Sunday, September 22, 2013

Marvelous Malta: Crossroads of cultures

A Christian country with traces of an Islamic past.


Like many of the countries of southern Europe, Malta has layers of civilization. The Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Vandals, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans, the Spanish, the Knights of St John, the French and the British have all been here, and left something of their cultures in this Mediterranean melting pot.

The Maltese language, called Malti, is descended from Sicilian Arabic, which developed in Sicily and Malta after the Arab conquests of the 9th century. Although the language died out in Sicily, where it was superseded by Sicilian Italian, it survived in Malta and can still be understood by people in North Africa.

In the country's old capital, Mdina (from the Arabic madinah), people still walk along Triq Miskita — a street that owes its name to the Arabic tariq (way) and the Spanish mesquita (mosque). Today, the mosque has long gone, and seven churches and a monastery testify to the eventual triumph of Catholic Christianity.
Mdina's labyrinthine streets reflect the Arab influence.

Another town that is popular with tourists is Mellieha, whose parish church is shown in the top picture from Malta.cc — Malta's online community center. But these are only two of the historic places and cultural attractions that draw 1.2 million visitors to the islands south of Sicily every year.

For more information, you are invited to chat with maltese at Malta.cc, and to read some of the website's many articles written by enthusiastic local residents. In addition to recommendations on places to visit, these offer advice on local products, services and events. And in every case, they come with a collection of photographs that convey the feel of the locale or social occasion.

Wikipedia is another invaluable source of information. Interestingly, it reveals that, according to a 2010 Charities Aid Foundation study, the Maltese are the most generous people in the world, with 83% contributing to charity. It's yet another good reason to make Malta your next holiday destination.


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