By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises
The two-and-a-half island nation of Malta is not quite like anywhere else, and that’s a grand thing. The sail-in and sail-out to the main city of Valletta is one of the most spectacular sights anywhere in the world…and that’s just the beginning of the experience.
Malta is pretty much right in the middle of the Mediterranean, 55 miles south of Sicily and Europe and 180 miles north of Tunisia and Africa.
It lies east of Gibraltar and west of Alexandria and Jerusalem.
That location made it so very important as a crossroads and rest stop for invaders, crusaders, pilgrims, and traders.
It is heavily Catholic and has a long tradition of Christianity, and yet it was greatly influenced by the Middle East and the British Empire.
Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt, Sicilians, the Knights of St John, the French and the British.
The view from the bridge as Silver Cloud arrived in the Grand Harbour at sunrise today
Our ship at Pinto Wharf
In the Renaissance, artists from Sicily and elsewhere were brought to the island by the Knights of Saint John to decorate their churches.
Towering above them all was Caravaggio, who stayed about fifteen months and made at least seven major works.
Caravaggio’s The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Jerome Writing, are on display in the Oratory of Saint John’s Co-Cathedral in downtown Valletta.
And then Mattia Preti of Calabria transformed the severe, Mannerist interior of the Co-Cathedral of Saint John into a Baroque masterpiece. Preti’s hand can be seen almost everywhere, including in the 3-D figures that float above in the cathedral.
In 1530 Charles I of Spain gave the islands to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. These knights, a military religious order now known as the Knights of Malta, had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522.
The last colonial power was the British, and for that the Maltese suffered greatly, and stood up bravely, during World War II as the Axis powers pummeled Valletta.
Malta gained its independence in 1964 and became a Republic in 1974.
The architecture of Valletta mixes Italy and Spain and the other sources of Crusaders with Arab and North African elements
There are said to be 360 churches on this small island, and nearly every one of them is a work of art. We visited some of the lesser ones today
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