In Malta one is spoiled for choice when it comes to visiting museums and heritage sites. These range from art, military, maritime, crafts and folklore museums as well as churches, palaces, gardens and archaeological sites.
Visiting museums and such sites is one of the best ways to better understand the Islands’ history and way of life throughout the years.
Valletta is a late-16th-century town, planned according to Ranaissance ideas. Disraeli wrote that “it equals in its nobe architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe”. It was created as a completely-new town and now stands complete with bastions and powerful cavaliers, still in the state that Francesco Laparelli left them, defying tha passage of time.
Is historically and artistically one of the most important monuments of the islands: “the most striking interior I have ever seen” declared Sir Walter Scott. The building of the Conventual church began in 1573 by Grand Master Jean l’Eveque de la Cassiere. Four hundred memorials slabs cover the floor, all inlaid with soft coloured mosaic or marble. The Beheading of St John the Babtist by the mercurial Caravaggio can be seen in the Oratory, as well as a set of 28 Flemish tapestries woven in Brussels.
The Grand Master’s Palace
It is sited half way down Republic Street. It has two lovely courtyards. There is also the armoury of the Knights where arms and armour of various periods are displayed. In the Tapestry Chamber can be seen the priceless Gobelian tapestries.
The National Museum of Archeology
In the Auberge de Provence, in Republic street, was one of the inns of the knights. the museum contains several excellent collections of objects found at the main Neolithic and prehistoric sites on the island (pottery, sculpture, statuettes…).
The National Museum of Fine Arts
This museum is in South Street just off Republic Street. It is housed in the former Admiralty house. Although modest in size it offers the visitors an interesting collection of paintings of such masters as Guido Reni, Jusepe Ribera and Mattia Preti together with a selection of the foremost schools from the 14th century to the beginning of the 20th century.
The National War museum
It Is located in Fort St.Elmo, Valletta. The fort itself played a significant part in the Great Siege of 1565 as well as against an Italian E-boat attack in 1941. The museum has exhibits relating mostly to World War II, including weapons, uniforms and war vehicles. You can also see a large selection of war relics from the plane “Faith” to the George Cross, awarded to the Maltese in recognition of their bravery in the Second World War. Also, In Guardia! are historical re-enactments at Fort St.Elmo, spectacular military parades dating back to the times of the Knights of St. John.
The National Library
This library is housed in the colonnaded and classical building dominating Republic Square. It is the depository of the original documents dating from 1107 recording the administration of the Order of St. John over the first seven centuries of its existence up to 1798 – some four million documents.
St Paul Shipwrecked Church
Is a “hidden gem” and not to be missed. Entrance is through St Lucia Street or St Paul Street.
The Grand Harbour
Was a focal point during the Great siege of 1565 and also during World War II. This historic port has been the economic lifeline of Malta ever since the dawn of history.
Is Malta’s National theatre, built by the Portuguese Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena “for the honest entertainment of the people”. The first-ever public performance took place on January9, 1732, making the Manoel one of the oldest functioning theatres in Europe. Performances are held regularly.
Were designed by the brilliant Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar. In Valletta one can still see the Auberge d’Aragon, Auberge de Castille et Leon, Auberge d’Italie (now the general post office) and Auberge de Provence (national museum of Archeology).
There are the most prominent of Maltese architecture. The main ingredient used is a soft limestone. Mile upon mile of fortified curtains and bastions rise solidly from the ground and seem an integral part of the scene. One can see them in Valletta, the Three Cities and Mdina.
Is the Valletta open market which sets up for trade in St.James Ditch on Sunday mornings and in Merchant street during the week. Its name is derived from the Monte de Pieta – an official pawn broking house whose proceeds went for the ransom of slaves during the rule of the order.
The Mediterranean Conference Centre
Or the Sacra Infermeria, referred to in the past as the Knight’s Hall, is a good example of the Renaissance architecture in Valletta. The original nucleus of the Sacra Infermaria became operative in 1578 during the reign of Grand Master La Cassiere. The Sacra Infermeria was restored in 1979 and has since been housing the Mediterranean Conference Centre. The conference and exhibition facilities of the centre have hosted a wide variety of international meetings and events. The Malta Experience an excellent multi-vision show introducing visitors to Malta and its people, can be seen in Fort St Elmo just across the street from the Mediterranean Conference Centre.
For a memorable view of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities go to the upper Barracca, or the lower Barracca Gardens with its well-known monument to Sir Alexander Ball. Hastings Gardens are set on the bastions overlooking Floriana. Before entering the upper Barracca visit The Sacred Island the latest multi vision show at Dar l-Emigranti, Valletta. This gives an insight into the folklore and culture of the Maltese in six different languages. The Argotti Botanical Gardens are also worth a visit, as are the historical Sa Maison Gardens. Near Verdala Palace, outside Rabat, are the Buskett Gardens.
