Ten Knights in Malta, November 2016


Merhba! I have finally found the escape chute again & this week it has deposited me on the islands of Malta. Occupying a central position in the Mediterranean Sea Malta has been a well-fought over piece of real estate – it was at various times possessed by the Phoenicians, the Romans, Arabs, then Normans, Napoleon Bonaparte & in a final moment of confusion became a British Colony. The main port of Valletta is an imposing citadel of pearly rock sitting high on a hill. Scarlet painted domes and twin bell towers of Catholic Churches dot every high point on the horizon and below it a deep blue harbour is plied by gondola water taxis.

I almost wish I had arrived by cruise ship like everyone else as the shining vision of pale rock palazzos, domes & steeples has another majesty altogether when approached from the glittering water.
The islands are close enough to Sicily that good coffee and cannoli are de rigeur but the bright red phone boxes straight from London Town make you check the map twice. And of course the native language Malti is a Semitic tongue with more in common with Arabic or Hebrew than any of the European languages. Maybe blame the melange on the European Union – but of course that came much later.
The tiny island may be best known for ‘the Knights of Malta’ – or more correctly the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. Originally the order came to attention for their work building hospitals near Jerusalem in the 12th century tending to the wounded casualties of the Holy Wars. When ousted from Jerusalem the Holy Roman Emperor granted them the island of Malta as a new abode (the native Maltese not seemingly given much say in the matter). While a few more hospitals were subsequently erected along the pilgrimage route, the substantial patronage that was afforded them by European benefactors allowed them to become a powerful military force in the Christian crusades. The symbol of the order was the origin of the now well recognised Maltese cross.
I’ve spent days wandering the narrow alleys of Valletta, the tightly packed terraced houses rising several storeys built from pale limestone bricks. Iron balconettes and shuttered windows punctuate the facades and brightly painted closed-in Maltese balconies dot the buildings like coloured postage stamps. Religion is still a powerful force in Malta & much like the hand of Fatima is displayed over doorways to repel evil in some Muslim countries it seems the Virgin Mary is tasked with repelling would-be wrongdoers from the doorbell in Malta.
This is as close to a sit-still holiday as I can muster- soaking up the charm of villages and town squares, a glass of vino as the afternoon slips by, small doses of extravagant baroque cathedrals and enough tales of medieval knights to fire the imagination. Scuzani, my pastizzi & espresso are going cold!

This entry was posted in Malta and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ten Knights in Malta, November 2016

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *