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      September 2014 > Never in a rut on Malta and Gozo...
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Never in a rut on Malta and Gozo...

The Republic of Malta (to give it its official name) comprises an archipelago of seven islands (the three main ones being Malta, Gozo and Comino) in the Mediterranean Sea, lying 50 miles south of Sicily, 176 miles east of Tunisia, and 207 miles north of Libya. Encompassing only 120 square miles, it is one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in the world, and its capital, Valletta, is the smallest capital in the European Union.

Self guided walking holidays in Malta

Who hasn’t been here?

I suppose it may not have been necessary to tell you where it is – it’s not hard to find as countless invading fleets can attest. The strategic importance of the islands, lying in the middle of such an important seaway, has been recognised throughout history by a succession of powers, including Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Habsburgs, the Knights of St John, the French and the British. Britain hadn’t invaded (for once!) – it was simply defending Malta from the French (who had). After a blockade by Nelson, Malta ‘chose’ to become part of the British Empire.

Self guided walking holidays in Malta

Celebrate all the fours

Malta’s heroic defence for the Allies during World War Two earned the islands a collective George Cross from the King, though after the war, the move for independence began to gain momentum. Malta finally became an independent state in 1964 and was admitted to the UN that year; it became a republic in 1974 and joined the European Union in 2004. Any year ending in a ‘4’, therefore, is a time for celebration on the islands.

So this month, on 21 September, the people of Malta celebrate the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from Great Britain – and events to mark this momentous occasion take place across the archipelago. Not that the islanders are short of things to celebrate – from myriad saints’ days to the Mnarja (harvest festival), and from regular village festas to Notte Bianca, a spectacular night-time carnival in October.

Self guided walking holidays in Malta

Holiday destination

The Maltese islands today are popular destinations for all manner of holiday-maker, including walkers, birdwatchers, yachtsmen and women, historians, sun-worshippers, ‘foodies’ and – despite some areas being densely populated – for those who like to get off the beaten track and discover the islands’ natural wonders. Beautiful as the islands may be, it’s the sheer volume – and importance – of historic and archaeological remains that has given rise to Malta being called an ‘open-air museum’.

Self guided walking holidays in Malta

Extant remains from every era abound, from the unique UNESCO-designated Hypogeum, an underground temple, that is one of the greatest remaining structures from prehistory on the islands, and the impressive façade of the Ggantija temple on Gozo, another World Heritage Site, to Roman mosaics at Rabat and the Rotonda at Mosta, a church with one of the largest unsupported domes in the world. Oh, and not forgetting some mysterious cart ruts...

In a rut...

Of all the archaeological sites on Malta and Gozo, it is the so-called ‘cart ruts’ that get the most attention from historians. Now, you may think, ‘what’s so special about cart ruts? Well nothing under normal circumstances, except that these may not be all that they first seem. They can be found in several locations, the most numerous being at Misrah Ghar il-Kbir (giving rise to its informal name of ‘Clapham Junction’); they appear to be hewn from the rock rather than having been eroded by wheels; and, most startling of all, those at Dingli go straight over the cliff edge, while those at Birżebbuġa simply disappear into the sea.

Self guided walking holidays in Malta

Their age, origin and purpose have baffled archaeologists for years, and may never be discovered but a bit of mystery only adds to the character of a place...

Posted: 19/09/2014 10:49:18 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: Comino, Gozo, heritage, history, islands, lifestyle, Malta, slow, traditions


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