Valletta is home to a lot of churches, Malta has 365 churches in total. The Maltese are still very religious. The younger generation gets influenced by Europe and the international community in Malta resulting in a less religious lifestyle, but the elderly still go to church frequently. The high rate of catholics in Malta results in Malta being nearly the last country on earth (after Philippines and Vatican City) to legalise divorce in 2011. A referendum was held and 53% voted yes. Abortion is still illegal and a taboo. Maltese often live with their parents until they find a partner to live with.
The Order left some of Malta’s most particular constructions behind like Fort Manoel, Mdina and St John’s Cathedral. Fortifications built by The Order had a great success in the military history of Malta. During The Great Siege of 1565 but also in the Siege of Malta in WWII (1940-1942). Looking at the structures like St John’s Cathedral will amaze you. How did all this cultural heritage survived the many wars it has been through? A lot has been restaurated and is still being restaurated. During The Order’s years the population of Malta almost got 5 times as big. They had a great success defending Malta until they could no longer fight Napoleon’s forces and surrendered Malta to the French in 1798.
The French did not occupy Malta for long. Rebellions and help from the English made France garrison Malta after two years. After the occupation of the French Malta volunteered to become a British colony which they practically have been for 164 years (1800-1964). The British influenced Malta’s culture a lot over the years. This is still obvious today. English is one of their national languages, they drive on the left and there are a lot of English to be found. Also Malta, especially the island Gozo is a very popular destination to live for the English retired. The British introduced the Pound Sterling (1852), the British political system and the British military system. The last two are still in use until some extend today.
Malta played a key role in WWII, and not an easy one as you can imagine. Being close to Italy and the only Allied country in the area made it a strategically important country for both the Allies and the Axis. The English were hesitating when it came to defending Malta since Great Britain was in problems themselves. This resulted in Malta, a 316 square km big country, closer to both Italy, Spain and Germany than any allied country, suffering great losses. According to reports 1.300 civilians have been killed, 2.300 soldiers hospitalized and 30.000 buildings damaged or destroyed. At the end of the two year duration of the siege the Allied won, even though the Axis outnumbered them. The Axis lost 17.240 soldiers. This resulted in Malta and the Maltese people receiving the George Cross, the second highest award, from the British. After the world war, officially in 1964, Malta received independence. Since 1974 Malta has been a republic and joined the European Union in 2004.
Today Malta is a hub for international business, English education, diving, music festivals, culture and history. Traditional festivals are also an important part of the Maltese culture, religion plays a large role here, they are famous internationally for their colorful character and excessive celebrations. Particular Maltese cuisine are rabbit, pastizzi and Ftira and are probably experienced best at one of the traditional festivals. The best way to get to know Maltese culture is to go there. Visit the buildings described above and get to know the Maltese. It is a great place to live but also perfect for your holiday.