The Three Cities
Across the Grand Harbour, to the South of Valletta, are the three historic towns of Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea, commonly referred to as Cottonera or the Three Cities. When the Knights first arrived they chose Vittoriosa (Birgu) as their home because of its vicinity to Fort St Angelo. Valletta was built after the Great Siege of 1565.
The Maritime museum
This museum, once a bakery belonging to the Royal Navy, highlights the most important moments of Malta’s maritime history. Exhibits include two ceremonial barges (Wignacourt’s and Vilhena’s), several models of sailing ships and galleys of the Order, as well as a number of authentic guns and cannons.
Cospicua or Bormla
Here one can admire, among other landmarks, the Cottonera Lines (1670), the Santa Margerita Lines (1638) and the St Clement’s Retrenchment (1854). The magnificent Collegiate Parish Church and its artistic Oratory (1731) is full of unique masterpiece.
Named after Grand Master Claude de la Sengle, had to be most completely rebuilt after the Second World War Worth visiting are the Church of St.Philip and that of Our Lady of Victories as well as the vedette behind the church.
Fort St Angelo
At Vittoriosa, built around the 21st century AD, was enlarged and strengthened by the Knights who made it their headquarters. The Grand Master refashioned the residence to serve as his Magisterial Palace. It is very similar to the Knight’s Crusader Castle and the citadel they raised at Rhodes. The Fort is open to the public and guided tours are available.
The Folklore Museums
This museum is housed in the Inquisitor’s Palace in Vittoriosa, formerly the seat of the Inquisitor in Malta. A section of the building contains interesting specimens of tools and objects of devotion of a bygone age. Of special interest to visitors are the judgement hall, the private apartments and the dungeons.
It is the old capital of Malta and is a typical medieval town situated in the centre of the island. The “silent city” as it is known, commands a magnificent view of the island.
It was rebuilt on plans by Lorenzo Gafa following the earthquake of 1693 which considerably damaged the late medieval cathedral. The altarpiece and several other paintings are by Mattia Preti. Other treasures include the two chapels of the Blessed Sacrament and the Sculptures. The Sacristy door and the Baptistry. The Cathedral Museum is a fine baroque Palace (1743) with various works of art, including Durer woodcuts and a fine picture gallery.
The Museum of Natural History
Situated at Vilhena Palace, houses seven sections, comprising of both local and foreign collections, including skeletal anatomy, fish, insects, birds, shells and fossils alongside with a number of geology exhibits.
Norman House or Palazzo Falzon
Is the most complete of Mdina’s Medieval buildings. It stands at the end of Villegaignnon Street, named after the Knight of Malta Nicolas Durand, Seigneur de Villegaignon, who organised the defence of Mdina against a threatened Turkish attack in 1955. Norman house is a private house whose owner generously bequeathed it to the nation.
St.Agatha’s and St.Paul’s catacombs
These are typical of the underground Christian cemeteries which were common in the 4th century AD. The characteristic feature of the Maltese catacombs is the presence of “agape tables” hewn out of rock, on which mourners reclined to partake of the funeral wake.
St.Paul’s church and Grotto
St Paul’s Collegiate Church is one of the earliest parishes built in the form of a Latin Cross. It was designed by F.Buonamici and completed in 1683 by Lorenzo Gafa. The main altar piece is by Stefano Erardi. Beneath the sanctuary is the celebrated St. Paul’s Grotto, where St.Paul is reputed to have stayed in A.D. 60. Above the Grotto is a chapel dedicated to St.Publius, which houses various are treasures.
These austere cliffs in the limits of Rabat are as impregnable as the fortifications built by the Knights of St.John. As you stroll along them you will come across the most characteristic types of natural landscape. From here you can have a spectacular view of the tiny, uninhabited island of Filfla.
Is another legacy of the Knights and this was begun in 1586. a semi fortified villa, it was built by Fra Hugues de Verdalle on high ground as a summer residence for the Grand Master.
The Roman Villa
It is found in the vicinity and definitely worth a visit with its exhibits of Roman Malta. Evidence of Malta’s wealth and magnificence during the Roman rule (218 BC – 870 AD) may be seen here due to the fact that it contains many valuable remains, like lamps and glass and glass and gold objects. Look out for the beautifully preserved mosaics.
As you enter Mosta you immediately recognise the Rotunda the parish church dedicated to the Assumption of the Vitgin Mary. This church was built in the classical style in the middle of the 19th century mainly through the efforts, both technical and financial, of the villagers. It was designed by George Grognet de Vasse. His plan was closely based on that of the Pantheon, in Rome. The foundation stone laid on May 30th, 1933 and the church took 27 years to complete. Apart from the size of its dome, it is well-known because on April 9th, 1942 at 4p.m. the Rotunda’s majestic dome was pierced by a 500-lb enemy bomb whose shell is now exhibited inside the sacristy. The bomb fell in the centre of the church without exploding. Nobody was hurt.
