History of Malta
The Maltese Islands boast a rich history which has left an indelible mark on its landscape, culture and fabric. The prehistoric temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra, Tarxien, Ta’ Ħaġrat and Skorba in Mġarr and Xagħra in Gozo were the result of a peaceful complex society that developed on the islands about 5000 years ago to disappear after two millennia, leaving these temples and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum behind them. This society was replaced by metal-workers who were very keen on defending themselves, until they were in turn replaced or absorbed by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians.
By the Roman occupation of the islands in the Third Century BC, two important cities began to emerge. Mdina in Malta, and Ċitadella on Gozo have, over the years, evolved into the main urban centres, with churches and palaces adorning the winding narrow roads which formed part of the defensive strategy to hold corsair attacks. This continued throughout the Middle Ages and ceased with the arrival of the Order of St John in Malta in 1530. Together with the Maltese population, the Knights faced a number of corsair attacks, the longest one taking the form of a 3-month long siege in 1565.
The needs of the Hospitallier Knights to stay close to their fleet led to the building of Malta’s current capital city, Valletta. This coastal fortified city hosted the Auberges, Churches, and palaces, as well as the main bakery, hospital and mint. This led to the development of the Grand Harbour into a fortified system of bastions, forts, and counterguards. The Cities of Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea, together with Valletta and its suburbs became densely populated, initiating a process of urbanisation that continues to this day.
The advent of the British Empire in the beginning of the 19th century led to Malta becoming an island fortress, mainly focusing on servicing the British Navy. This led to enlargement of the dockyard. The Maltese Islands played an important role in both world conflicts. During WW1 it acted as the “Nurse of the Mediterranean” hosting many of the wounded from the Gallipoli Campaign. In the Second World War, Malta underwent a large number of aerial attacks from the Axis Powers with the civilian population enduring destruction, famine and utter disruption of daily life. The Maltese have been awarded the George Cross for their gallantry in such a difficult time. This medal is still represented on the Maltese flag.
With decolonisation in the 1960s, Malta gained its Independence from the British Empire in 1964. Striving to diversify its economy, Malta focused on tourism harnessing its unique cultural traits based on its turbulent history, and on the service industry. As a member of the European Union from 2004, the Maltese Islands now boast to be part of an international community connected via the Mediterranean Sea – a sea to which this small archipelago owes its life, history and bond to the rest of the world.