Maltese Culture

Malta At A Glance

Malta Roman Catholic Churches

Malta; the most Catholic nation

Currency: Euro – introduced in 2008 after Malta joined the EU in 2004.

Official Language: Maltese & English, though Italian is widely spoken.

Religion: Roman Catholic – over 95% of the population are reportedly Roman Catholic making it one of the most committed Catholic nations of the world.

Political Persuasion: Malta is a fully independent republic with a parliamentary democracy and an elected president as the head of state. As head of Government, executive power lies with the Prime Minister and his cabinet. There are two main political parties in Malta; the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party who currently hold power (Mar 2011).

Industry: Tourism, manufacturing, financial services, Information, Communication & Technology corporations.

Culture of Malta

Modern-day Malta

Size & Population: Malta covers just over 300 km² in land area with a current population of over 400k people, making it one of the smallest yet densely populated countries of the world.

Customs: Malta reigns supreme at feasts and festas – every year Malta’s local parishes celebrate their Saint’s Days (mid summer) with spectacular firework displays, marching bands, streets lined with religious statues and food stalls, and all-night festivities. Local villages hold religious festivals on a regular basis.

Driving: Left-hand side – all signs are in English but street names are in Maltese despite being in English on the maps which can cause confusion in certain cases e.g. ‘Main’ or ‘High’ street is Triq il-Kbira.

Tipping: Standard 10-15% – standards of service can vary but the Maltese are generally very friendly and relaxed.

Prices: Area dependent – tourist areas are more expensive than inland areas. Malta is more expensive than Gozo. Eating out is generally in line with EU expectations but cigarettes and alcohol are cheaper.

Climate: Hot and dry summers ranging from mid 20-40°C. August is generally the hottest and most humid month. May and October are pleasant in the low 20°C range. Winters are mild at around 15°C with sporadic and heavy rain showers and storms. The Maltese islands are characteristically windy.

Local beer: A light lager called Cisk (pronounced Chisk).

Dress codes: Conservative – keep the bikini’s to the beach, especially in less touristy parts, or you may be told off by the older generation. Topless bathing is prohibited. Cover shoulders when visiting churches.


In The Beginning – An Historic Update

Malta’s history is colourful, bloody, humbling and spectacular all at the same time. It is well worth a visit to the Malta Experience to familiarise yourself with what these tiny islands have suffered – if only to appreciate the courage, tolerance and adaptability displayed by the nation to this very day. If you don’t know anything of Malta’s history, your opinion will undoubtedly be changed with a walk through their past and a respect and admiration for the people, architecture and culture will preside.

Malta’s Timeline

Malta's temple period

Ancient cart ruts link Malta's land mass to Sicily

c. 3600 – 2000 BC: Megalithic temple building period in Malta resulting in remains such as the Hypogeum, the Ggantija Temples in Gozo and underwater temples suggesting Malta’s land-bridge connection to Sicily.

c. 900 – 750 BC: The trade-explorers of the seas, the Phoenicians (Lebanon, Syria, Israel) discover Malta and peacefully colonise the islands.

480 BC: The Carthaginians (North African Tunisia, of Phoenician heritage) take over the Maltese islands and dominate the western Mediterranean, arguably imprinting the now extinct Punic (Carthagian) tongue into today’s Maltese language.

218 BC: The Romans and Carthaginians enter into the Punic Wars and Malta is conquered by the Romans at the beginning of the Second Punic War. Rome names Malta, Melita and marks its presence in the form of architecture, language and culture. A trip to the Museum of Roman Antiquities in Rabat sheds light on this period.

60 AD: Documented in the bible, Saint Paul was famously shipwrecked on Malta (hence St Paul’s Bay) on his way to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. After a series of ‘miracles’ – he was bitten by a snake and didn’t die and healed Malta’s Roman chieftain Publius’ father of dysentery – Publius was converted to Christianity where it then seeped into the Maltese population before becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine.

395 AD: The Roman Empire becomes divided and splits between East and West to create the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire). The Byzantines cease Malta as the Western Empire crumbles.

870 AD: The Persians, or Arabians, take Malta and introduce advanced technologies for the time including irrigation systems and crop rotation strategies. Further impressions upon the ever-changing ‘Maltese’ language are made.