Is a 144m long natural cave located about 500m from St.George’s bay, Birzebbugia. The cave is a veritable depository of semi fossilised remains of a number of animals such as dwarf elephants and hippopotami. This proves that Malta was attached to Sicily and the European continent. This cave provided shelter to the island’s first inhabitants, when they landed here in 5000BC.
Hypogeum (Circa 2400 BC)
This is a fascinating prehistoric underground burial ground 12 metres below street level situated in Paola. It consists of a system of caves, passages and cubicles cut in the rocks, and considered to be an invaluable site within the framework of world archaeology. The famous “sleeping lady”, now exhibited at the Museum of Archeology in Valletta, was found in the Hypogeum.
Megalithic Tarxien Temples
Malta can boast of a number of megalithic temples sited all over the island. The Tarxien complex consists of three linked temples. These temples were erected in the fourth and third millennium BC. Several decorate objects, statuettes, pottery items and bas reliefs were discovered there. The most striking are the superb spiral motifs. Professor Renfrew referred to the megalithic temples of Malta as “the earliest free-standing stone monuments in the world”.
Is to be found in the south of the island, near Hal Far. It is a huge cave with a large window in the cliff-face rising perpendicularly out of the water.
These are mostly found on the exposed surface of outcrops of the harder coralline limestone. The most widely accepted dating for our ancient cart cuts is the Bronze age, roughly between 1500 and 700BC. Some archaeologists tend to believe that they are intended for the transport of heavy rocks of stone from the quarry face.
It is unique among the Maltese temples because globigerina limestone was used throughout its construction. There are complicated decorations carved on some of the stones, an oracular chamber and altars and the massive walls are particularly impressive. It’s position overlooking the sea make it one of the most spectacular megalithic temples in Malta.
Is a short walk down the Hill of Hagar Qim, and like its twin temple occupies a site of exceptional beauty. Its circular spaces, chambers, pediments and passage-ways of pitted stone prove that the builders of these stones marvels left nothing to chance when they planned and built them in circa 3200BC.
Is Malta’s largest fishing village. You stroll here to watch the fishermen, their boats and nets or to have a meal or snack. On Sunday mornings there is a lively market.
This fishing village is on the southern shores of Malta and is a mass of formidable and unassailable cliffs, ravines and gorges. As far back as 1417 the promontory at Wied iz-Zurrieq already served as a lookout station.
Lying beyond the cliffs of Wied iz-Zurrieq, is compared to Capri’s Grotta Azzurra. The Blue Grotto can only be reached by sea either on a motor boat or a rowing boat. It is an attraction with locals and visitors particularly in the summer months when the sea is shimmering and still. The cavern is 40 metres in circumference and reaches a depth of 26 metres. The Blue Grotto faces east and in the early morning, the rays of the sun floodlight the entire grotto, revealing its incandescent beauty. There are stalactites on the roof and its clear waters are like an aquarium full of fish.
Sliema, St.Julians, Paceville
This is a lively area all year round but particularly in summer. With a wide promenade overlooking the seam in both summer and winter many come to breath the fresh air and watch the sea. Restaurants, snack-bars, pubs, pizzerias, and cafes are to be found in this pleasure centre of Malta. There are discos, comfortable cinemas, a bowling centre as well as a casino in a fairytale palace. Just walking around watching others is fun in itself.
Are largely concentrated in the northwest of Malta. Among the most popular are Ghajn Tuffieha, Mellieha Bay, Golden Bay, Paradise Bay and Gharmier. Armier Beach is situated in the extreme northeast of Malta with few facilities and occasional rough swells but lots of sand. Ghajn Tuffieha Bay is sandy and less crowded than Golden Bay Beach yet only a short walk away and reached by steps. Golden Bay is the most popular beach on the island after Mellieha Bay because of its extensive stretch of sand. Mellieha Bay, that is 2km north of Mellieha is entirely suitable for children due to it’s shallow water and the large amount of sand.
The short trip from Malta to Gozo is in itself a pleasant experience especially on a fine day. Mgarr Harbour is picturesque and full of all kinds of seacraft. It has seen slaves and corsairs and pirates who have carried population away. The neo-Gothic Lourdes Sanctuary, built in 1888, watches over it. In Victoria, the capital, go up to the Citadell or gran castello and walk around. Lanes, dwellings, alleys, bastions exude an aura of mystery and date from medieval times. The late medieval houses are unique in the Maltese Islands. There is the magnificent Cathedral and various museums, all worth a visit
The museum of Archeology
This museum is housed in Casa Bondi, a 17th century house inside the Citadel in Victoria. It contains the oldest remains found in Gozo (4000BC), as well as Punico-Greek vases, Roman amphorae and Arab funerary tables.
