Malta: The Stunning Gem of the Mediterranean

Floating in the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the islands of Malta and Gozo are among today’s most attractive destinations with their rich history, breathtaking landscapes and cultural richness. From prehistoric temples to medieval cities, from beaches boasting crystal clear waters to delicious cuisine, these two islands have something to offer for everyone.

Malta has a population of around 550,000 people spread across an area of 316 square kilometers, comprising five islands—two large ones and three smaller ones. The first settlement here is believed to have occurred around 5000 BC.

Malta and Gozo are said to have been influenced by various civilizations throughout history, including the Carthaginians, Sicilians, Phoenicians, Normans, French, Arabs, and British. During the Ottoman sieges of 1551 and 1565, the island’s population endured significant hardship. However, it revitalized in the subsequent periods. Today, approximately 150,000 foreigners reside on the islands, including around two thousand Turks.

The capital, Valletta, is renowned for its rich historical and cultural heritage. The city was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Malta, situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Europe, and Africa, boasts significant cultural richness. Its strategic location has led it to host more historical events over time than many other countries. Undoubtedly, one of the most significant historical events for the people of the island is the “Great Siege” organized by the Ottomans between May 18 and September 11, 1565. Also known as the “Malta Campaign”, this is considered the cornerstone of their national existence. The Hospitalier Knights, traced from Jerusalem to Cyprus, from Bodrum to Rhodes, found themselves on the island of Malta, bestowed upon them by the king of Spain. Despite facing an Ottoman force many times larger, they managed to emerge victorious, earning great fame and power. Jean de Vallette emerged as the victor in this battle, during which the Ottoman Captain Turgut Reis also suffered defeat. The city of Valletta, now the capital and named in his honor, was constructed from the ground up in the Baroque style, following a regular grid pattern. Valletta is a city of breathtaking beauty, whether experienced by sea aboard a cruise ship or explored on land.

As you navigate between the two breakwaters and enter the Grand Harbor, the walled city of Valletta greets you with all its splendor on your right. To your left lies the Three Cities, which are no less spectacular than Valletta. This enclosed harbor bay, adorned with medieval and baroque architecture crafted from Maltese stones, is also bustling with hundreds of large and small boats.

It’s incredible to imagine that tens of thousands of people once fought in this historic bay, which now gleams under the warm rays of the sun, especially during sunsets. Upon disembarking the ship at the port, reaching Valletta is very convenient thanks to the nearby large elevator. Before immersing yourself in the city’s lively atmosphere, be sure to visit the “Barrakka Gardens,” featuring a charming small garden adorned with sculptures and offering a panoramic view of the Three Cities and the entire Grand Harbor. After soaking in the spectacular view from this terrace, you’re ready to join the bustling crowds of the city. Valletta is a compact city comprising three main thoroughfares and the streets intersecting them. The city gate, notable for its simplicity, is the fifth one built so far. Upon entering this gate, you’ll encounter the parliament building on your right, its modern architecture contrasting with the city’s classical Baroque style. The Archaeological Museum, the Palace of the Grand Masters, and St. John’s Cathedral are among the must-see attractions in this quaint city.

The Cathedral of St. John, hailed as a masterpiece of the 17th century and home to the only Caravaggio painting with a signature, is a breathtaking example of Baroque art. Valletta is a vibrant city, with streets teeming with dining and entertainment options to suit almost every taste and budget. At Palazzo Preca, one of the finest representations of Maltese cuisine steeped in history, you can savor the best of Rabbit Stew, a national dish of the country. Pastizzi, a pastry filled with cheese and peas, is reminiscent of flavors familiar to the Turkish palate and can be found on every corner. For those who prefer to stick to what they know, Italian and burger restaurants are plentiful throughout the city. Of course, kebab restaurants are also a popular choice. It’s also worth enhancing your day trip to Malta by visiting the seaside towns of Mosta and Mdina in the central north of the island. Mosta, which you can reach by bus from Valletta with your guide in 30 to 40 minutes, depending on traffic, is a charming small city. It’s renowned for its rotunda (circular) church, boasting the third-largest dome in the world. In the midst of World War II, on April 9, 1942, during a heavy bombardment by the German Air Force, two of the three bombs dropped on it were deflected, while the third bomb that hit it did not explode. This event added to the fame of this holy place, and the belief that it was a divine miracle spread throughout the Christian world.

