Malta Saved the World – Malta

Malta Saved the World


Malta Fort
Malta Fort
When I set foot on the island country of Malta for my two-week vacation, I had people there ask me – hesitantly, politely – “But why did you come to Malta?” Although many British travelers, as well as German and French, have discovered Malta’s kind winter climate, not many Americans have found their way there. Eight different languages are spoken on this little 26-mile long by 9-mile wide island. Everyone I spoke to had excellent English, and they were so patient with strangers asking directions.

The reason I came to Malta is a simple one; I am extremely suggestible. Four years ago, at my nephew’s wedding, I sat next to a lovely young woman of Maltese extraction. Her parents had spoken glowingly of Malta all her life, so JoAnne was most eager to go there. After a few hours in her company, I was, too! When I found out Malta has a lot of Crusader history, as well as prehistoric sites, I was really hooked. Modern history is not my forte. But if you are a World War II buff, Malta is an excellent place for you to go.

Actually, Malta saved the world twice. I think that’s most remarkable and, even more remarkable, when you mention Malta in the States, most people say, “Where? What?”

“Nothing is better known than the Siege of Malta.” So wrote Voltaire, 200 years after the event.

In 1563, the Knights of St. John were roaming the Mediterranean, homeless. This elite group of Crusader knights were from the best families of Europe. Since they took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, most of their wealth went to the society. King Alphonse of Spain gave the knights a home in Malta. They had previously been headquartered near the Holy Land, in Acre, until it fell. They had provided assistance to pilgrims, especially medical aid, as they were a ‘hospitaler’ order. Rhodes was their next home and, finally, Malta.

The first Grand Marshall of the Knights at Malta, LaVallette, considerably increased fortifications to protect Malta’s fine natural harbors. This was most fortuitous, because 48,000 Turkish warriors from the Ottoman Empire of Sulieman came swarming across the Mediterranean in 1565, intent on taking Europe. Malta was thought to be an easy takeover, from whence their ships could pillage southern Europe.

But Malta was not easy at all. For months during that summer of 1565, 4,000 Maltese with some Italian and Spanish mercenaries and, of course, 540 of the exceptional Knights, held off the
Turks. The Maltese had little more than promises in the way of help from Europe. When a small contingent of supporters was finally sent in the fall of that year, the tired and almost provision-less Turks gave up and went home.

The second time Malta saved the world was during World War II. Malta has the dubious honor of being the MOST bombed spot during the war. Every night for four years, they were pummeled by German and Italian fighter planes. One Maltese said they lived like rats, in tunnels under the ground.

Today near the Church of St. Paul in Rabbat, you can see the modern catacombs of the Maltese, extensive tunnels with numbered rooms, each assigned to a family, who spent every night there. It must have been very hard on the elderly and the young.

Malta Carnival
Malta Carnival
Meanwhile, above ground, the Maltese were fighting back with anti-aircraft guns every night. Malta had only four antiquated Gloster Gladiator fighter planes to combat 200 Italian aircraft in Sicily. A few weeks into the war, the Maltese were fortified with a few hurricanes. The Germans moved the Luftwaffe into Sicily, and the bombing began in earnest.

When the war finally ended, the Maltese had suffered shortages from the blockades for a long time–oil, gas and food. It’s estimated if the war had lasted another month, they could not have made it. They would have starved. If Malta had fallen, once again it would have been an extremely strategic island for the conquest of Europe by the Axis forces.

During my two weeks in Malta, I stayed at Les Lapins (the Rabbits) Hotel in Ta’xBiex. That’s pronounced “Tash Pish” –kind of like an elderly British lady saying in regard to an inconvenience, “Oh, it’s nothing! –Tash Pish!” The Arabic influence in Maltese language is interesting because the letter x is pronounced like s and the letters gh and aw are silent.

Les Lapins is situated on a marina with lovely walks in both directions. Go left to Sliema, another waterfront town, with a wide promenade, where you can look at multi-millionaire’s yachts. Go right, up around a 100-year-old British cemetery, to the capitol city of Valetta, an ancient city with modern overtones.

In addition to saving the world twice, Malta was the place St. Paul shipwrecked on his way to Rome for trial. He was only there for three months, but the Maltese have not stopped talking about it yet! St. Paul converted the main tribunal in Malta to Christianity, and made him its first bishop. St. Paul’s Bay is a lovely summer tourist area on the north coast. Churches dedicated to St. Paul abound.

We were fortunate to be in Malta just before Lent (although I didn’t think so when I had to give up my usual wine mid-vacation!) The Maltese have four days of Carnival prior to Lent. We saw all the dance troops compete, as well as unbelievable floats.

It seemed every child of a certain age on the whole island of Malta was dressed up in absolutely wild, over-the-top costumes. They had the American eagle, French frog, and Maltese crosses, with teenagers underneath them. Some of the boys seemed way too cool to be doing this! Some of the smaller girls were in danger of toppling over, due to their huge elaborate headdresses.

Author on K-2
Author on K-2
I went horseback riding at Golden Bay while in Malta. I rode a magnificent, big black horse named K-2, after the big mountain that killed so many men. I found that last somewhat ominous. So, when I heard K-2 was a French horse, I tried to remember all my high school and college French (not much!) to communicate with him and maybe get on his good side. “Bonne cheveaux!” “N’mange pas!”

On our two-hour ride, we saw magnificent scenery from the cliffs above the Mediterranean. At one place, we looked down on Pop Eye Beach, where they filmed the movie with Robin Williams. The cutesy little town they built for the movie has been preserved and, for a fee, you can meander through it and take pictures.

My walking buddy on the trip, Beverly, was a film buff, too. So, we sought out the site where the movie “Gladiator’ was filmed. There was a little bar nearby where we really should have stopped in and asked, “What kind of guy is Russell Crowe – really?”

If you’d like to see pictures of my trip on the computer, go to my website and click on to Malta. Hit view on the first picture. It will enlarge and you’ll be able to read travel notes underneath. Then, hit the right arrow at the top to continue with successive pictures.