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The Maltese Islands Print

History, Culture, and Heritage

The strategic position of Malta, Gozo and Comino has made these Mediterranean islands a crossroad of history and a bone of contention. The powers of Europe`s past knew it well as a stepping-stone between Europe and North Africa. Involved in Malta`s history are the Stone-Age people, Romans and Phoenicians, Arabs, Normans and Carthaginians, Castilians, French and British; from whom Malta became independent in 1964. Napoleon Bonaparte did unutterable damage in an only six-day occupation; and Malta stood firm against Hitler despite massive bombing during World War II, deservedly earning the nation the George Cross medal from King George VI (April 15, 1942) and depicting it on the left hand corner of the flag.



Cities in Malta

Valletta

A City built by gentlemen for gentlemen. La Vallette, a cultured man with vision, decided that the new city should not only serve as an impregnable fort, but should also become a strong point of culture, economy and politics in the world. In honour of its founder, it was to be known as Valletta and it was to become Malta`s chief town, instead of El Borgo (Vittoriosa). On March 28, 1566, the Grandmaster himself laid the first stone.

Laparelli, the Italian architect, had the unique opportunity to do everything right, to create the perfect city from scratch. Also unique is the "grid iron" street alignment, planned to allow the breezes free entry to the city, in order to lower the heat during the summertime.

All the buildings are built with the same characteristics. They are not allowed to jut out into the streets, front gardens and gaps are forbidden; every building has a sculpture on each corner, mostly a saintly one; each house has a well to collect rain water and most important, they are connected to the public drainage.

Running parallel with the domestic administrative constructions, the fortification of the city had top priority. The most vital element of this was a huge moat which ran between the two harbours, separating Valletta from the Mainland. Almost 1,000 metres long, 20 metres wide and 18 metres deep, this would afford Valletta the greatest protection.

Mdina

The history of Mdina and its suburb, Rabat, is as old as chequered as the history of Malta itself. Its origin can be traced back more than 4000 years. Over the years, the city had different names and titles, depending upon who was ruling the island and which role Mdina was playing in the overall power-game. No name or title, however, characterises the city of Mdina so accurately than "The Noble City".

Even from a distance one can sense that "nobility". It`s quite restrained atmosphere summons up regal images of a Queen on her throne, waiting acknowledgement, accepting a salute, yet keeping her distance.

Even during the Bronze Age, the steep hill on which Mdina is buit, and from where one can see most of Malta, was a fortified settlement. Phoenicians built a city wall around Mdina and Rabat around 1000 BC. They named the City, "Malet", which loosely translates as "shelter" or "protected place", the same name used for the harbour and island itself. Following the Phoenicians, the Romans called the island "Melita".

The city received its present name, Mdina, from the Saracens who took over the island in 870 AD. For reasons of defence they separated Mdina and Rabat by a deep moat, and surrounded the hill-top section of the city with new, stronger walls and bastions. The name Mdina roughly translates as "the city surrounded by walls". They named the rest of the city "Rabat", which means suburb. From this time on, Mdina has barely changed. Its structure and street plan is the same as 1000 years ago.

Rabat

In the city of Rabat one can find a small, dark cave (grotto) in which St Paul recovered from the trauma of his shipwreck mishap; and the House of Publius, considered to be the first church in Malta. According to a persistent legend it was here the Roman governor Publius brought St Paul to preach his gospel. Rabat is also known for its many underground catacombs, intricate mazes of rocks and tunnels from which all remains have been removed, though one`s imagination might wander in picturing them in their rocky resting places.



Places to visit in Malta

The Upper Barrakka Garden

This offers a splendid view of the magnificent Grand Harbour. The Grand Masters` Palace in the heart of the city is suitably impressive for the distinguished dignitaries with two courtyards, a tapestry room with hangings depicting fanciful scenes of the West Indies, a throne room; and an armoury in the former stable.

The Manoel Theatre

The Manoel Theatre is a gilded and splendid treasure still in use. It was designed after Italy`s Palermo theatre and built by the Knights in 1731.

Co-Cathedral of St John

The most impressive sight in Valletta is the baroque Co-Cathedral of St John`s, with its floor covered with 369 inlaid marble tombstones and a painting by Caravaggio in the oratory. The original cathedral is situated in the former capital city of Mdina. Valletta`s cathedral is dedicated to the Knights` patron saint, John the Baptist - whose life is depicted in paintings around the enormous vault - the church embodied the wealth and power of the Knights of Malta who are members of a religious order traditionally professed Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.

Mediterranean Conference Centre

The Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta is one of city`s most impressive restorations. Built as a hospital in the 1500s by the Knights it was elegantly restored to practical use as a conference venue and a museum. The wards - great sweeping halls with vaulted ceilings and marble floors - now are exhibition areas and a modern theatre has been added. Here, one may see the Malta Experience, an audio-visual presentation about Malta`s intricate and colourful history.

Neolithic Temples

On the islands of Malta and Gozo there is a unique concentration of prehistoric sites - magnificent edifices, both above and below ground, monumental temples, elaborate stone carvings, enigmatic cartruts, Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts and implements. The megalithic temples are estimated to be one thousand years older than the pyramids of Giza. They are, in fact, considered to be the earliest freestanding stone buildings known to mankind and the oldest space-enclosing architecture still in existence, predating England`s Stonehenge, the palaces of Crete and King Solomon`s Temple. These and many more make the Maltese archipelago an archaeological museum of unique proportions.

The ruins of the Neolithic Temples at Hagar Qim are among the most imposing of the country`s 30 prehistoric sites which date from about 3600 to 3200 BC. Two other prehistoric temples are situated at Ggantija on the island of Gozo, a short ferry ride away.These temples are still shrouded in mysteries, with their great stone portals and various altars, though prehistoric man is believed to have worshipped goddesses of fertility within their thick walls.

Mosta Church

All over the country, Malta`s riches are represented by its numerous churches, the centre of every Maltese town and village. They are the focal point of the nation`s many festas and festivals. St Mary`s Church in Mosta is one of the largest in Europe. It has a glorious, airy blue, gold and white dome and its own miracle: On April 9, 1942 at 4:40p.m., with over 300 people in the church praying, a bomb penetrated through the dome and landed on the mosaic floor. But it did not explode. A replica of the bomb is displayed in the sacristy of the church.



