One of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful islands, Malta is known for its rich and extensive history, informed greatly by its strategically important geographical position. Visited as much for its tourist-friendly climate as it is for its iconic ancient monuments and Baroque churches, Malta caters to a variety of different interests.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
Malta’s definitive religious building, St. John’s Co-Cathedral dates back to the late 16th Century and remains a focal point of the country’s religious culture. Designed by esteemed Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, the church is known for its distinct Mannerist exterior, which contrasts with its celebrated Baroque interior. In addition to its famous design, the Church is also known for its impressive collection of art, its most notable piece being Caravaggio’s iconic ‘The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist’, a famous work depicting the death of the church’s namesake.
Mdina Cathedral and Museum
Another significant Maltese church, Mdina Cathedral was consecrated in the early 18th Century and has remained a highly significant building in the city in the centuries since. Built following considerable damage to a pre-existing cathedral in the 1693 Sicily earthquake, the new Mdina Cathedral was designed by Lorenzo Gafa, an iconic Maltese architect in the Baroque style and is frequently cited as an enduring icon of both Gafa’s portfolio and the style in general. The adjacent Cathedral Museum, opened at the turn of the twentieth century in 1897 exhibits a considerable collection of art and artefacts.
Now known by the more simple and secular ‘The Palace’, this is one of Malta’s most illustrious buildings. The former palace of the Grand Master of the Order of St. John’s, the Maltese monarch, the Palace has since been converted into the Office of the country’s President. Despite retaining its official functions, the Palace is also open to the public, housing a museum which exhibits the Palace Armoury. It is also known for its lavish interiors and scenic courtyards.
Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
One of Malta’s most iconic ancient structures, the Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum dates back to as early as 4000 BC. A subterranean structure believed to have functioned as a necropolis, the remains of over 7000 people have been found within the Hypogeum. In addition to the incredibly impressive site, there is an adjacent museum, which provides background and context into the distinct site.
Megalithic Temples of Malta
Malta is well-known for the array of prehistoric temple complexes dotted around the island, some of which date as far back as 3600 BC. Purportedly the oldest free-standing structures in the world, the sites are incredibly impressive and insightful. The most famous and ancient of these are the Ggantija Temples, located on the island of Gozo. Also of interest are Ta Hagrat, Skorba and Hagar Qim, amongst many others.
main image: courtesy of Giuseppe Milo, Flickr Creative Commons