History and culture
Evidence of Malta’s earliest inhabitants dates back 8,000 years. The extraordinary Neolithic temples that can be viewed on the island are believed to be older than the ancient pyramids of Egypt and are widely thought to be the oldest free-standing monuments in the world.
The islands were conquered by the Phoenicians around 2,000 BC, followed by the Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs respectively. The Order of Knights of St John ruled the islands from 1530 until 1798, building hospitals, palaces and churches, erecting extensive fortifications and generally boosting trade. A spate of attacks from the Ottomans culminated in a prolonged battle later known as The Great Siege of 1565.
In 1798, Napoleon’s army conquered the islands, establishing a civil code and educational system, as well as abolishing slavery, but the British – who ruled for the next 160 years - took over soon after.
In the course of WW2, the indomitable spirit shown by the Maltese led King George VI to award Malta the ultimate accolade of the George Cross, which is proudly displayed on the national flag to this day. The country became independent in 1964 and joined the European Union in 2004.
Signs of Malta’s strong national identity, enriched by millennia of foreign cultural influences, are most marked at the National Museum of Fine Arts, where the exhibits cover all key periods from the early Renaissance onwards. The 16th century Manoel Theatre, Mediterranean Conference Centre and St James Cavalier are the key venues for theatre (often in English), dance and music, and like the opera season, feature international as well as home-grown talent. The Malta international Jazz Festival is a highlight of the summer and there is also a month-long arts festival, as well as various beer and wine events. Every village attempts to outdo its neighbours with firework displays during the so-called Parish Feast and both the traditional Good Friday and Easter celebrations are truly memorable.