Foreign Influences on Maltese Culture

Ancient Phoenicians

Around 700 BC Malta was inhabited by the Ancient Phoenicians who were particularly interested in the use of the various harbours and ports around the Maltese islands that were easily accessible. Within around two hundred years (500 BC), Malta had become a Punic colony and Phoenician traces are still found today in Maltese culture, traditions and language.

Roman influences on Maltese culture

Malta was under Roman control between 218 BC and AD395. During the later part of Roman rule, Malta had the power to control domestic affairs and were allowed their own currency. The famous shipwreck of St Paul took place during this period, and it is St Paul who brought Catholicism to the Maltese and founded the Church of Malta, laying the foundations for religion as part of Maltese culture.

When the Roman Empire fell in AD395, Malta was placed under the eastern portion of the old Roman Empire, which was ruled from Constantinople. This change in ruling brought several Greek families to Malta, introducing various traditions, proverbs and superstitions some of which are still present in the Maltese culture of today.

Arab invasion

The Arab invasion of AD870 left a mark on the Maltese people and their culture. The ruthless Arab oppressors of the time are said to have had a devastating effect on the population of the Maltese islands. Some historians speculate many Maltese were killed during and after the invasion, and that others were carried off into slavery or fled to Sicily, amongst other places. Malta is said to have been merely left a resource of food and timber for the Arab invaders, leaving the islands scarcely populated. At around 1090, the Norman invasion saw an end to Arab rule and Malta`s population is said to have amounted only to no more than 1,200 households, the larger part originating from the wider Arab world. The effects of the Arab invasion are still visible in the names of many Maltese towns and villages (in the case of Mdina, "medina" means "city") and in the spoken form of the Maltese language.

The Knights of St John

The Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, a religious and multinational order of soldiers and hospitaliers, have had a significant influence in the history of Malta. You might recognise the Maltese Cross, which is the insignia of the Knights of Malta. And you`ve heard of the Maltese falcon - the Mediterranean peregrine falcon - which was the annual rent required by Roman Emperor Charles V when he donated the Island to the Knights in 1530.

The Knights were not altogether pleased with the gift of these little islands, which were no kind of natural paradise. The Knights found the land was rugged, dry and rocky.

The Knights of St John of Jerusalem, however, left the most physical mark on Malta, after successfully defended it from the power-hungry Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1565. The Knights were in charge of the island for 270 years, building magnificent churches and lavish monuments to themselves - each nationality had its own palace (AUBERGES) - before losing power to the Napoleon Bonaparte and the French empire in 1889.

The Knights, particularly Grand Master Jean La Vallette, were responsible for the establishment of the historical old city of Valletta soon after the defeat of the Ottoman the Turk. Valletta was to be, decreed La Vallette himself, "a city built by gentlemen, for gentlemen." Valletta, considered the world`s first planned community, was heavily fortified with bastions rising sternly from the sea-water all around it. A sightseeing cruise of the Grand Harbour and tributaries offers a vivid impression of the seriousness of the walled city`s intent.

During the rule of the Knights of St John, the population of Malta increased significantly, from around 25,000 in 1535 to over 54,000 in 1632. One of the primary reasons was an improvement in health and welfare, but also immigration from Western Europe.

This period under the rule of the Knights of St John is often referred to as the Golden Age for Malta, considering the flourishing of Maltese culture with the architectural and artistic embellishment witnessed during the Knights` rule. The various advances in overall health, education and wealth of the Maltese are also an important part of this perception of Malta`s Golden Age.

The Knights introduced Renaissance and Baroque architecture in Maltese towns and villages, which is still in many places of interest, most notably the capital city Valletta and the Valletta Grand Harbour. In education, the Knights laid the foundation of the present-day University of Malta, which as a result is one of the oldest extant universities in Europe.

The French rule

The Knights of St John ruled the Maltese Islands for 270 years 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.

French rule did not only bring improvements to Malta and its people, however. Maltese churches were ransacked, being robbed of gold, silver and precious art, which sparked an uprising that ended in the execution of a number of Maltese patriots.

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 British in Malta

Maltese culture, language and politics underwent radical changes under British rule, from 1800 to 1964. The addition of Malta to the British Empire was a voluntary request made by the Maltese people in an attempt to rid the Maltese islands of the French. Its strategic location in the centre of the Mediterranean made Malta an excellent station for British forces, whilst the opening of the Suez Canal further improved the importance of Malta as a supply station and naval base.

During World War II, Malta was relentlessly bombed by German forces in an attempt to take over as Malta was 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 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.



The Maltese Language

The two official languages are Maltese and English. The English language is a leftover of about 160 years of British colonisation of Malta. Maltese, whose closest languages are Lebanese, Hebrew and classic Arabic, is the only Semitic language which is written in Roman alphabet. Italian, too, is widely spoken among the younger generation, particularly due to the television programmes which are transmitted from nearby Italy. It is easy to get a language guide and Maltese is interesting enough to learn a few words to take back with you as a "souvenir" of your visit.

Tourism is the most lucrative industry, and the Maltese people have a friendly and welcoming way about them.



Weather and Climate

Malta`s climate is typically Mediterranean, with an average temperature of over 22°C. Winters are moist and mild, and the rubble-walled fields are studded with a collage of plants leaving you the time to focus on the islands` rich architectural heritage. Summers are hot and dry, but the heat is moderated by the beautiful sensation of sea breezes. This is the best time for water sport and outdoor activities whilst in spring the atmosphere is idyllic for walking, picnics and hiking.



Geography

By any standard, the Republic of Malta is a very small country. The main island Malta is less than a hundredth the size of neighbouring Sicily; it`s slightly larger than Elba, Napoleon`s isle of exile. It`s such a small place. It is just an archipelago of islands about halfway between the coasts of Sicily and North Africa. Set in the clear blue Mediterranean Sea, the Maltese islands are the most southerly European country. The archipelago consists of five islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino, together with two other uninhabited  islands Cominetto and Filfla. The total area is approximately 316 sq kms (Malta 246 sq kms, Gozo 67 sq km, Comino 2.7 sq km). The longest distance in Malta from North West to South East is about 27 km, with 14.5 kms width in an East-West direction. The Islands are only 90 km south of Sicily and 290 km from the northern coast of Africa.

