History of Malta

Malta and its islands have a long, rich history which dates as far back as 5,200BCE. This gives it a fascinating culture and architecture shaped by the many civilisations that have settled here over the millennia.

There are also several amazing buildings and archaeological sites that you can visit while on holiday in Malta, which give a real flavour of its interesting past.

This is a small island, meaning that nothing is ever more than a 30-minute drive away. You can easily see all the incredible places and sights available during your fantastic Maltese holiday, so take a look below at our short history of the island to help you decide where you’d like to explore.

Explore amazing prehistoric human settlements

You may be surprised to hear that the oldest buildings in Europe can be found on Malta.

These are believed to have been built by Neolithic farmers who crossed over on a land bridge from Sicily around 7,000 years ago. One fascinating site from this period is Ghar Dalam, which means cave of darkness.

Located in Birzebbuga, it’s a 20-minute drive from the resort of St. Julian’s and this atmospheric site was initially used as a dwelling and then an animal pen. It houses incredible finds such as ancient stone axes and shell beads, as well as the remains of giant swans, elephants and an extinct species of brown bear.

Another really interesting option is to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site awarded Megalithic Temples of Malta. There are seven in total dotted around Malta and the neighbouring island of Gozo, and they’re among the earliest known free-standing stone structures in the world.

Celebrated for their technical achievement and decoration, you can see one of these large structures – Hagar Qim – at Qrendi. It consists of a large temple complex and surrounding buildings, while there’s also a visitor centre where you can see reconstructions and find out more about how this site may have been used.

Discover how Christianity and the Knights of Malta shaped the island

Early Christianity arrived on the island with St Paul’s shipwreck in 60CE. The influence of Christianity and the Romans can be seen in the fascinating St. Paul’s Catacombs and museum in Rabat — around a 30-minute taxi ride from Mellieha Bay.

From these early beginnings, Christianity continued to gain strength on the island over the centuries.

A key turning point was in 1530 when Charles I of Spain gave Malta as a headquarters to the Catholic Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. This originally medieval military order is better known today as the Order of St. John, or the Knights of Malta.

The focus of Order of St. John activities is Malta’s capital, Valletta. Here you’ll find many grand and ornate buildings commissioned by this wealthy and influential group. Valletta is around a 30-minute taxi from Qawra and Bugibba and is definitely worth visiting.

You can take a look at the spectacular Grandmaster’s Palace, which was built during the 16th to 18th centuries. Inside you’ll discover stunning painted ceilings, exquisite artworks and original suits of armour.

There’s also the 16th century Sacra Infermeria, meaning Holy Infirmary. This is now an amazing conference centre which hosts a regular programme of cultural events.

Malta's recent history - becoming a republic

Over the centuries Malta has been under the rule of many nations, including France, Spain and Turkey. In 1800 it agreed to become part of the British Empire as the British valued the island’s strategic location in the Mediterranean, particularly following the opening of the Suez Canal.

Initially Malta was happy to stay part of the British Empire. However, it eventually decided to declare its independence in September 1964. Later, in December 1979 it declared itself a republic and remains so today.

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