If you set out from Malta on a boat with no compass in hand – just the wind in your sails and the hand of fate on the rudder – you would eventually hit Italy, Tunisia, Libya or Greece.
Or perhaps you would end up in Lebanon or Israel if you missed any signs of land before the Mediterranean abruptly ends at the Middle East.
It’s important to know the geography of Malta as the first step to understanding a bit more about it. Flying in over the islands, it resembles a North African outcrop with landscapes and architecture more similar to Tripoli or Benghazi than nearby Sicily.
Getting into a taxi at the airport, hearing the driver speak on his phone, the language resembles a hybrid of Arabic and Italian.
Words have been borrowed from both languages – or, probably more correctly, forced into common parlance by years of trade and immigration.
And then there’s the English. Both the language and the race. It’s an unavoidable influence that is most evident in the small walled capital of Valletta.
The capital of Malta, Valletta, is not your usual political hub. With an official population of only 7,000 people, it has to be one of the world’s smallest.
It’s connected to the much larger strip of development along the stunning coastline that is the centre of the country’s tourist industry – and hence the centre of its economy.
But Valletta itself is contained within the stone walls put there centuries ago by the knights who founded the city.
It was in 1566 that the first stone was laid in the formation of Valletta.
The Knights of St John had been given the land by the Holy Roman Emperor of the time, Charles V, and the city was not just a protective fortress but the first place the order could call home after many years of wandering the Mediterranean in the name of Christianity.
And so the city came to resemble an Italian religious community, with traces of Ottoman and North African influences that the knights had seen on their journeys. That continued for more than two hundred years but then the British came along.
In 1800 they took over control of the islands (after two years of unsuccessful French rule) and Malta remained part of the Empire until independence in 1964.
British rule in Malta
It’s these 164 years which have had the most impact on Valletta since the city was originally built. The main wide boulevards and old churches look distinctly Italian or Spanish but the corners are spotted with red English phone boxes or mail boxes.
The signs hanging from shops alert you to traders in a fashion not out of place for a small English village – the greengrocer, the tobacco merchant, the drapery and the ironmonger.
It’s slightly odd to be surrounded by all the remnants of British rule – which have pretty much been integrated into modern Malta. Because, as a tourist, the main sights in Valletta revolve around the old buildings and original inhabitants.
It’s the churches, the forts and the museums that are the main reason to come to this part of the country – the beaches and nightclubs are a bit further down the coast.
As a visitor to Malta for a few days, you wouldn’t find yourself spending too much time in Valletta itself – although it does have a good selection of restaurants and bars if you’re staying inside the walls.
The city is mainly for tourists these days and there are large numbers from Italy, Spain and the UK.
There’s also a fair share from North Africa. Again, Malta has become a mix of all the nationalities that once made claim and influenced its foundations.
14 thoughts on “The red reminders of British Malta”
I never got tired of seeing the iconic red telephone boxes while living in London. I love the look of them in Malta as well! I’ve been reading more about Malta lately and am definitely eager to travel there. Really great post and beautiful photos.
Happy travels 🙂
I didn’t know much about Malta before getting there. The red telephone boxes actually surprised me but it’s quite cute to see them all over the place. Let me know when you get there and what your enjoy the most!
Malta is so close and easy for us to visit, yet we keep pushing it off. I’ve been seeing a lot more about Malta lately and am getting a renewed interest to go.
Yeah – you guys are really close. You should pop over and check it out sometime. Especially as it starts to get colder in most of Europe, you’ll get some decent weather in Malta for a bit longer.
Marble and stone…I just can’t get enough no matter where I see it in the world.
It’s an interesting combination of old British elements and even older beyond…shows the track of history through the years. Thanks for sharing!
It’s a perfect example of what happens when you have different influences centred on such a small piece of land. The ancient churches with the modern red boxes!
This is my first glimpse of Malta.
I first heard about Malta in a Corregidor tour here in the Philippines.
They said Malta was the most bombed island in the world and Corregidor was second. And Malta got stuck in my mind…
Love the contrast of that blue window!
Malta certainly got stuck in the middle of conflict during the war because, geographically, it has such a strategic position. There’s not much evidence of that these days, though.
Since I watched a BBC program on the country, I’ve been captivated by the beauty of Malta. Its old buildings and enchanting history are two main reasons why this small country is so fascinating. And your photos remind me to plan a trip there one day.
The British influence is fascinating enough, but there is so much that came before that which is just astounding. With such an important geographic position, there have been so many cultures pass through – and so many stories!
It sounds a bit like the Carribean to me, though perhaps with a bit more of the African side. I was surprised to see so much British influence in the Bahamas.
I haven’t been to Malta, but Ali has. She says she would go abck with me. Which is a good sign for a place. 🙂
Ha ha – well, I look forward to hearing about your Malta trip when you get there! 🙂
Such interesting pictures! I am amazed!
Thanks, Renuka. The red everywhere was great for photos.