The coastline of Malta and Gozo is predominantly rocky with only a very occasional sandy bay. The eastern side of the island is broken up by large bays which make ideal natural harbours with brightly painted luzzu dipped in them. To the sourth, spectacular cliffs drop 250m to the sea. There are no mountains, rivers or lakes, and the land looks rocky, but the ever-present sun and the deep lucent sea alone would attract many visitors back to Malta and Gozo.



Food and Drink

Food - General

Maltese cuisine is the result of a long relationship between the Islanders and the many invaders who occupied the Maltese Islands over the centuries.  This marriage of tastes has given Malta an eclectic mix of Mediterranean cooking. Although the restaurant scene is a mix of speciality restaurants, there are many eateries that offer or specialise in local fare, serving their own versions of specialities.

Traditional Maltese food is rustic and based on the seasons. Look out for Lampuki Pie (fish pie), Rabbit Stew, Bragioli (beef olives), Kapunata, (Maltese version of ratatouille), and widow's soup, which includes a small round of Gbejniet (sheep or goat's cheese). On most food shop counters, you'll see Bigilla, a thick pate of broad beans with garlic. The snacks that must be tried are ‘hobz biz-zejt' (round of bread dipped in olive oil, rubbed with ripe tomatoes and filled with a mix of tuna, onion, garlic, tomatoes and capers) and pastizzi (flaky pastry parcel filled with ricotta or mushy peas).

A trip to the Marsaxlokk fish market on Sunday morning will show you just how varied the fish catch is in Maltese waters. When fish is in abundance, you'll find Aljotta (fish soup). Depending on the season, you'll see spnotta (bass), dott (stone fish), cerna (grouper), dentici (dentex), sargu (white bream) and trill (red mullet).  Swordfish and tuna follow later in the season, around early to late autumn, followed by the famed Lampuka, or dolphin fish.  Octopus and squid are very often used to make some rich stews and pasta sauces.

Armed with this redimentary knowledge of Maltese cuisine you can now look for the right variety of settings to try out the food.  There are some very attractive restaurants nestling in the small bays where you can dine to the water's edge with a view of the fishing boats.  Other restaurants are perched high up within the ancient bastions of the capital city Valletta or Victoria in Gozo, with spectacular harbour views or Gozo's terraced countryside.

Food - Maltese Bread

The Maltese market offers a great variety of bread. Some are typically Maltese while others are "imported". The original Maltese bread comes in various forms. There is the flat ring of non-leavened dough called ftira and the qaghqa ta' l-Appostli (a large Apostles' ring-bread). But the most popular type of bread is the dark-brown round crusty loaf, known as hobza.

There are several reasons which explain the popularity of the hobza. This loaf is slightly sweet and has a delicious crust. Moreover, it has pure and sustaining qualities. To make it more delicious, some bakers sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.

This loaf is made from locally milled flour. As Maltese agriculture does not produce enough wheat, this important item has been imported since a very long time. At first it used to be imported from neigbbouring Sicily. The Knights of St. John built underground granaries to store this important wheat, some of which are found at Floriana (known as il-Fosos) and others at Valletta adjacent to Fort St. Elmo.

Whenever wheat was scarce on the market, a mixed flour used to be produced known as il-mahlut. This consisted of a mixture of rye and wheat.

Another type of hobza is the ftira. It is unleavened bread flat in shape with a crust peculiar taste and moist crumb. Many buy a piece of ftira besides their daily loaf and latecomers find this form of bread has been sold out.

Bread production used to be carried out in every locality. Large urban areas had a bakery or two, sometimes more. Some localities have a street named Bakery Street in memory of a former bakery, such as at Lija and Valletta. The most popular place for bread-making was Qormi. It was referred to as Casal Fornaro (the village of bakers).

It is a documented fact that before the Knights built their bakery at Valletta, their major establishments, such as the auberges, the Grand Master's Palace and hospital, were supplied with bread from Qormi. Some believe that this was due to two major reasons. Qormi was already well known as a breadmaking centre while it was the nearest large locality to Valletta, as Floriana and Marsa were still non-existent.

According to hearsay, Qormi was a place where malaria flourished as it was situated in a low lying position. The health problem was solved by the warm dry air, offered by the ovens. Qormi became one of the most healthy districts in Malta.

The Maltese do not consider a good meal complete without a piece of this crusty bread. They insist on having fresh bread and possibly still warm from the oven. This is why bakers have to start working either late at night or in the early hours of the day, to have a supply of bread ready for an early delivery.

A second bake is made at a later hour. Usually clients come and collect their bread from the bakery themselves. Bakers also prepare a third bake to supply the local market with bread for those who have their main meal late after returning from their place of work.

A word associated with bread is bukkun or kumpanacc. This was used to express the food taken in small proportions with bread. The latter word is a corruption of the Latin word Cumpanatico. The Maltese considered bread as a special grace of God. This concept made bread to be treated in a special manner. When a person had to cut the loaf, he or she would sign it with a cross before using the knife to slice it.

On the other hand if a person finds a piece of bread on the wayside, he would lift it, reverently kissed it and placed it on a wall or ledge so that it would not be trodden under another person's or animal's foot. Why? The Maltese associated bread with the Last Supper, that is when Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist.

While you are in Malta ask for a dark-brown crusty loaf. Cut thick slices. Rub the slices with tomato halves, dab them slightly with oil and vinegar, and sprinkle some salt and freshly milled pepper. Add capers, and mint and you can feast on a delicious Maltese "burger".

Food - Desserts

Favourite dessert delicacies are Kannoli (tube of crispy, fried pastry filled with ricotta), Sicilian-style, semi-freddo desserts (mix of sponge, ice-cream, candied fruits and cream) and Helwa tat-Tork (sweet sugary mixture of crushed and whole almonds).

Wines

Malta may not be renowned like its larger Mediterranean neighbours for wine production, but Maltese vintages are more than holding their own at international competitions, winning several accolades in France, Italy and further afield.

International grape varieties grown on the Islands include:

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Carignan, Chenin Blanc and Moscato.

The indigenous varieties are:

Gellewza and Ghirghentina, which are producing some excellent wines of distinct body and flavour.

The main wineries organise guided tours and tastings. Depending on the season, tours cover the entire production, from the initial fermentation through to the ageing process.  They also include wine history museums and opportunities to taste and buy a variety of vintages.