1090 AD: The Norman’s seize rule over Malta under Count Roger I of Sicily who allegedly gave the islands their national flag. Norman rule is consolidated by Count Roger II of Sicily in 1127.

1194 AD: Malta and Sicily are taken over by the Swabians (Hohenstaufen’s of South West Germany) who introduced the ‘County of Malta’ whereby counts ruled the lands with a degree of autonomy. In this time all remaining Muslims are expelled out of Malta and Sicily.

1266 AD: Malta and Sicily are taken over by the Angevins – the Capetian House of Anjou following defeat of the Swabians at the Battle of Benevento in Southern Italy. In this period Malta’s administration system was created.

1283 AD: Malta and Sicily become part of the Crown of Aragon. In this period the Aragonese join with the Castilions and Malta becomes part of The Spanish Empire.

Valletta's Grand Master's Palace

The Grand Master's Palace, Valletta

1530 AD: Spanish king, Charles V leases the Maltese Islands to the Order of St John of Jerusalem (Knights of St John) who are making a menace of themselves by plundering Muslim ships while under duty to defend the Holy Lands. In a bid to protect Rome from Turkish invasion, the Knights are kicked out of their home in Rhodes and given Malta for the annual fee of a single Maltese falcon. The knights, however, do not stop their raids on Turkish ships, incurring the wrath of the Ottoman Empire.

1565 AD: The first Great Siege of Malta. An infuriated Ottoman army invades the islands but the vastly outnumbered Knights of St John and Maltese islanders resist against all the odds, until the belated arrival of a relief force from Sicily is sent by Spain. The Knights then consolidate their presence on Malta and work to police the Mediterranean by providing safe passage for Christians, despite returning to their plundering ways. Creating fine buildings and defenses for the island, the Knights become complacent, reviled by the islanders and open to external attack.

1798 AD: The Knights of St John unwittingly fall prey to Napoleon who captures the islands having been denied safe harbour and water by the Knights on his way to Egypt, placing Malta under French rule.

1799 AD: Initial optimism turns sour as the French start to close convents and raid church treasures. The Maltese revolt against the French who retreat into Valletta. After several attempts to take Valletta, the islanders seek British assistance and, as the French surrender, Malta falls under British protection, in the name of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

1814 AD: After refusals by Britain to hand back Malta to the Knight’s of St John, Malta becomes a British Crown Colony under the Treaty of Paris, ratified by the Congress of Vienna.

1853 AD: Malta earns the nickname of the ‘Nurse of the Mediterranean’ as it becomes a hospital base during the Crimean War.

1914 AD: WW1 sees Malta consolidate its role as the Nurse of the Mediterranean as the island receives thousands of British casualties.

1919 AD: As the results of a violent protest over the price of bread, British soldiers fire on the crowd killing four Maltese students. Subsequently, the British allow the Maltese to become self-governing under British rule.

1921 AD: The first Maltese parliament is formed.

1934 AD: Maltese and English are declared the two official languages of Malta, excluding the previously widely spoken Italian language.

1940 AD: Italy declares war on Britain and France in Mussolini’s bid to dominate the Mediterranean. Malta is bombed heavily as a result. Due to its position as a strategic ‘crossroads’ between Europe and Africa, control of Malta becomes sought after by Axis forces. During WW2, Malta becomes the most bombed country on Earth but the Maltese defend with courage and resolute defiance despite being on the verge of famine. A trip to Malta’s WW2 Bomb Shelters will give you some idea of the underground conditions over half the island was living in.

1942 AD: The entire island of Malta is awarded the George Cross by King George V for their bravery and courage as a nation in the face of the atrocities they faced during the war. President Franklin Roosevelt describes Malta as “one tiny bright flame in the darkness.”

1964 AD: Malta becomes a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elisabeth II as head of state, gaining independence from Britain, as well as becoming UN and Commonwealth members.

1974 AD: Malta becomes a republic, installing the country’s first president, Sir Anthony Mamo.

1979 AD: The military agreement between Malta and the United Kingdom is concluded and British forces leave the island.

2004 AD: Malta becomes the most Southerly point of Europe as it joins the European Union.

2008 AD: Malta adopts the Euro, dropping the Maltese Lira as its currency and embraces a new era of European business and commerce.

(Sources: President of the Republic of Malta Official Website, The Malta Experience)

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