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The History of Malta

Malta has been inhabited for over 7000 years since Neolithic times. Remnants of the earliest civilisations still remain on the island in the form of large stone temples at Tarxien, Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, and Gozo. Some of these temples are believed to have been erected around 1000 years before the famous pyramids of Giza and are the oldest freestanding monuments in the world. After the disappearance of the Neolithic culture around 2000BC the island was conquered by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans.

The Hagar Qim Temple Ruins

 In AD60 St Paul was shipwrecked at, what is now known as, St Paul's Bay. During his stay he converted the then pagan population and Malta has remained Christian ever since except for a period during Arab occupation. In AD870 Malta was conquered by the Arabs and remained under Arab rule until around 1090. The Maltese language had it's foundation during this period. After the Norman Sicilians took Malta from the Arabs in 1090 Christianity was reestablished and the conquerors remained until 1530. Towards the end of the Norman occupation the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem were driven out of Rhodes by Suleiman the magnificent and, fearing Rome would suffer an Islamic invasion, in 1530 Charles V handed Malta over to the Knights.

Fort St Elmo

The Knights vastly improved living conditions across the Island building hospitals, creating trade and commerce opportunities, and erecting strong fortifications. In 1565 Suleiman the magnificent sent his navy to remove the Knights from Malta and at the same time make it his base from which the Ottomans could attack Southern Europe. Approximately 48,000 Ottomans landed at Marsaxlokk and took over the countryside. The local population withdrew to the fortifications and Forts St Elmo, St Angelo, and St Michael where they were attacked at the end of May. History tells us that the Knight's forces numbered around 6,000 giving the Ottomans a massive numbered advantage.

However the Knight's forces held out for many months throughout horrific fighting and massive assaults and by early September relief forces arrived and the Ottomans abandoned the siege and the island. Casualty figures stood at approx 25,000 to 30,000 Ottoman casualties and 2,500 for the Knight's soldiers. A further 7000 Maltese men, women, and children were killed. The Great Siege of 1565 was over and Malta had established itself as an important strategic fortress. After the victory there was a massive increase in culture, the arts, and architecture. Many lavish new buildings were erected and the Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Vallette laid the foundation for a new fortress city, Valletta, which bore his name and became the Maltese capital.

During the next 268 years the Knights of St John ruled the Maltese Islands but were ill prepared when Napoleon attacked and conquered the island in 1798. In the six days that followed the conquest a civil code was laid down for Malta. Slavery was abolished and all Turkish slaves were freed. Napoleon himself created a primary and secondary education system and a more scientific based university replaced the old one. Once Napoleon departed the Maltese rose up and started guerilla attacks on the French occupiers. Requests were made to Nelson to help rid Malta of the French and by 1800 the Maltese forces and the British Navy, led by Nelson, drove the French out.

The Maltese Flag

The British Throne took over Malta and for 160 years ruled the Islands. During World War II Malta was relentlessly bombed by German forces in an attempt to take over as Malta is very strategically placed for a European conflict. More bombs were dropped on Malta in two months in 1942 than on London in the whole of the blitz. Still Malta could not be conquered nor the Maltese spirit broken. This strength of character led King George VI to award the whole island the George Cross. In his message he said "To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta, to bear witness to a heroism and a devotion that will long be famous in history." This award is visible on the top left corner of the Maltese Flag. In 1964 Independence was granted and Malta became a neutral republic. It was this neutrality and peacefulness that led Presidents Gorbachev and Bush to attend a summit aboard a ship anchored at Marsaxlokk bay. This summit effectively ended the Cold War. Today Malta is a member of the European Union and a popular tourist destination.

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