Legends, Customs and Beliefs

Festivals - Mnarja

Besides the local village "festas", there are others which are celebrated on a national scale. The most colourful and boisterous festa in Malta is the Mnarja, a typical Maltese folklore festival with plenty of music, folk dancing, feasting and colourful horses and donkey races. The "Imnarja" (a corruption of the Italian "luminara" - illumination) is centuries old tradition and is referred to as a harvest festival which is celebrated on June 29th, the feast of St Peter and St Paul. It is characterised by a nightlong picnic at Buskett Garden, Rabat, on the eve of the feast during which the native dish "fenkata", stewed rabbit, is consumed in large quantities accompanied by equally large volumes of locally produced wine. Exhibits of local produce, marching bands, decorated carts and folklore singing competitions enliven the night-long proceedings.


The traditional singing "l-ghana" is a simple and spontaneous songs of the Maltese peasantry sung by the village bards. The ghana are melancholic, half oriental airs, something between a Sicilian ballad and the rhythmic wail of an Arabic tune which seem to express the sadness of centuries old tales of impassionate love. Similarly two peasants often carry on a conversation in rhyming quatrains chanting lampoons with speed and ease producing roars of laughter from the crowds, an evidence of native skill and humour. The singers, called "ghannejja", are accompanied by the trilling of guitars. The festivities last until the early hours of the morning.


The following day in the afternoon, the festivities reach a climax when bare-back donkey and horse races, an event which traces its origin from the time of the Knights. Racecourse Street on the road to Siggiewi, which stands at the bottom of Saqqajja Hill, is the venue for these historical races. The prizes for the winners of these races are "palji" (special brocaded banners) which the winners traditionally donate to their village church to be used as an altar cloth. At the winning post there is a large arched loggia built in 1696, in which years gone by the Grand Master used to watch the races attended by members of the Council of the Order.

September 8 - Regatta

Every nation has its hour of glory in battle. The Regatta held on September 8th in Grand Harbour celebrating Malta's victories during the Great Siege of 1565 and the Second World War. The magnificent Fort St Angelo provides an imposing backdrop to the sleek and colourful Maltese boats. Band marches, water-carnival, boat races and display of colourful fireworks are the main features attracting large crowds to the capital city, Valletta and the Grand Harbour.

Rowing teams from the cities bordering Grand Harbour, Valletta, Vittoriosa, Senglea, Kalkara, Cospicua Marsaxlokk and Marsa, participate in a number of very exciting races, marked by extreme rivalry between participating teams and their respective supporters. For weeks on end, the best dghajsamen from these areas, prepare for the races with fanatic zeal and rivalry. In the afternoon of Regatta day thousands of people crowd the waterfront and the surrounding bastions and craft of every description converge to the Gran Harbour to watch the races.

The Maltese, being traditionally religious people, a religious connotation was consequently given to the day - "Il-Bambina" as it falls on the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady or il-Vitorja short for Our Lady of Victory. There is also the ceremony of the lay of wreaths at the Monument in Great Siege Square.


Il-Karnivall

The Maltese really let their hair down in the revelry of Carnival few days before the beginning of Lent. Malta's traditional Carnival is a treat alike for the Island's inhabitants and for the ever increasing number of tourists. This three day festivity was introduced in Malta in 1535 under Grand Master Pietro del Ponte, five years after the Knights took over the Island. The main celebration takes place in the capital, Valletta, but in every town and village children dress up in colourful clothes to camouflage their identity. The Valletta parata (parade) is very spectacular, including King Carnival followed by many floats of a high professional standard. Until some years ago, Carnival was also the event of the year for dances and masked balls. This type of entertainment during Carnival had an old tradition behind it. Under the Knights the Auberges remained open and were delightfully decorated. The burning of King Carnival on the last day of the festivities also survived, up to some years ago.

During the carnival days, Valletta bursts at the bastions with phosphorescent carnival floats. These floats are the mainstay of the Maltese Carnival. Massive cardboard structures, painted in an explosion of screaming colours, start their route at Floriana on the outskirts of the capital, enter Valletta's main gate, then commence a slow parade through the principal streets. The "city built for gentlemen" turns into the City of Fools for the carnival days. Prizes are awarded for the best artistic dances, costumes, floats and grotesque masks. Before the Second World War, the floats often represented local political figures. In the 1920s and 30s the caricature of political figures often led to tense situations that induced the Government to ban such customs from future editions of Carnival. The Maltese Carnival does not, however, consist only of these floats. Throughout the five days of merrymaking, numerous activities take place throughout the island.

Carnival in Gozo is a separately organised edition of the festivity. These festivities were first officially organised in Gozo in the year 1952. The Gozitans have their own floats and parades. The main activities take place in It-Tokk, the main square in Gozo's capital Victoria, and in Nadur square. The Gozitan Carnival bears witness to a separate and autonomous interpretation of the festive occasion and is therefore instilled with a character of its own, stemming from the different temperament of the people who set it up. But a parallel event, which takes place in Nadur, defies the official definition of a standardised Carnival activity such as those held in Valletta and Victoria. The novelty of the Carnival at Nadur is that there is no organising committee to plot out the course.

Holy Week

In contrast with "Merry Carnival", Holy Week is solemn and sombre.  On these days, the Maltese, like so many others, commemorate the passion, the death and resurrection of Christ.  Essentially, the celebrations are of religious character and the Maltese flock to their churches in great numbers.

The climax of the "Holy Week Celebrations" is reached on Good Friday afternoon.  The Maltese call "Good Friday" "Il-Gimgha l-Kbira" (the most important Friday of the year).  This is a day of general mourning: cinemas, places of entertainment and offices are kept closed.

The procession, which starts at about 5pm consists of a number of life-size statues depicting scenes from the passion of Our Lord.  Good Friday processions are somewhat long and apart from the statues, about one hundred and fifty participants take part. Some of them are dressed in contemporary costumes re-enacting scenes from the Old Testament and from the Life and Passion of Christ.  Others, in fulfilment of a vow, are dressed all in white or grey with a hood covering their faces and carrying wooden crosses.

Festa

There is something unusually captivating about the typical Maltese village feast or "festa".  The incessant pealing of the bells during festa week are not just a summons to an ordinary church service, instead they mark the beginning of five consecutive days of spiritual preparation which whole families flock to, in attendance of the solemn thanksgiving on the morning of the patron saint's day (usually Sunday).

