Located at the crosshairs of the Mediterrenean, Malta enjoys thousands of years of culture, history and tradition. Whilst boasting of several historical sites, Malta also enjoys three sites that have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. These include the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples of Malta as well as the Hal Salflieni Hypogeum.
Having three sites that are considered world heritage by UNESCO is a remarkable fact in itself, given the very small size of our archipelago. This however tends to work to our advantage as it is very easy to visit most of the places mentioned above even during a short visit to Malta. Here’s some more info that will help you get around:
The City of Valletta
Straddling a steep peninsula that separates two harbours, the noble City of Valletta stands proudly behind its fortified walls. Considered one of Europe’s very first purpose-built city, Valletta embodies all the elements of early town planning at its finest.
Built by Grand Master Jean de La Vallette following the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, the new city boasted of impenetrable defences and impressive architecture. Taking over from its predecessor, the capital of Mdina, Valletta was to become one of the most modern cities of its town. The city was also to see a large cash influx as indulgent nobles and a grateful Papacy lavished in this central Mediterranean haven.
The capital today is still one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. While not particularly large in size, its grid-like road network, and steep uphill streets make it difficult to explore in its entirety in a single day.
Make it a point to visit the magnificent architecture and artworks at St John’s Co-Cathedral; as well keeping an eye out for small churches, old shop fronts, fountains, hidden-away cafes and some of the island’s finest baroque architecture.
Valletta has also been chosen as Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2018.
The Megalithic Temples
Malta’s prehistoric temples have been grouped as a single World Heritage Site. It is often quoted that the Maltese temples are amongst the oldest free-standing stones to have been arranged by man in the world. It is recorded that these temples are older than the UK’s Stonehenge, and are around 1,000 years older than the Pyramids of Giza. Nevertheless these facts undergo regular speculation due to the fact that certain studies indicate that the stones may have been banked by earth and roofed.
There are seven main Neolithic temples on the Maltese Islands including one in Gozo. The most popular would include Hagar Qim and Mnajdra as well as the Tarxien temples. Ggantija temple in Gozo is most known for their gigantic structure, whereas the Hagrat and Skorba temples, which came much later, demonstrate clear signs of evolution with regards to technique and layout.
Hal Salflieni Hypogeum
Discovered in 1902, the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is an enormous underground structure excavated c. 2,500 BC. Possibly originally serving as a sanctuary, it became a cemetery in prehistoric times, originally containing the remains of around 7,000 individuals.
The plan of the Hypogeum itself includes a series of three underground floors that were cut out of the soft globigerina limestone using only basic tools that included flint and antlers. A number of smaller burial chambers and openings are hewn into the sides of the main areas.
Definitely one of the most interesting characteristics of this Hypogeum is that some of the chambers seem to have been designed to reflect the outdoor structure of the neighbouring Hal Tarxien temples.
A programme to preserve and understand the microclimate of the Hypogeum temples was launched in the 1990s. Since then light levels within the property are strictly controlled and visitor numbers limited. Booking online in advance is required.