|Bubigga at Dolmen Resort Hotel|
I was excited to tour the three islands, of Malta, Comino and Gozo over the next week and a half. I was not much more knowledgeable than most Americans about Malta, a small archipelago, 93 km south of Sicily and 300 km north of Libya in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. At 122 square miles. the islands are small, but their history looms gigantic, spanning many different eras of conquest, cultural and religious seismic shifts, and some of the most magnificent megalithic structures in the world.
The islands that form Malta today are the high points of a land bridge that once existed between Africa and Europe, before the sea level rose following the last ice age. It's on the edge of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates. Originally settled by people migrating from Sicily in the Neolithic age, many different powers have seen the strategic location of Malta for shipping and trade, right up to the 20th century, when Malta was in the line of fire between German forces in Africa and Italian forces to the north which resulted in massively destructive bombing campaigns in WWII.
What drew me was the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the megalithic temples of Malta, described as 'the oldest free-standing monuments in the world'. I had traveled to experience the temples of Ġgantija on the island of Gozo, Mnajdra, Ħagar Qim and Tarxien (unfortunately closed for preservation, but artifacts accessible at the Valletta Archaeology Museum), and the Hypogeum on the island of Malta.
All the other layers of history, culture, language, and religion turned out to be fascinating surprises! At our first dinner together, our guides informed us that we had a "free" day to explore something of our own choosing, and I was overjoyed to find that I would be taking the ferry to Sicily for a day to see Taormina and Mt. Etna!
Over the next couple of posts, I'm going to take you along with me on my journey to Malta. Next stop was the capital city of Valletta, where we toured the Archaeology Museum, the Grand Master's Palace, and St. John's Co-Cathedral.