Valletta, Malta

On Location: Malta

Zegrahm Contributor|April 15, 2010|Blog Post

The Romans certainly had it right when they called their settlement in the center of this island Melita, a derivation of "honey," whether for the honey they produced or the ubiquitous honey-colored limestone. The stone from which virtually all buildings are made, deepens in color as it weathers and lends a pleasant homogeneity to the place that harmonizes with the environment whether urban or rural. It's the perfect season to visit as everything is blooming making the fields, gardens, and trees a riot of color and making the brief drive to the megalithic temple site of Haģar Qim all too short, even with a special side stop at the spectacular Blue Grotto.

The temple dates to 3000 B.C. and is one of the 72 temples that has been excavated at 23 different sites. It now sports a huge white tent to prevent acid rain damage; Malta's only serious pollutant is vehicle emissions. This site is very impressive and worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. The hilltop of Roman Melita became Mdina, once the capital of the island. After the arrival of the Knights of St. John, the capital shifted and Mdina became a quiet aristocratic enclave, still called "the silent city," and we are very grateful for it too since it is stunning in its beauty and underdevelopment. A wonderful town to wander through; we could easily have spent the day but had to be satisfied with winding our way through lanes and alleys; a postcard view 'round every corner, a tasting of the local prickly pear cactus liqueur, and the chance to buy local filigree silverwork, famed Mdina glass or Maltese lace.

The morning haze burned off by noon providing a sunny blue sky while we enjoyed an island specialty, a fish soup, followed by locally caught Amberjack, and peanut ice cream for dessert in Marsaxlokk. After a little time to shop or wander around this extremely photogenic little town, we headed back to Valletta for a walking tour that featured the Archaeology Museum, which now houses many of the finds from Malta's megalithic sites including the emblemic "Venus" or goddess figurines of voluptuous women in a various postures. St. John's Co-Cathedral is stunning in its detailed and elaborate carved, painted and gilded decoration, as well as for its two significant Caravaggio paintings. I've always been enthralled with the floors which are continuous panels of "Pietre Dure;" literally, "hard stone" but in fact the equivalent of marquetry using different colored stones in place of wood inlay. Our tour over, we headed to the Upper Baracca Gardens to overlook the Grand Harbor and, incidentally, our ship which was moored just below...and which it was now time to board to weigh anchor for Sicily.

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