On the eve of the feast day, a Mass of Thanksgiving is said in the morning.  When Mass is over, a hymn of praise is sung which is known as the "Te Deum" from the first words of the Latin hymn "We praise you Lord".

Bouquets of flowers are arranged around the imposing life-size statue of the Patron Saint in a central position in the nave.  The statue is, in many instances, beautifully carved in wood.

In the evening, the holy relic is carried in procession from a side chapel to the High Altar.  Solemn Vespers and Mass conclude the function.

Colourful fireworks are let off on the eve of the feast day normally between 10:00pm and 11:00pm.  This particular display is known as "giggifogu" which is a corruption of the Italian "guoco di fuoco".  The Maltese also refer to fireworks in general as "loghob tan-nar" (literally, fire-games), while coloured rockets are known as "murtali tal-kulur".

On the Feast day a Solemn High Mass is sung in the morning.  During this Mass a preacher gives a eulogy on the virtues of the Patron Saint to exhort the faithful to lead a more exemplary life.  This oration is known as the panegyric (in Maltese "panigirku").

Solemn Vespers are held again in the evening, and the procession follows. This statue is carried shoulder-high to the accompaniment of brass bands.  As the procession winds its way very slowly through the streets, the statue is showered with confetti.

Coloured rockets are let off well into the night.  A special display of these takes place as a procession re-enters the church.  This is known as the "kaxxa infernali" (a corruption of the Italian "cassa finale" meaning the last box).

The Saint's relic is also carried in procession by a high church dignitary.  Those taking part in the procession include various groups of monks, priests wearing richly embroidered church vestments, and the "fratelli" (literally "brothers"), who are lay members of devotional associations (or confraternities).  Each group of fratelli is known as "fratellanza".  The members wear colourful robes and they walk behind a huge banner, known as "L-Istandard", which is the ensign of their group.

Il-Kukkanja

A carnival attraction was added in 1721 called Il-Kukkanja (the cockaigne) which proved to be extremely popular. It did not last very long as Grand Master De Rohan suppressed it and an attempt by the British to revive it were unsuccessful. The Kukkanja was held in the city main square.

This is how it was described by one of the locals: "Long beams were fixed against the guard house opposite the palace, and between each beam, rope-ladders were fastened the whole being covered over with branches of trees in leaf, to which were tied live animals, baskets full of eggs, hams, sausages and all kinds of provisions. The wooden edifice was crowned with a globe, made up of hoops and covered with linen cloth, on which stood the figure of Fame holding a flag with the Grand Master's coat of arms. Crowds of people assembled in the spacious square and at a given signal started the attack on the Kukkanja. The provisions became the property of those who, having seized them, were able to carry them safely through the crowds.


To the first individual who reached the figure of Fame was allotted some pecuniary remuneration which was well earned, considering the struggle he gone through to reach the object, and on the standard being taken to be returned to the Grand Master, the cloth-covered globe burst open and out came a flight of pigeons.


Il-Luzzu

The Luzzu is another boat, also uniquely Maltese, but bigger than the dghajsa. It is painted in the traditional colures of red, blue and yellow. The Luzzu is a sturdy and reliable sea craft and can be put to sea in almost every kind of weather. Primarily the Luzzu is a fishing boat but it has other uses namely ferrying locals and tourists across the Grand Harbour and the impressive bastions and fortifications that surrounds Valletta and the Three Cities.

Many Luzzus have the eye of Osiris painted or carved on the bow, a symbol brought to Malta by the Phoenicians. This seems to suggest that craft of this type must have been common in the harbour since the time of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. Luzzus today run on outboard motors.

Christmas in Malta

In Malta and Gozo, as most other places, special church services and other celebrations are held to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Most of the streets are beautifully decorated with festoons, multi-coloured lights and garlands. Every shop window displays the usual Christmas tree and a variety of toys and things to lure Christmas shoppers who jam the streets. To add to the joy and excitement of the Christmas rush and bustle there is also the joyful ringing of the church bells which ring out all over the islands to greet the nativity of Christ.


In addition to all this the Maltese Islands have their own characteristics. The artistic presepju (crib) believed to have been introduced in Malta by the Franciscan friars who settled at Rabat in 1370. The Presepju is a miniature representation of the nativity scene in Bethlehem. The churches are decorated with flowers and crimson tapestries and they all display the figure of Baby Jesus. During midnight Mass a young boy dressed as an acolyte recites the special sermon on the Holy Infant.

Il-Karrozzin

Among those things which distinguish the Maltese from other nations we find the Karrozzin (horse-drawn carts). The Karrozzin was introduced into Malta around 1856. Queen Victoria was the reigning monarch at that time and these horse drawn vehicles were first known as "Victoria". For many years were the main means of transport until the arrival of cars, trams and buses in the beginning of this century.


Il-Quccija

The ceremony of the quccija (choosing) is an old custom concerning a child's first birthday. A basket is filled with a number of objects representing various trades or profession - Rosary beads, an ink-well, a book.... and the first object the tiny hand of the child chooses foretells the little child's future. It is believed that such a practice is found in remote villages in Greece and Sicily.

Evil Eye

The Evil Eye is commonly accepted as a fact. To ward off the ill effects of people either make the Sign of the Cross or more frequently pointing the index and little fingers at the source of the menace. It is believed that certain families possess this unfortunate gift and since the disastrous consequences of their admiration of your wife or husband, your child, your pet or your house are beyond their control, it is permissible to make the sign of bull's horns behind your back to avoid causing them hurt and embarrassment.

Il-Faldetta

A traditional women's costumes which has disappeared completely from the Islands of Malta and Gozo is the Faldetta or Ghonnella. Nobody knows the origin of this stiffened head dress. Some say it derives from the eastern veil, or from Spanish mantilla. Others maintain that it was first introduced in 1222 as a sign of mourning by the women of Celano (Italy) who were expelled to Malta following the massacre of their menfolk.


Yet another theory is that its origin is evolved from necessity for women to veil their head when entering a church; the poorer country girls, lacking cloaks or lace shawls, placed a spare skirt over their head. The Ghonnella is made of cotton or silk and is always black except around villages of Zabbar and Zejtun where it is sometimes blue.

