Back in Berlin, after travelling for 10 days on Malta and the neighbouring island of Gozo, we looked back on intense days of travel. So, we came up with a list of our personal travel highlights in Malta.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Malta was not really on our list of potential travel destinations. But with the rising incidence rates we were looking for a suitable destination within Europe. One condition was that it still had a warmer climate in November. We were wavering between Cyprus and Malta, but in the end, Malta made it. And looking back, Malta is a travel destination we would recommend, for sure.
The island of Malta is densely populated and we knew beforehand that it is not a hiking destination. However, Malta has a very varied and long history and we were prepared to do a lot of sightseeing. And a lot of the items in our list of Malta highlights are classic traditional sightseeing spots. As you might expect, some of them are even UNESCO World Heritage sites.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta on Malta
Over the years we have visited many very opulent churches. Some of them were UNESCO World Heritage sites, like the Wieskirche in Bavaria or the painted monasteries in Bucovina. Thus gold-plated interiors of churches do not easily impress us. But the magnificent St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta really blew our mind. It was the Maltese Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere who commissioned it in the 16th century to serve as church for the Order of the Knights of St John.
The interior is a feast in gold and stucco. The Order of St John – the Maltese Knights – was organized along ethno-linguistic and geographic divisions. Each unit was called a langue, or tongue. Altogether there were eight tongues and every one of them had its own side chapel in the huge church. And all of them tried to outdo each other with design and pomp.
The hefty entrance fee of 15 € included an informative audio guide. We listened and looked, and listened, and looked more. Altogether we spent almost two hours inside the church. At the end of the self-guided tour through the church we had a look at the Oratory. It houses a magnificent painting by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio. “The Beheading of St John the Baptist” is one of his largest paintings and the only one that bears his signature. A highlight within a highlight.
Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni
Wherever we travel, we check the UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country. Malta currently has three UNESCO sites inscribed. We managed to visit all of them, but only one made it onto our Malta Highlights list: The underground man-made cave system of Hal Saflieni. The oldest parts of Hal Saflieni are more than 5000 years old. That’s before metal technologies arrived on Malta. So the people dug them without metal tools, using only other stones for the work. Apparently, they used the site first as a sanctuary of some sorts, later it became a necropolis.
When archaeologists discovered the caves around 1900, they found the remains of more than 7000 people. Parts of the caves feature elaborately painted spirals and dots. The red ochre used to paint them is very sensitive, so entrance is strictly limited to only a few people per group. Inside no pictures were allowed.
The female statuettes found at the Megalithic temples
There are six Megalithic temples on the UNESCO World Heritage list, but none of them made it onto our “Highlights in Malta” list. Admittedly, the temple of Ta Hagrat was a close runner-up. But we loved the small and not so small statues of women that were found at these temples. Some of them are only a few centimetres in size, most of them about 20 centimetres, and the giant Tarxien statue must have been three meters high. Most of the statues are quite fat and look instantly like fat women. While many might be ambiguous and could possibly show extremely fat men (think of sumo ringers), there are some with large breasts that are clearly female representations.
Many of the statues are headless, but there is a hole in which a head could have been attached. As there are no written sources about the Megalithic cultures of Malta, archaeologists are still pondering the reasons. Were the heads removed during a ceremony such as a burial? Was the statue intended to have different heads? Like: “As today’s priestess on duty, Lady XY welcomes you”? Seeking out the statues at the Archaeological museum in Valetta and some other on-site museums was intriguing!
Historic Old Towns
We loved strolling through the old towns of Victoria (on Gozo) and Mdina (on Malta). We couldn’t get enough of the small alleys with statues of saints high up on niches in the walls, and the numerous small and bigger churches. And the cobbled streets were a delight during the day and, especially, at night. Other travellers were searching for specific viewpoints: The old town of Mdina also was a movie location in the first season of Game of Thrones.
Early morning in the harbour town of Marsaxlokk
We visited the fishing village of Marsaxlokk on Sunday for the famous Marsaxlokk Fish Market. To beat the tour groups, we wanted to be there early in the morning and thus spent the night from Saturday to Sunday in Marsaxlokk. On Sunday morning we went for the market just after sunrise before breakfast. The vendors had just arrived and were setting up their stalls. But we could stroll along the harbour front, taking pictures of the many colourful boats in the morning light. The market itself was a bit of a disappointment, though. Most of the stalls were selling shoes, Christmas decoration, plates, and all sort of knick-knack.
The Aviation Museum in Attard
Shortly before we came to Malta we read “The Great Circle” by Maggie Shipstead. The book is about a woman who learned to fly small aircrafts during the 1930s and ’40s against all odds. Not only were women not expected to do such things as flying a plane. Marian Graves, the heroine of the book, does not even come from an affluent family. Besides the story itself we also enjoyed learning about the early years of aviation and aircraft development. So, when we read about the small Aviation museum on Malta we were hooked. This was a chance to see some of the planes described in the book for real! Especially the Supermarine Spitfire, a single seat fighter plane that was used by the Royal Air Force before and during WW II.
A culinary highlight in Malta: Ricotta Qassatat
Food on Malta was ok, but not superb. We did not particularly like the famous pastizzi filled with cheese or peas. But we loved the similar, but less fatty Qassatat. Especially those with ricotta cheese, fresh and warm.
Have you travelled in Malta? Let us know about your personal Malta highlights in the comments.
NB: Our trip to Malta was not sponsored in any way. We paid all expenses ourselves. This post does contain affiliate links.
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