About Malta

Prehistory

Pottery found at Skorba resembles that found in Italy, and suggests that the Maltese islands were first settled in 5200 BC mainly by stone age hunters or farmers who had arrived from the larger island of Sicily. Pottery from the Ghar Dalam phase is similar to pottery found in Agrigento, Sicily. A culture of megalithic temple builders then either supplanted or arose from this early period. During 3500 BC, these people built some of the oldest existing, free-standing structures in the world in the form of the megalithic Ggantija temples on Gozo; other early temples include those at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.

After 2500 BC, the Maltese Islands were depopulated for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants, a culture that cremated its dead and introduced smaller megalithic structures called dolmens to Malta.

 

Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans

The Domus Romana

The Domus Romana in Rabat

At around 700 BC, the Ancient Greeks settled on Malta. A century later, inhabited the area now known as Mdina, and its surrounding town of Rabat, which they called Maleth. The Romans, who also lived in Mdina, referred to it (and the island) as Melita. During the First Punic War of 264 BC, tensions led the Maltese people to rebel against Carthage and turn control of their garrison over to the Roman consul Sempronius. Malta remained loyal to Rome during the Second Punic War.
By 117 AD, the Maltese Islands were a thriving part of the Roman Empire, being promoted to the status of Municipium under Hadrian. Catacombs in Rabat testify to an early Christian community on the islands, and the Acts of the Apostles recount the shipwreck of St Paul and his ministry on the island.
When the Roman Empire split into Eastern and Western divisions in the 4th century, Malta fell under the control of the Greek speaking Byzantine Empire from 395 to 870, which ruled from Constantinople.

 

The Arab Period and the Middle Ages

Malta was involved in the Byzantine-Arab Wars, and the conquest of Malta is closely linked with that of Sicily. In 870 AD, following a violent struggle against the occupying Byzantines, the Arab invaders, looted and pillaged the island, destroying the most important buildings, and leaving it practically uninhabited until it was recolonised by the Arabs from Sicily in 1048–49 AD. The Arabs introduced new irrigation, some fruits and cotton and the Siculo-Arabic language was adopted on the island from Sicily: it would eventually evolve into the Maltese language.

The Norman period was productive; Malta became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Sicily which also covered the island of Sicily and the southern half of the Italian Peninsula. The Catholic Church was re-instated as the state religion with Malta under the See of Palermo and some Norman architecture sprung up around Malta especially in its ancient capital Mdina.
Malta fell under the rule of the Aragonese in 1282. Relatives of the kings of Aragon ruled the island until 1409, when it passed to the Crown of Aragon.

 

Knights of Malta and Napoleon

De Redin Watch Tower

De Redin Watch Tower

In 1530 Emperor Charles V gave the islands to the Knights Hospitaller under the leadership of Frenchman Philippe de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Order, in perpetual lease. These knights, a military religious order now known as the Knights of Malta, had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522. In 1551, Barbary corsairs enslaved the entire population of the Maltese island Gozo, about 5,000, deporting them to the Barbary coast.

The knights, led by Frenchman Jean Parisot de la Valette, Grand Master of the Order, withstood a siege by the Ottomans in 1565. The knights, with the help of the Maltese, were victorious, and speaking of the battle Voltaire said, “Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta.” After the siege they decided to increase Malta’s fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbour area, where the new city of Valletta, named in honour of Valette, was built. They also established watchtowers along the coasts – the Wignacourt, Lascaris and de Redin towers – named after the Grand Masters who ordered the work. The Knights’ presence on the island saw the completion of many architectural and cultural projects, including the embellishment of Città Vittoriosa, the construction of new cities including Città Rohan and Città Hompesch and the introduction of new academic and social resources.

The Knights’ reign ended when Napoleon captured Malta on his way to Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1798. Over the years, the power of the Knights declined and the Order became unpopular. Napoleon Bonaparte’s fleet arrived in 1798, en route to his expedition of Egypt. As a ruse towards the Knights, Napoleon asked for safe harbour to resupply his ships, and then turned his guns against his hosts once safely inside Valletta. Grand Master Hompesch capitulated, and Napoleon entered Malta. After sailing for Egypt, leaving a substantial garrison in Malta, the French forces left behind became unpopular with the Maltese, due particularly to the French forces’ hostility towards Catholicism and pilaging of local churches to fund Napoleon’s War. The French financial and religious policies angered the Maltese who rebelled, forcing the French to retreat within the city fortifications. Great Britain, along with the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily, sent ammunition and aid to the Maltese and Britain also sent her navy, which blockaded the islands.

General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois surrendered his French forces in 1800. Maltese leaders presented the island to Sir Alexander Ball, asking that the island become a British Dominion. The Maltese people created a Declaration of Rights in which they agreed to come “under the protection and sovereignty of the King of the free people, His Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”.

 

British Empire and World War II

In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire and was used as a shipping way-station and fleet headquarters. Malta’s position half-way between the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal proved to be its main asset during these years and it was considered an important stop on the way to India. This was an important trade route for the British and thus, the Maltese people took great advantage of this alliance as several culinary and botanical products were introduced in Malta. In 1919 British troops fired on a rally protesting against new taxes, killing four Maltese men. The event, known as Sette Giugno (Italian for 7 June), is commemorated every year and is one of five National Days.

During World War II, Malta played an important role owing to its proximity to Axis shipping lanes. The bravery of the Maltese people during the second Siege of Malta moved King George VI to award the George Cross to Malta on a collective basis on 15 April 1942 “to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”.

 

Independence and Republic

Maltese National Flag

The Maltese National Flag

Malta achieved its independence on 21 September 1964 (Independence Day) after intense negotiations with the United Kingdom, led by Maltese Prime Minister George Borg Olivier. Under its 1964 constitution, Malta initially retained Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta and thus Head of State, with a Governor-General exercising executive authority on her behalf. In 1971, the Malta Labour Party led by Dom Mintoff won the General Elections, resulting in Malta declaring itself a republic on 13 December 1974 (Republic Day) within the Commonwealth, with the President as head of state. A defence agreement signed soon after independence (and re-negotiated in 1972) expired on 31 March 1979.

 

Photos by: Patrick Farrugia – RikWorkshop.com and maltapanorama.com

Content compiled from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malta