Holy Bread

Before cutting a new loaf the Maltese used to kiss it and make the sign of the Cross on it with the knife. Bread is treated with great respect as it is considered, in its form and ingredients, the holy bread at the Mass or the Divine presence.


Parish Festas

Some village feasts have kept their particular characteristics: At Birkirkara, for instance, the villagers retained the tradition by holding its procession with the statue of St Helen in the morning braving the hot sun of August. At Mgarr an auction is held among those wishing to carry the statue of Santa Marija, the job going to the highest bidders: the money to the Church.

Lapsi

In the Old days Lapsi - the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord - was the old time for families to go swimming and play at swings. Exposure to the sun was considered dangerous (they did not know about the Ozone layer) as well as immodest. So the ladies, wearing far too many clothes, used to go up and down in shallow water in long shafts which ballooned and floated to the surface.

St Paul and Valletta

Before Valletta was built there was a road leading to Fort St. Elmo at the end of the peninsula. This road was called Sancti Pauli in honour of a shrine to St. Paul on the site of the present church dedicated to Saint Paul. It was presumably desecrated by the Turks who laid siege to St. Elmo in 1565. During the building of Valletta it became a chapel dedicated to Saint Paul and was the site of the first investiture of a knight in Valletta.


St Paul`s Grotto

There is a legend that states that St. Paul's cave remains the same size notwithstanding that people remove pieces of rock from the cave as souvenirs.


St Paul Again

Another legend says that when St Paul was preaching at Burmarrad, his voice carried as far away as Gozo where the people there flocked on the coast to hear his sermon.


St Paul and the Viper

This is well known legend. It is believed that St Paul was gathering wood to make a fire to warm himself and the other shipwrecked people, when out of the sticks came a venomous viper that bit him. The Maltese expected him to die of poisoning but instead no harm happened to him. It is said that from that day snakes and scorpions in Malta are quite harmless and non-poisonous.


Ghajn Razul Legend

Tradition has it that the spring known as Ghajn Razul was the work of Saint Paul who needed water for his shipmates after their shipwreck on Malta. The name "Razul" is derived from the Phoenician language and means "apostle" thus giving more credibility to the Pauline connection. Of more importance is the fact that if this was truly the work of Saint Paul it would point to his shipwreck being in St. Paul's Bay and not at Mistra where there was another spring


Mutiny in Fort Ricasoli

Mention of the Froberg Regiment in Malta is associated with a serious mutiny. This regiment, part of the British Army that garrisoned the island before 1813 was made up of Greek, Sicilian and Corsican mercenaries. Raised in 1806 they were brutally treated and on 4 April 1807 the Sicilians revolted and shut themselves up in Fort Ricasoli. Negotiations proved futile and after a week they blew up the powder magazine. Loyal troops overpowered the mutineers. 30 were condemned to death by court martial. Malta's first mutiny was over.

Ta` Frankuni

Originally Franconi was an Italian family name. Fabrizio Franconi, a one-time general on the Order's warships was given a piece of land in Floriana in 1739 to build a house with garden. The house grew and grew, so did the garden and around 1802 it began to house the mentally ill. When overcrowding set in they were moved elsewhere. In 1871 it was used as a mess for British Officers. Today it is no longer in existence.


The Camarata

Lutheranism in Germany, the Reformation in England and France and the arrival of the Jesuits in Malta all contributed to the erection of the Camerata. It was noticed in 1592 that many knights were in need of spiritual help. The Jesuits built a house for private spiritual retreats for the knights near the hospital at the end of Valletta. It was subsequently enlarged and had rooms holding the hospital linen. The British tore it down and built a massive block of flats to be used as married quarters. When Malta became a great naval base it became the Camerata a naval hostel. Today it is a housing estate.


Treasure at Fort Ricasoli

The Maltese ghost is mainly called "Il-hares" perhaps a relative of the Roman "Lares" (household gods). One such entity, in the form of a Turk, awakened a workman at Fort Ricasoli and told him of a big treasure within the fort. This man told one of his friends and together they went to look at the indicated spot. They found a lot of coal coins. As in other local folk tales the coins were turned to coal. The following night the hares reappeared and beat up the man for sharing the secret. Moral: What the "hares" tell you, is for your eyes only!


Family Trees

"L-arblu tar-razza", building a family tree, requires lots of research. The Public Registry in Malta started functioning in 1864. Any information before this date has to be gleaned from parish registers. It is an age old custom in Malta that the marriage ceremony is celebrated in the bride's parish. So that is where the research should start. Recently Pieta has had a tremendous spate of birth registrations: Malta's main maternity hospital is situated there!


Water from Rabat

The Arabs separated Mdina from Rabat turning the former into a fortified camp. The geological formation of the land thereabouts made the area Malta's main water producer. The Arabs, well used to arid climates, built artificial channels to bring water to the fields below Saqqajja. Grand Master Wignacourt started this aqueduct in 1610 to take water to Valletta. Grand Master, De Rohan built the fountain on the hill leading to Saqqajja.


The Feast of St Julian

The feast of St Julian takes place on the last weekend in August. St Julian is the patron saint for hunters, having been a hunter himself. So every year on the Sunday of the feast a large number of hunters are allowed on the roof of the church from where they fire their shotguns as the statue is being carried out of the church.


The Norman House in Mdina

One of the Norman houses in Mdina has a large number of small pyramids embellishing its facade. The only problem is that most of them have had their points knocked off. Tradition has it that diamonds were planted within each point. Many years ago thieves broke off all the tips and tried to get at them but their efforts were in vain.


What is a "Kenur"

Due to the lack of fire-wood ovens in centuries past, a slow cooking method was used to prepare most Maltese dishes. Food was placed in earthenware pots over a little stone hearth called "kenur" which needed constant tending and fanning. Subsequently, slow simmering became something of the hallmark of many Maltese dishes and despite the introduction of gas and electric cookers, slow cooking is still the housewife's favourite.

The Art of Lacing

Malta lace is a traditional craft famous for centuries and handed over by the Knights. It is beautiful to look at and apparently permanent. It is hand made by women on both islands, particularly in Gozo, where visitors can watch women sitting at their doorsteps nimbly plying the flying bobbins to turn out a traditional or more modern pattern. One can choose from table cloths or tea-towels which look fabulous at any occasion from casual to formal.