In Xaghra were built and developed between 3600 and 2400 BC making them among the earliest architectural planned facades in the world, older than the Pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in England. The stone slabs weigh several tons and the outside walls are up to six metres high. According to local legend, a giant called Sansuna carried them on her head all the way from Ta Cenc, a fair distance away. In Xaghra, too, are two underground caves with strange forms of stalactites and stalagmites. Other sites worth visiting are the menhir at Qala and the ones at Tal-Qighan and Ta Marziena.
The Brocktorff Circle
This is an ensemble of natural caves clearly modified by man. They were discovered and explored by Brocktrof in 1785. Excavations have unearthed a number of funerary remains (4200-2500 BC), as well as several interesting objects, the most important of which are a number of stylised figurines.
Sanctuary is a 19th century building which is dedicated to the miraculous image of Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu at the centre of an important Marian cult. This is a centre of pilgrimages for both the Gozitans and the Maltese.
Some of the most beautiful scenery in Gozo can be found around Dwejra
in the southwest part of the island. Hidden behind the towering cliffs is a huge natural pond of shallow water, which is fed through a narrow tunnel in the cliff face. This tunnel links it to the deep blue Mediterranean. When the sea is calm, fishing boats take visitors sown this tunnel to the open sea, where they can see the fungus rock and the azure window. Experienced divers often spend days close to the Inland Sea, from where many of their underwater explorations start.
also knows as il-Gebla tal-General, rises out of the water near the inland Sea. In the past, this is where a fungus known as “fungus gualitanus” grew. It was considered precious by the Knights, because of its medicinal qualities. Anyone caught picking the fungus illegally was immediately condemned to death.
Nearby is the inland sea ideal for bathing. The azure window
created by sea-breakers over a period of thousands of years, is the third marvel to be found at Dwejra Point. Two gigantic columns, each some 40metres in diameter, support a horizontal block, which is about 100m long and 20m high, so that the ensemble has come to resemble a giant window, underneath which the azure waves shimmer and sparkle. Generations of Gozitans have referred to it as it-Tieqa (the Window).
Just outside Xaghra, overlooking Ramla l-Hamra is Calypso cave. According to legend, this is where nymph Calypso seduced and kept Ulysses a “prisoner of love” for seven long years. A strange feeling grips you as you approach and enter this cave, from where the view is absolutely stunning. Close to the shoreline are the remains of fortifications built in the middle of the 18th century by the Knights to stop enemy troops landing in the bay. These fortifications hid two stone mortars known as “fugasses”, which used to be packed with loose stones and gunpowder. Since they were at sea level, any boat that got too close to the shore would hit them and be destroyed.
This Basilica at Victoria was built between 1672 and 1678 and stands at the centre of a patchwork of narrow, winding streets. It houses many works of art from different periods, even as far back as the Roman one, so that it reflects the history of Gozo in miniature. The dome and the ceiling ate by the Roman artist Giovanni Battista Conti. There are also paintings by Mattia Preti, Giuseppe Cali and Stefano Erardi. The solid wood statue of St George, carved in 1841 by Paolo Azzopardi is remarkable.
The church of St.John the Baptist dominates the village of Xewkija and the neighbouring countryside. Its dome is one of the largest in Europe. Building began in 1952 and its architecture was inspired by the church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice.
This old windmill at Xaghra, known as Ta Kola still functions and is one of the fourteen still left on the island. It houses a folklore museum, where you can discover peasant traditions from the past.
Ramla, Xlendi and Marsalforn
Are the most popular bays in Gozo, though there are others. Ramla Bay is one of the most beautiful sandy beaches of these islands. It is also shallow and safe for swimming. Ramla saw the French troops land under cover of darkness in June 1798. Xlendi is smaller but more dramatic. It has sheer cliffs and some of the cleanest water in the Mediterranean. Marsalforn is relaxed and friendly.
This forms part of the Maltese Archipelago and is the smallest of the three islands, with very few hotels and no cars to disturb the peace. It has a real great get-away-from-it-all atmosphere and lovely bathing is available on its rocky and sandy beaches. Boat trips from Malta to Comino (a 20 min crossing) are operated during the summer months.
The only significant beach area is the Blue Lagoon, formed by a channel that separates sun-baked and barren Comino from the islet of Cominotto. It is essential to arrive on Comino as early as possible to be able to enjoy the Blue Lagoon and be sure to bring protective sun creams and clothing, and cold drinks although food and drinks are available at the hotel.
For further information please contact : Museums Department 183 Melita Street Valletta CMR 02 Tel: 21 230739, 21 230742, 21 230711, 21 230764 Fax: 21 251140, 21 233821