Maltese is a unique blend of Arabic and Italian influences, making it the only Semitic language to use the Latin alphabet. Therefore, it’s common to see “Mrhaba” (Hello) signs at the entrance of every city, reflecting this linguistic fusion. Mdina, situated atop the highest hill of the island near Mosta, is also known as the “Silent City.” Enclosed by walls and featuring an impressive gateway, narrow streets, and well-preserved medieval architecture, Mdina (also known as Medina) has served as the backdrop for numerous period films and TV series like Game of Thrones. After exploring its charming streets, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the island from the city walls and relax at popular spots such as Gustave Cafe, Fontanella, and Bar One Cafe. Now it’s time to return to the ship before departure… But there are still many new cities, ports, and adventures ahead. If you haven’t had your fill of this beautiful island, you can always come back for a three-night, four-day land tour. And while you’re in Malta, don’t forget about the other small island waiting to be explored.

Gozo Island, Briefly

Gozo Island is the second-largest island in the Republic of Malta, covering an area of approximately 67 square kilometers. Contrasted with the bustling atmosphere of Malta, Gozo offers a more rural and tranquil experience. Its settlement history dates back to as early as 5000 BC. The capital of Gozo is Victoria, formerly known as Rabat. The indigenous people of the island are known as “Gozitans.”

Ta’ Pinu Basilica: A must-see attraction here is the Basilica of Ta’ Pinu, also known as the Basilica of Our Lady Ta’ Pinu. It features neo Romanesque architecture and a striking 61-meter bell tower. Visitors can send their wishes to Allah in the form of letters while visiting.

Victoria: Victoria, the capital of Gozo, is home to the magnificent Cittadella. This ancient castle is home to museums that reflect the rich history and culture of the island. The interior of the Basilica of St. George in the city center is a true masterpiece of Baroque art.

Dwejra, Azure Window: This coastline, renowned for its rugged natural beauty and the inland sea just beyond it, is a highly popular location that served as a backdrop for the Game of Thrones series. While the iconic natural arch, unfortunately, collapsed in 2017, it was once a favorite spot for diving enthusiasts. However, the surrounding underwater caves and coral reefs still await exploration.

Ggantija Temples: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, these temples are among the oldest surviving structures in the world.

Ramla Bay: Famous for its red sands, this beach is ideal for swimming and sunbathing.

Xellendi: This small bay is a favorite spot for both locals and tourists, thanks to the fish restaurants dotted around its shores.

What to Eat in Malta?

Malta’s culinary landscape is heavily influenced by the rich traditions of Arab and Italian cuisine, resulting in a delectable Mediterranean fare. Indeed, Pizza, Pasta, and Risotto are ubiquitous in Malta. Let’s also share brief details about the different dishes you may encounter on the menus. Lampuki fish is served grilled with tomato sauce or as a savory pie. Its hunting period is from August to December. So if you see it on the menu in other periods, it is from an icehouse. During its fishing season, Aljotta, a fish soup with rice, is a popular dish in Malta. Fenek or Fenkata is Malta’s national dish, a rabbit stew. The Phoenician merchants were the first to introduce the hare to the island. Their fast reproduction has made them a common food source in these infertile lands. Kapunata, a vegetarian dish similar to our shakshuka, is famous in Malta. It can be enjoyed either hot or cold. Minestra, vegetable soup with pasta, is a familiar flavor to many of us. Timpana, or baked pasta with minced meat, is a popular dish. However, it’s important to note that the minced meat in the Bolognese sauce might contain a pork mixture. Those with sensitivity to this should exercise caution. Pastizzi, reminiscent of Izmir’s boyoz, are among the most famous pastries in Malta. They’re made of puff pastry dough and come in sweet and savory varieties. Ricotta cheese brings to mind Albanian pastries. Spicy, pea, or Gozo’s cheese varieties, along with date liquor, make delicious souvenirs from a trip to Malta…

Malta and Gozo offer something for every traveler, whether you’re a history buff, adventure seeker, relaxation enthusiast, or culture lover. The unique experiences these islands offer create unforgettable memories for visitors. Exploring Malta and Gozo means discovering the hidden history and beauty tucked away in every corner of these Mediterranean gems.

You can contact Arkas Turizm for information and reservations for Malta tours.

Arkas Turizm: +90 (0232) 463 80 11