In 1839 Thomas McGill, who issued A Handbook, or Guide, for Strangers visiting Malta, wrote that "the females of the Island make also excellent lace; the lace mitts and gloves wrought by the Malta girls are bought by all ladies coming to the island; orders from England are often sent for them on account of their beauty and cheapness."

The 18th century, by which time lace was already a well-established local industry, provides iconographic evidence of its use in various paintings by Francesco Zahra (1710-1773) and Antoine de Favray (1706-1798), representing high dignitaries of the Order of St John ecclesiastics and Maltese ladies of society.

Agius De Soldanis also records in his dictionary that Malta lace had achieved a high degree of perfection and compared favourably with that produced by Dutch women. Its widespread use for adornment may be inferred from the fact that lace was included with other articles in a bando or proclamation enacted by Grand Master Ramon Perellos in 1697 aimed at repressing the wearing of gold, silver, jewelry, cloth of gold, silks and other materials of value.

The Maltese word for lace, bizzilla, suggests a comparatively recent origin. In fact its introduction to these islands can date further back than the 16th century, when the art of lace-making, probably introduced into Venice from the East began to spread in Europe.

From Venice the new technique was soon taken up by Genoa, where pillow lace, as distinct from Venetian point lace, developed. Modern Maltese lace is descended directly from Genoese lace.

To quote from Mincoff and Marriage (Pillow Lace, 1907), "This heavier Genoese lace was made from 1625 onwards. Its lineal descendant is Modern Maltese, which was introduced into the island by laceworkers brought from Genoa in 1833 by Lady Hamilton-Chichester. "Though Genoses by extraction the industry, flourishing exceedingly in Malta, has developed a character of its own, retaining as essential the Genoese leafwork but very little of its solid tapes, light twists taking their place. Characteristic is also the Maltese cross in the patterns and the cream or black silk in which the lace is usually worked."

From the above one may infer that lacemaking, a flourishing industry in the 18th century, fell on evil days and was on the decline during the first years of British rule, and therefore, rather than introduce it into Malta, Lady Hamilton-Chichester helped to revive the industry in 1833. It is a fact that this date coincides roughly with a period of considerable revival and expansion. About the same time lacemaking spread to the whole of Gozo and became a thriving industry there through the efforts of two priests: Canon Salvatore Bondi (1790-1859) and Fr Joseph Diacono (1847-1924).

Lace figured among the objects sent from Malta to the Exhibition of Industries held in London in 1881. The commercial potential of bobbin lace as developed in Malta led British missionaries to copy and introduce local patterns in the Far East, both in China and India. Patterns were copied first in silk and later in linen and cotton thread.

There is a steady demand for lace by tourists. To ensure the survival of this ancient craft, lacemaking is taught in Government trade schools for girls, while private bodies such as the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce also hold special evening classes. From time to time exhibitions are held. Besides arousing public awareness of the cultural importance of this aspect of Malta`s national heritage, such initiatives also inspire deeper study of the history and techniques of local lace among women organisations and in academic circles.

Il-Maqluba

This legend states that there was an evil village just south of Qrendi. The people were so bad that God punished them by opening the ground and the whole village was swallowed by the earth. The large hole is around 50 meters in circumference and around 40 meters deep.

Cholera in Malta

Cholera made no exception of Malta. A serious outbreak of the plague occurred in 1831. Enteric fever carried in goats' milk once claimed the lives of thousands as witnessed by the lonely graves in the cemetery of Chambray.

Statue of St George

The Statute of St George at St George Basilica in Gozo was craved out of wood in 1841 by Master Paolo Azzopardi, a sculptor from Valletta. This statute was ordered and paid for by a member of a Maltese family who wanted to remain anonymous, in thanksgiving to the Saint after recovering from a very serious illness. St George was one of the patron saints of Gozo through his intercession the island was delivered from plague and cholera in 1814.


A Matter of Teeth

For a long time it was believed that there was proof of the presence on the island of Neanderthal man, who lived about 100,000 years ago, since human teeth characteristic of prehistoric man were found in the grotto. Unfortunately, one day a dentist extracted a tooth from a local inhabitant and found it was identical to the one found in the cave!! The doubts which then arose were later confirmed by modern scientific methods of analysis.

Il-Girna - The Stone Hut

Nothing typifies the Maltese countryside more than the ubiquitous dry-stone wall that wind their way all over the land dividing the hot, dry soil into tiny parcels, from which the farmer ekes out an existence (Il-hajt tas-sejjieh). There, in the middle of it in the countryside of the western and northwestern part of the island lies the "girna", the Maltese stone hut.

The "girna", is a single room erected to meet the needs of farmers and herdsmen. It has a double wall built of undressed stones, which are left unplastered. Internally, its ceiling is shaped like a dome, while the external wall is usually circular, although it can be square or rectangular or, in rare instances, oval-shaped. Its convex-shaped roof is covered with fragments of rotten rock and stone and sometimes with sand and lime, and rarely, with ground pottery (deffun).

The Maltese "girna" looks an extremely plain structure; its beauty ties in the skill of its construction, built as it is with fairly sized stones ably laid next to one another. Since the "giren" are mostly located in the west and north west of Malta, where there are large quantities of loose limestone rocks on the surface, many of them are constructed with such material. The "girna" has one horizontal slab, or else is arched or triangular in form.

There isn't fixed rule that determines the size, height or width of the "gima"; it is probably built according to the needs of the owner and the actual skills of the builder. The most beautiful and the largest circular "giren" are to be found in the stretch of fields and rocky ground between the Red Tower and Cirkewwa, while the largest square ones are to be found at Ix-Xaghra Il-Hamra, in the limits of Manikata.

Although some Maltese did use the "giren" for habitation, these structures were originally built to meet the personal needs of farmers and herdsmen and for the raising of live stock. Very often it was necessary for farmers to work fields situated a long way from their farmhouses and they had to have somewhere to shelter during the hot summer hours or during some sudden downpour.

In this shelter or "girna" they used to keep the food and drink they took with them and any small children they could not leave behind. In it they kept their tools, stored potatoes, onions, hay, etc. Some farmers used to dry figs, tomatoes and carobs in the suit on the roof of their "girna".

Today, the "giren" are almost completely abandoned because their owners do not have any further use for them. There are still many "giren" in the Maltese countryside, but a large number of them have collapsed or have suffered damage. As such, the future of these primitive structures which are part of Malta's architectural heritage, is not at all heartening.



