The Maltese Archipelago
The Maltese archipelago, (which occupies a centre position in the Mediterranean, lies 90 kms to the south of Sicily, 290 kms to the north of the African Mainland & 1830 kms to Gibraltar), consists of Malta, Gozo and Comino - the inhabited main islands - and the smaller uninhabited islands of Cominotto, Filfla and St. Paul. The Maltese islands cover an area of 316 square kilometers (Malta 246 km squared; Gozo 67 km squared; Comino 2.7 squared) and the total population of malta is just over 400,000 as of July 2007
Malta is the largest island in the archipelago. It is the more urban and cosmopolitan of the islands. Malta has neither rivers nor mountains, but is characterized by a series of low, flat-topped hills with terraced fields on their slopes. Malta’s coastline is well indented with bays, sandy beaches, rocky coves, and most importantly, natural harbours. Malta’s Capital City is Valletta and Sea Ports are the Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk.
Gozo is smaller than its sister island Malta, and has a character of its own. The Island is more rural and much quieter than Malta. The countryside is greener and has some spectacular cliffs and inland scenery. The flat-topped hills here are more evident than in Malta. Gozo’s coastline is as pictureque as Malta’s. The Capital City, Victoria, is also known by its older name, Rabat.
Comino is the smallest inhabited island in the archipelago. There are no cars on Comino, nor any noise to distrub the peace & quiet. The Island’s numerous bays and its famous crystal clear waters make it the perfect choice for most kinds of water sports, especially swimming, snorkelling and diving.
When Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette laid the foundation stone of Humilissima Civitas Vallattae, the last thing he had in mind was a city of fine palaces. Valletta was intended as a fortress to protect the two harbours on either side of the rocky peninsula on which it was to be built.
Valletta may be referred to in many ways….the ‘modern’ city built by the Knights of St. John, a masterpiece of the baroque; a European Art City; and a World Heritage City. Valletta is not only the political, cultural and historical centre with most of the Island’s best sights, but also a busy shopping destination, full of government and corporate offices. In the evenings, Valletta becomes a beautiful ghost town.
Valletta is Malta’s capital city: a living, working city, the administrative and commercial heart of the Islands. The grid of narrow streets houses some of Europe’s finest art works, churches and palaces.
Valletta hosts a vast cultural programme. Street events are staged against the city’s magnificent baroque architecture and floodlit bastions. There is theatre and music and all sorts of things to see and do. The city is a delight to shop in: narrow side-streets are full of tiny shops selling antiques, maps, books, clothing and fashion items and jewellery.
When walking through Valletta, you will come across an intriguing historial site around every corner: buildings, statues, niches, fountains and coats-of-arms high up on parapets.
Valletta boasts three Parish Churches and a host of others, but a must-go-and-see is the St. John’s co-Cathedral.
City Gate is the large square where all buses terminate their journey. Once you have walked past City Gate, you are in the famous Republic Street. Take in the atmosphere of Valletta’s most important street and begin your journey from here.
Each Parish Church on the Maltese Islands celebrates the feast of its patron saint, therefore every village has its own festa.
Every village, no matter how big, small, rich or poor, celebrates this day in an elaborate manner and try to outdo its neighbour involving rather steep costs which are borne by the community.
The interior of the Church is embellished with expensive fabric and beautiful flowers and in the evenings the frontage of each church is impressively lit up with hundreds of small bulbs, the streets decorated with banners and statues.
The main village square, as well as those secondary streets, are full of people celebrating. A brass band parades along the village streets, the procession winds through the streets carrying the figure of the saint and the festa ends with a grand finale of a firework display.
The long Maltese summers indicate festa time. No visit to the Islands, during the summer months, would be complete without seeing a village festa in full swing. It is a fantastic opportunity to get a feel of the Island’s life and of a tradition that stretches back to the 16th century.