Malta . . . is a rich repository of goddess temples and underground burial chambers that may hold the remains of peoples from Turkey, North Africa and, possibly, Italy.
When my world traveling buddy and I decided to try a trip together, we picked Malta. It must have been a timing thing – March on an island in the Mediterranean, away from ice and snow in Chicago, at her place, and cold -not-yet full spring in Atlanta, my place. But maybe it was an archeology thing since she subscribes to several archeological magazines and is keen on geology and goddess temples.
Malta, as I discovered, is a rich repository of goddess temples and underground burial chambers (called the Hypogeum) that may hold the remains of peoples from Turkey, North Africa and, possibly, Italy. Rich in artifacts, some that may predate the Druids and Stonehenge in the British Isles, there are active excavations and speculation right now. We visited excavated circular, megalithic temple sites of the Ggantija and Tarxien periods at various points on the island and on the island of Gozo, a short ferry ride away: Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.
We entered the catacomb through a tunnel hole . . .
In its exceptional history. Saint Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked here on the way to trial in Rome, and was kept in a catacomb cell for several months. We entered the catacomb through a tunnel hole, and we were amazed at the scope of the carved out areas. Malta also was the final home of the Knights of St. John (Order of Hospitaller) in the 1500s when they were kicked out of Rhodes. They settled in the port of Valletta, and had a heavily fortified fortress with hospital, now a museum explaining their mission, eviction from Rhodes, and rule in Malta.
The harbor area is well reconstructed after the heavy bombing attacks suffered in WWII during the siege and bombardment of Malta by the Germans for its strategic position to Europe (only 35 miles by hydrofoil to Sicily for shopping) and to North Africa. One of the cool tidbits about defense of the port is that it has a huge iron net that closes off entry, and was effective in keeping out submarines and other war ships as well as pirates.
The island is a modest size – 316 sq kilometers, pretty barren, and without a significant source of groundwater. To say it is sunny, dry and windswept is accurate. It is also chilly in March. But the Mediterranean sparkles all around, and the rocky ground and weathered buildings have a golden glow. We stayed in the middle of the island, away from the port of Valletta and its cruise ships and major tourist attractions. An efficient bus system connected major areas, so we didn’t have to take a taxi to get around. Our area, St. Julian’s, was on a curved shore with shopping and walkways and restaurants. Because everything is imported, things can be pricy. Malta had just joined the European Union when we arrived, and the euro exchange rate for dollars made purchases seem costly. Fortunately, we were traveling on an educational, all inclusive trip with Road Scholar, and had pre-paid for housing, transportation, meals, and even gratuities.
It was here that I first saw a caper plant, a burst of bushy green with lacy flowers, growing out of cracks in walls, as we walked along narrow twisting neighborhood roads.
It was here that I first saw a caper plant, a burst of bushy green with lacy flowers, growing out of cracks in walls, as we walked along narrow twisting neighborhood roads. I had to celebrate this discovery with poached fish in caper sauce the one night when we had dinner out. Capers are usually picked as buds before the plant blooms, and are pickled and/or salty.
I loved the sights and sounds of this vibrant and thriving country, the jewel of Mediterranean to me. I voted Malta my most favorite place, but then had to rescind that for Turkey, and then Turkey for Sicily, and then Sicily for the coast of Croatia, and then Croatia for Barcelona…and discovered that I am continually drawn to the Mediterranean and its civilizations. I am slowly uncovering bits and pieces of my Western heritage and its historical and cultural roots, and love the exploration process.