Sports and Activities

With such an agreeable climate, there are a wide variety of land and sea sport facilities available on the Island. Malta's largest sports centre (The Marsa Sports Club) is about 4 km (2.5 miles) south of Valletta and lists among its numerous features an 18-hole golf course, miniature golf, 18 tennis courts, 5 squash courts, cricket grounds and a swimming pool. Tourists can join the club on a weekly basis while their vacation in Malta. For golf, non-members are welcome and clubs can be rented at the facility

The most popular sport in Malta is without doubt football, as is the case in most European countries.  The local football league is followed by many, but since the number of professional football players is limited to only a few, the standards of play are unfortunately a little below par compared to the rest of Europe.  As a result, most football lovers support foreign clubs and national teams.  Usually England and Italy are the countries of choice, one is supported for its historical connection with Malta, the other because it is simply the closest geographically and many Italian TV channels can be received all over the island.

During World Cup or European Cup tournaments the country usually succumbs to a true craze for football and friendly rivalries between supporters of Italian and English teams are all around.  The same goes for the associated national flags which can be seen hanging from windows and balconies all over the island.  It's as if during that one month every two years the Maltese adopt a second nationality, which is likely to be a rare occurrence worldwide.

Many of the hotel facilities often include tennis courts, squash courts, weight rooms and saunas. Most hotels also offer water sport facilities, including scuba diving, water skiing, windsurfing and sailing.

Horseback riding is a well-liked activity by the locals and horse racing is Malta's prime spectator sport, with races held every Sunday, between October and May.

Maltese lawn bowling and tenpin bowling are very popular at the local level and one can play lawn bowling in most villages. Clay pigeon/skeet shooting is common, with competitive/practice shootings taking place on Sunday mornings.

The Malta Marathon is held at the end of February and attracts several long distance runners from around the world and the Malta Amateur Athletics Association also organises a great number of events such as road races, cross country races and track and field events.

Of course, water sports play a big role in the activity range on the Islands and equipment is available to rent at almost every major sandy beach or beach club.

Paragliding, windsurfing, wakeboarding, water skiing and scuba diving are all enjoyed by locals and tourists. Sailing regattas are held regularly between April and November, including the Comino Regatta in June, the Malta-Syracuse race for keelboats in July and the Rimini-Malta-Rimini Yacht race in August. Good facilities for boat rentals and yacht charters exist throughout the Island.

In addition, Malta boasts a wide selection of other sporting events sponsored by national associations, including judo, basketball, cycling, table tennis, hockey, water polo, wrestling, fencing and more.



Beaches

These are largely concentrated in the northwest of Malta.  Among the most popular are Ghajn Tuffieha, Mellieha Bay, Golden Bay, Paradise Bay and Gharmier. Armier Beach is situated in the extreme northeast of Malta with few facilities and occasional rough swells but lots of sand.  Ghajn Tuffieha Bay is sandy and less crowded than Golden Bay Beach yet only a short walk away and reached by steps.  Golden Bay is the most popular beach on the island after Mellieha Bay because of its extensive stretch of sand.  Mellieha Bay, that is 2km north of Mellieha is entirely suitable for children due to its shallow water and the large amount of sand.



Getting Around

The Maltese Islands are not very large, which makes getting around relatively trouble-free.

The public bus service on Malta and Gozo is a good way to get around as buses serve the major tourist areas, go practically everywhere and are cheap and efficient.  The cost of a bus route ranges from €0.35 to €0.58 and longest bus journey takes about fifty minutes; the average ride between twenty and thirty minutes.

Renting a car is a good option if you want to get to the farther reaches of the island.  All the road signs are in English and driving is on the left.

Major and local car hires are located on Malta and Gozo with daily rates.   International and national driving licenses are acceptable.  A number of international based car hiring firms as well as local garages also offer the service of chauffer-driven cars.

Renting scooters, motorbikes or mountain bicycles is an option, but travel this way can be somewhat limited as not all roads are two-wheel vehicle friendly.

The white taxi service can pick up passengers from anywhere, except bus-stops.  Taxi services from Malta International Airport and the Seaport Terminal to all localities in Malta are based on a fixed tariff.

A regular ferry service links Malta to Gozo, taking about twenty minutes each way.  A sea plane service links Grand Harbour in Valletta to Mgarr Harbour in Gozo.  There are also regular boat services between each island and Comino.

A water taxi service using traditional Matese "dghajsa" boats is also available in Grand Harbour.



Malta and Religion

The predominant religion in Malta is Catholicism, which is followed by over 90% of the population and therefore has a reasonable amount of authority compared to other European states. Mass attendance is also relatively high in this regard, with 52.6% of the population attending Sunday mass, according to 2005 data. Seemingly following a European trend, however, the younger generations seem to be becoming less interested in practicing religion.

Catholicism is believed to have been brought to Malta by St. Paul, who was a Christian missionary and lived around A.D. 60. St Paul was shipwrecked at, what is now known as, St Paul's Bay and converted the then pagan population of Malta, starting yet another chapter in Malta's rich culture.

The Maltese honour their village's patron saints through celebration in the so-called Maltese festa or feast. This religious celebration forms an important part of culture in Malta and around 80 such events are held during spring and summer months in Malta and Gozo.



Maltese Politics

As much as the Maltese love to celebrate victories in football of their favorite national squad, similar displays of festivities fill the streets in celebration of the victory of the preferred political party.

Malta's political system is based on two large political parties and a number of much smaller political movements that have never managed to appeal to large enough numbers to be able to obtain a seat in parliament. The rivalry between the two main parties, the Nationalist party and the Labour party is deep-rooted and many Maltese prefer either party because their families have always used their votes for the same political party.

The names of the parties should not be taken literally, and hardly have any connection to foreign political parties. A funny contradiction for example, is the fact that the Nationalist party fought for Malta's accession to the EU.



Band Clubs

Maltese Band Clubs organize annual band marches that form an important part of the village's festa celebrations. Whereas the smaller villages have only one band club, larger towns have competing band clubs, who often divide the local community into two opposites. Conflict is rare though, and this opposition is usually friendly competitiveness that comes forward during the festive season (in summer). With the exception of this time of year, band clubs are merely a place for social gathering and not a source of conflict.

 
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