History and Culture
Malta’s history dates back almost 7,000 years – and the island’s rich history is still visible through its baroque architecture, many Neolithic sites and unique culture.
While some preserved historic sites show evidence of early man and remains of Ice Age creatures, others are temples believed to be older than the ancient pyramids of Egypt. Some of these are widely thought to be the oldest free-standing monuments in the world.
The Maltese islands were conquered by the Phoenicians around 2000BC, followed by the Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs respectively. The Order of Knights of St John arrived in the 1500s, ruling the islands until 1798. This was a time of great prosperity for the islands, and the Knights built hospitals, palaces and churches, erected extensive fortifications and generally boosted trade. The Knights are also known for leading Malta to victory in The Great Siege of 1565, when a spate of attacks from the Ottomans culminated in a prolonged battle that the Maltese won against all odds.
In 1798, Napoleon’s army conquered the islands, establishing a civil code and educational system, as well as abolishing slavery. The British – who ruled for the next 160 years – took over soon after.
Due to Malta’s strategically-important position in the Mediterranean Sea, the island became pivotal during the Second World War. The indomitable spirit shown by the Maltese during this time of great adversity 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. Malta went on to lead the EU presidency in 2017 for the first time, while Valletta took the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture in 2018.
Signs of Malta’s strong national identity, enriched by millennia of foreign cultural influences, are most marked in the capital city today. You can experience both classical and contemporary art at the newly opened MUŻA Malta National Community Art Museum or take in a performance at the 16th century Teatru Manoel. Alternatively, marvel at the magnificent architecture of the Mediterranean Conference Centre and of St James Cavalier, which are also both key venues for theatre (often in English), dance and music, and feature international as well as home-grown talent.
Malta’s culture really comes alive over the summer. While there is the highly-anticipated Malta international Jazz Festival and the month-long arts festival, the island also hosts various beer and wine events, and its famous traditional feasts, in which each town hosts a flamboyant street party and fireworks display in honour of their patron saint. A visit to Malta over Easter will also offer truly memorable religious processions and displays.
More information on Malta’s history and heritage can be found on the official Visit Malta website.