History of the Islands
Malta has a long history which goes back to over 7,000 years from today. The first inhabitants of the Maltese islands came from Sicily. These people were mainly hunters, farmers and fishermen since Malta at that time was still forested and offered good conditions for such settlement. Later in 5,000 BC the first communities arose where people lived in caves.
The most notable period in the history of Malta is the Temple period which started around 4,000 BC, the first temples said to have been built around 3,600 BC. A symbol of this period was the sleeping woman, a heavily obese woman found in the Maltese temples a sign of fertility then. The Ggantija temples built during that time are said to be even older than the well known Stonehenge temples and form part of the UNESCO world heritage. Other temples still accessible amongst others are the Tarxien Temples, Hagar Qim and the Hypogeum as largest underground religious site worldwide.
In the Bronze Age the Maltese were not as artistic and artisan endued as in the Stone Age. Why this occurred is still a mystery. Buildings from this age are also much more modest. Notable relicts from this period are the cart ruts which may have been used as transportation facilitation for construction blocks.
When the Phoenicians arrived in Malta in 1,000 BC they took over the islands. These people were mainly tradesmen and used the Maltese island especially because of their excellent harbours and its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It is assumed that the Phoenicians lived in peace with the Maltese inhabitants.
In the following years there were different cultures such as, the Carthaginian, the Romans and the Byzantines who influenced the Maltese Culture in different ways.
In 870 AD the Arabs conquered Malta. Their rule lasted for 220 years and they had a great influence on the Maltese language after the Phoenicians already had left a Semitic impact in Malta. During the Arab rule, new fruits such as oranges and lemons were introduced. Also cotton and new techniques in irrigation were introduced by the Arabs. The Arabs also started fortifying Malta. They reduced the size of Mdina and gave it its name.
In 1091 the medieval years began when the Normans took over the island. The Christian slaves were set free so the Maltese could start practicing Christianity as their religion again. Under the rule of the cross no one had to fear prosecution of races because they were living quietly next to each other.
From 1425 the Maltese had to suffer under the rule on Don Gonsalvo Monroy who was very greedy and exploited the people. In 1428 the Universita brought the money up to buy Malta off. Unfortunately, in 1429 the Moors invaded the island and enslaved and depredated the Maltese. Other invasions followed until the arrival of the knights.
The Knights of St. John
The Knights of St. John arrived in Malta in 1530 after Charles V handed over the islands to the knights. While under the rule of the knights the Italian language was made official and several towns, palaces, churches, gardens and fortifications were built. One of the main influences of the knights was that they changed the capital city of Malta from Mdina, first to Birgu, and then to Valletta in 1566. Both of these towns were built because of their excellent locations for building harbours to house their fleet. In May in 1565 when the Ottomans attacked Malta, the Knights of St. John played an important role to defend the islands. They built fortifications to Valletta (Fort St. Elmo), Birgu and Senglea. After months of fighting, the Fort St. Elmo in Valletta had suffered a lot and was in ruins but the soldiers kept on fighting until the Turks finally retreated. The war ended on the 8th September and is known as The Great Siege. The rule of the Knights of St. John lasted for 275 years.
After the Great Siege, the knights started to build the city of Valletta as a bastion to protect the port from future attacks. The city was named as Valletta after the Grand Master Jean Parisot de Vallette. Because the Turks never attacked again the fortifications remained unused and are one of the best-preserved fortifications of this period.
The reign of the Knights ended in 1798. The expeditionary fleet of Napoleon Bonaparte stopped over in Malta on the way to an Egyptian expedition. Napoleon wanted a safe harbour to resupply his fleet but when the Maltese refused to provide him with water Napoleon commanded his troops to siege the hills of Valletta. After a while the Grand Master Hompesch capitulated and a treaty was signed with which the sovereignty of Malta was handed over to the French Republic. Whereas Napoleon only stayed a few days, he managed to set up a lot of new reforms. A new administration, a public finance administration and the abolition of slavery and freedom for all Turkish slaves where some of the reforms.
Additionally, a family code was formed, public education was organized and fifteen primary schools were founded. When Napoleon continued to Egypt he left a substantial garrison in Malta. After some month the French closed convents and seized church treasures. There came up big revolts by the Maltese and the French garrison of General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois retreated to Valletta. When the Maltese failed to retake Valletta they asked the British for help who suggested a total blockade. In 1800 the French surrendered.
In 1800 Malta came under the British rule. Under the terms of the Treaty of Amenies, Malta was meant to be evacuated by the British but they never succeeded in doing so. Although the Maltese islands were not given much importance by the British, they still became an important asset due to their excellent harbors and strategic position and eventually became a naval fortress and the headquarters of the British navy. Although, a partly elected legislative council was created in 1849, still home rule was refused until 1921. Because the island was overpopulated and highly dependent on the British military expenditure, the Maltese suffered considerably poverty. Several reforms were made by the British administration but they were resisted by the Catholic Church and the Maltese elite who wanted to hold on their feudal privileges. This resulted from the creation of the Nationalist Party in Malta who had as one of its aims to protect the Italian language in Malta.
In 1919, there were riots due to the high price of bread. These riots would lead to greater autonomy for the locals but Malta was able to obtain a bicameral parliament with a Senate and elected Legislative Assembly. Due to the clash between the Catholic Church and Constitutional party, there were suspicions about free and fair election was not possible. In 1934, elementary schools started teaching Italian due to the Constitution being revoked over the Government’s budgetary vote.
World War II
In World War II Malta experience another great siege by Germany and Italy and in 1942 Malta was almost isolated from the rest of the world due to blockades around the island. During the same year Malta got the English Georg Cross for their bravery. Finally, in October, the air raid ended and the government of Great Britain invested 30 billion pounds for the removal of the damage caused through the war.
On 21 September 1964 Malta achieved independence through a referendum in which 82.6% of the Maltese voted for Independence. Queen Elizabeth II remained head of state, the troops were guaranteed to stay another 10 years in Malta and in return Great Britain contracted to provide Malta with credits to remove the damages caused by the war.
On 13 December 1974 Malta became a republic under President Sir Anthony Mamo and has remained so since then. In 2004 Malta joined the European Union and is its smallest member state.
Today the Islands are not anymore besieged by soldiers but on a very positive note around 1.2 million tourists yearly come to the Maltese Islands who can experience the vast history of the islands on spot.