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The Isle of Malta, the Heart of the Ancient Mediterranean

Malta’s capital city of Valletta. Credit: Bengt Nyman/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-3.0

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.

The history of the small archipelago of Malta spans several 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 later began referring to the island as “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 European capital cities.

Valletta’s modest population would allow for it to be classified as a small town rather than a city in any other European country, but here in Malta, Valletta is known as ”the City.”

Approximately only six thousand people permanently reside in Valletta; however, the broader area of Valletta is home to the vast majority of the entire population of the island, making it home to about 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 especially evident throughout Malta.

The Apostle Paul visited Malta

The facade of the “Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck” in Malta. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ CC-BY-2.0

Carthaginians and Phoenicians, Romans and Greeks, Arabs and Normans, French and British—all these cultures have shaped the history of these tiny islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea for over five thousand years now.

Even the Apostle Paul himself is said to have visited Malta long ago although it was, funny enough, entirely unintentional! Having 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 island community, connecting the historically deeply-rooted Greek presence to Malta even in modern times.

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