The Maltese Islands

Cultural Significance

Malta’s strategic setting at the crossroads of the Mediterranean has always played a crucial role in the island’s history. Over the centuries, the great Mediterranean powers have fought to dominate the islands, each new arrival leaving behind a cultural legacy that shaped or influenced local culture. Malta’s historic and cultural significance, is indeed impressive.

From the very earliest man made structures, Malta boasts the oldest free standing monuments in the world. Seven megalithic temples are found on the islands of Malta and Gozo, each the result of an individual development, and all constituting UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Among the most notable megalithic temples of the Maltese archipelago, are the prehistoric ensemble of ń†gantija on the island of Gozo, the temples of Hagar Qim, Mnajdra and Tarxien are also particularly remarkable in that they are unique architectural masterpieces.

The various temples and monuments that make up the World Heritage sites constitute the most characteristic examples of structures representing a major development in the cultural as well as the artistic and technological domains, and are remarkable for their diversity of form and decoration.

Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a cultural property of exceptional prehistoric value. This unique monument dates back to early antiquity (about 2500 BC) and it is the only known example of a subterranean structure of the Bronze Age.

Later, the Arabs, Normans and Aragonese left an impact particularly on the local language, architecture and cuisine. Their mark is particularly notable in the medieval architecture of Malta’s historic town centres, and in the architectural form of many typical town houses, such as the central courtyard, flat roof and enclosed wooden balconies.

Malta’s cultural legacy found its ultimate blossoming under the rule of the military and charitable Order of St John of Jerusalem, when a major building programme was implemented, from massive fortified cities to splendid palaces. The best architects, craftsmen and civil and military engineers in Europe were engaged and many renowned artists were employed in the service of one of the world’s most powerful military powers of its time.

Inextricably linked to the history of the Knights of St John is Malta’s capital city, Valletta. It is one of the rare urban inhabited sites that has preserved in near entirety its original features, and its 320 monuments, all within an area of 55 ha, make it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. The entire city of Valletta is inscribed as a UNESCO Monument. This veritable open air museum spans 500 years of architectural oeuvre. Here you will also have the opportunity to learn about Knights’ unique story through their architecture, their monuments and works of art.