Wednesday, February 3, 2010
History of Malta in brief
Malta is home to the oldest freestanding structure in the world, the oldest of which is the megalithic temple il-Ġgantija, in Gozo (Għawdex) dating back to before 3500 BC. This would be one thousand years before the pyramids. The outter walls stand six metres tall. Folklore has it that a female giant called "Sunsuna" carried the rocks on her head from a place in Gozo called Ta' Cenc. She is supposed to have lived on a diet of Broad Beans, called ''Ful'' in Maltese. Another very early temple is that of Ħaġar Qim, which dates from between 3200 and 2500 BC. It stands on a hilltop on the southern edge of the island of Malta and adjacent to this temple lies another remarkable site known as l-Imnajdra.
Then we know of the Phoenicians who colonized the islands around 700 BC, using our harbours as an outpost from which they expanded their sea exploration and trade in the Mediterranean.
Later after the fall of Tyre, the islands came under the control of Carthage (400 BC), a former Phoenician colony, and then following the defeat of Carthage by the Romans our Islands fell under the rule of Rome (218 BC). The islands prospered under Roman rule, during which time they were considered a Municipium and a Foederata Civitas. Roman remains still exist today, a sign of the close links between the Maltese inhabitants and the people of Rome. The island was a favorite spot among the Roman soldiers as a place in which to retire from active service. In AD 60, the islands were visited by Saint Paul, by God's intervention. Paul is believed to have been shipwrecked on the shores of the aptly-named Saint Paul's Bay (San Pawl il-Baħar. He converted the inhabitants to Christianity and annointed Publius as the first bishop of the Maltese Islands.
After a period of Byzantine rule (fourth to ninth century) and a probable sack by the Vandals, the islands were conquered by the Arabs in AD 870. The Arabs, who generally tolerated the population's Christianity, introduced the cultivation of citrus fruits and cotton, and irrigation systems. Arab influence can be seen most prominently in the modern Maltese language, a Semitic language which also contains significant Romance influences, and is written in a variation of the Latin alphabet.
The period of Arab rule lasted until 1091, when the islands were taken by the Siculo-Normans. For their help in the struggle the Maltese were rewarded by Count Roger who gave them a white and red strip of his own flag. Subsequent rulers included the Angevins and the Aragonese, who reconstituted a County of Malta in 1283.
In 1530 the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain gave the islands to the Order of Knights Hospitalers of St John of Jerusalem in perpetual lease. The knights, a military religious order now known as the "Knights of Malta", had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522. in 1565. aided by the Maltese they withstood a full-blown siege by the Ottoman Turks, who at that time were the greatest naval power in the Mediterranean. They later increased the fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbour area, where the new city of Valletta, named after Grand Master Jean de la Valette, was built.
In 1798 the reign of the Knights came to an end when Malta was captured by Napoleon en route to his conquest of Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars. As a ruse, Napoleon requested safe passage into the harbour to resupply his ships but then turned his guns against his hosts once safely inside Valletta. The Grand Master knew that he could only allow a few ships at a time to enter the harbour, according to the Treaty of Trent but Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch capitulated and the Island passed to Napoleon who only stayed in Malta for a few days. He established an administration controlled by his nominees and then sailed for Egypt, leaving a substantial garrison in Malta.
The occupying French forces were very unpopular due particularly to their negative attitude towards religion. Their financial and religious reforms did not go down well with the citizens. The Maltese rebelled against them, and the French were forced behind the fortifications. Great Britain, along with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, sent munitions and aid to the rebels. Britain sent her navy, which instigated a blockade of the islands. The isolated French forces, under General Vaubois, surrendered in 1800, and the island became a British Dominion, willingly presented to Sir Alexander Ball by the then Maltese leaders.
In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became part of the British Empire, and owing to its central position between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal it was used as a shipping station and fleet headquarters. Malta's geographical position proved to be its main asset during these years, and it was considered to be an important stop for ships on their way to India.