Discover the newest EU member stateMalta: The land of water and light [Archives:2004/760/Reportage]

August 2 2004
Marsaxlok, a sceenic fishing village
Marsaxlok, a sceenic fishing village
Irena Knehtl
[email protected]
For the Yemen Times

The Maltese Islands are found in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, 60 miles south of Sicily and are made up of Malta, the largest island, Gozo and Comino. Like a kaleidoscope of different civilizations, Malta has preserved all the traces of its extraordinary past. From time immemorial, its beauty, honey-colored stone and natural harbors had a reputation and influence. Like a stone vessel at the gates of Africa, Malta is a celebration of sea and sun. From its first inhabitants, who built the colossal megalithic temples, to its terraced fields inherited from the Arabs, baroque churches, the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Normans, Knights of St. John, whose Order created the first visionary state, the French and the British all left a historical legacy there.
For the accident of geography has placed Malta on the crossroad between East and West, between Europe to the north and Africa to the south. The island stands like a statue at the entrance of the East Mediterranean Sea, where for 5000 years it has participated in the rise and fall of empires, in the birth and growth of religions and holocaust of bloody wars. Soon the Mediterranean basin begun to be dominated by more war like nations. Over the period of a thousand years the Greeks, Etruscans, Persians, and Carthaginians attempted the domination of Mediterranean and its lucrative trade routes. In midst of it all, coming to terms with each single power, like a pool in a vast multinational game of chess, was the small island of Malta.
As the sun sets over the blue Mediterranean, 5000 years of history leaves an unforgettable image, here stones have a soul. Some 5000 years ago, the island of Malta witnessed the first traces of man. Dozens of mysterious megalithic temples were built all over the islands. The huge stone complexes, which make the temples of Ggantija, Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, Tarxien and Hypogeum at Hal Saflieni, thrill the imagination. Originally situated as a land bridge linking Europe and Africa, the first settlers may have come from Sicily with their traditional farming methods and their stone crafts. Malta must have been a paradise island. To celebrate this, the islanders dedicated them to the mother-Goddess of fertility. The mysterious disappearance of these highly artistic people in the second millennium was followed by waves of new settlers. Malta was open to a number of new civilizations, particular from the East of the Mediterranean. During the Punic wars, the Maltese islands were invaded by the Romans. Later on, the Phoenicians, the Greek, the Carthaginians all left their traces on the Islands before yielding them to the Arabs and then the Normans. But it was the Knights of St. John who made them a player in the cultural area of 17th and 18th Century Europe.
By the year 800 the Arab Empire had expanded to encompass Persia, Syria, North Africa and most of Spain including Sicily and Malta. For the Maltese, the 200 years of Arab rule were a time of peace and stability. Agricultural methods were revolutionized with new techniques of irrigation and the introduction of many new crops, among them cotton, lemon, olives and figs. The Arab presence was beneficial for Malta and Europe. They brought new mathematics, art, sciences, assimilated from all countries of the Arab empire. Europe had barely recovered from the dark ages from Gotts and Vandals. The Arabs brought light in a world of shadow.

Valletta: a city of beauty is a site of world heritage
The capital of Malta bears the name of the French Grandmaster Jean de la Vallette who successfully defended the islands against Ottoman attack. It was the first city built according to detailed plans and its superb fortifications made it an impregnable citadel. It is simultaneously a masterpiece of military architecture, a cultural center, and a site of world heritage.
The old capital of Malta – the city of Mdina – is a typical medieval town, situated in the center of the island. Named “the silent city” it is a place of doors and walls, not of people. It commands a magnificent view of the island.
The islands main treasure is its stone, a type of limestone, which traps the light in its corners, its panels and its curves. This golden stone, which earned Malta the name of Melita, “the island of honey”, has inspired its architecture. Malta loves to celebrate and sparkle, religious feasts, carnivals, commemorative events, everything is a good excuse for rejoicing. The Maltese have a flair for decoration. The people of these small islands can reflect on a rich and eventful history. From this experience has grown a unique culture, and a people who despite of their past – or perhaps because of it – remain cheerful and friendly to all.
The “sirocco” kneads your breath and clays it. It is a strange wind the sirocco – one is neither here not there. You are neither of the earth nor the sky. It gives you that feeling. Lights of ships shimmer on the water of Malta's Grand Harbor. The harbor seems no bigger than a toy, the flat seawater like silver, and clouds rise like leaves. A place of light, of luminous valleys under thunderous clouds. There is the smell of wet earth. The smell of forgiveness drifting from each house with the smell of varnish and a peace that drifted out to the empty beach.

Yemen and Malta
The Yemeni sea port of Aden to the west links with Malta, Europe's fifth busiest port and the Mediterranean's foremost distribution transshipment and logistical center, and an important offshore financial and banking center

*The author, who is a regular contributor to Yemen Times, lived and worked prolonged period of time in Malta on developing Mediterranean economic cooperation. She also served as Honorary Consul of Malta to Slovenia.

Malta in Brief
Country name: Republic of Malta
Government type: parliamentary democracy
Capital: Valletta
Head of state: President Eddie Fenech Adami
Head of government: Prime Minister Lawrence Gonze
Language: Maltese (official), English (official)
Archipelago with only three largest islands inhabited Malta, Ghawdex or Gozo and Kemmuna or Comino.
Population: 391,670. Maltese are descendants of ancient Carthaginians, and Phoenicians
Area: 316 sq km, coastline 140 km
Climate: Mediterranean with mild, rainy winters, and hot, dry summers
Natural resources: limestone, salt, arable land (38 percent)
Environment, current issues: limited natural fresh water resources, increased desalination.
Economy: Major resources are limestone, a favorable geographic location, labor force. Malta produces about 20% of its food needs. The economy is largely dependent on foreign trade, ship building and repair, construction, manufacturing electronic and textiles, and tourism and services sectors.
Over a million tourists visit the island annually.
Per capita GNP USD 13,800. Export partners: France, Germany, UK, Italy, import partners: Italy, France, UK, Germany,

Useful sites
Malta Tourism Authority:
News, features, culture, forums:
News, culture, forums:
Air Malta: