The Isle of Malta is currently the smallest member state of the European Union, both in terms of its territory and in the size of its population.
However, this tiny state has such a long, fascinating and turbulent history that a visit there makes you wonder if you may have entered a time capsule, where different eras of the history of the Mediterranean have decided to merge together.
The history of the small archipelago of Malta goes back many thousands of years.
The history of Malta
The island’s name is believed to be of Maltese origin, a language which was derived from what is termed “Sicilian Arabic,” and is the only official language of the EU with Semitic origins.
However, its etymology is believed to be Greek, deriving originally from the Greek word for honey, ”meli.”
Ancient Greeks were known to call this tiny island ”Melite,” which is Greek for ”sweet as honey,” most probably due to the island’s already notable honey production and the endemic species of bees which thrive there to this very day.
The Romans took the Greek word Melite and made it “Melita,” shaping the pronunciation toward the modern name of Malta.
Valletta is the smallest European capital
The capital city of Malta, Valletta, is the southernmost, smallest and undoubtedly one of the most intriguing capital cities in all of Europe.
Valletta’s modest population would classify the city as a small town in any other country in Europe, but here in Malta, Valletta is known as ”the City.”
Approximately only six thousand people live there permanently; however, the broader area of Valletta is home to the vast majority of the entire population of the island, which reaches 390,000 people.
Located between Italy, Tunisia and Libya, the small archipelago of Malta is definitely a destination one should always have on his or her bucket list for Mediterranean adventures.
The footprint of its many conquerors, rulers and even visitors throughout the millennia is still evident in abundance in Malta.
The Apostle Paul visited Malta
Carthaginians and Phoenicians, Romans and Greeks, Arabs and Normans, French and British — all these have shaped the history of these tiny islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea for more than five thousand years now.
Even the Apostle Paul himself is recorded as having visited Malta long ago — although it was by mistake! After being charged with sedition by the Roman authorities, Paul was forced to make his way to the capital city of the empire to face the charges there.
The Biblical book the Acts of the Apostles recounts the dramatic story of St. Paul’s ship wrecking along Malta’s rocky shores during this perilous journey.
Ending up on what is now believed to be St. Paul’s Island, or “Selmunett,” just off the Maltese coast, Paul was able to find safety there before journeying onward to Rome. The “Parish Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck,” located in Valletta, is one of Malta’s oldest churches and is well worth a visit.
As for the modern Greek community of Malta, this begins its more organized existence on the island from the 16th century, when Greek Christians fled the Ottoman-ruled territories of the Byzantine Empire.
The Orthodox church of Saint George in Valletta is currently the epicenter of the Greek community of the island, which connects the historically deeply rooted Greek presence to Malta with our modern era.