Holiday in Malta as the mood takes you, with near year round sun; you can indulge in outdoor living at its best. The Maltese Islands have been portrayed as one big open-air museum and everywhere you go, the scenery and architecture deliver an impressive backdrop.
We list some sightseeing attractions for your interest – for more information about Museums & Galleries, click here.
Wied Iz-Zurrieq & The Blue Grotto
A few years ago, Wied iz-Zurrieq (Zurrieq Valley) was a busy fishing port, but the tourist trade turned the place into an embarkation point for the Blue Grotto.
This graceful sea inlet is the mouth of a deep gorge. It looks like a miniature fjord. The blue-green water and wild rocky landscape have made the 'valley' a popular haunt for swimming and sunbathing.
Nowadays, Wied iz-Zurrieq is alive with colourful dghajjes (boats) riding on the swell and ferrying passengers to the Grotto. A number of snack-bars and souvenir shops on the higher ground contribute to the lively aspect of this pleasant seaside spot.
Wied iz-Zurrieq can be reached by a good road, 2.5km downhill from Zurrieq.
The Blue Grotto is an unspoilt beauty spot, and a geo-logical curiosity, consisting of a natural arch and a deep sea cave formed in the rock-face of the surrounding cliffs. The adjoining sea, varying in hue from turquoise to deep blue, is distinctly clear.
The cave, or grotto, which is about 50 metres long, is best seen in the morning on sunny days when the sun shines directly and lights up the dark, cavernous interior. Reddish corals in the brown sea-grasses and the glittering waters heighten the enchantment of the place.
The spectacular arch drops from the cliff-top to the sea in front of the cave. Stalactites hanging from its lofty roof add lustre to the quaint rock formations of the massive arch.
Visitors to the Blue Grotto are ferried in small boats, few at a time, from Wied iz-Zurrieq and are taken inside the grotto and to several other caves on the opposite cliff side. The round trip takes about 25 minutes.
Casa Rocca Piccola
This typical nobleman's dwelling was built at the end of the 16th century. Together with the nearby Casa Rocca Grande, it originally belonged to the Italian Knight Pietro La Rocca who, in 1598, was admiral of the Sovereign Order's navy. In the course of time, Casa Rocca Piccola had various occupiers, mostly ancestors of the Marquis Nicholas De Piro, the present incumbent.
The house is situated in Republic Street Valletta, a short way down from the Magisterial Palace. The front door opens into a small hall which is decorated with twin console tables and with 17th century paintings. A staircase leads to the piano nobile. The main features here are family portraits, several oil paintings and the De Piro Coat of Arms. Inside the tiny chapel, a fine showcase holds religious objects, medals, cameos, silverware and a chalice which belonged to Cardinal Fabrizio Sceberras. The bedroom is adorned with an exquisite four-poster bed and, in an adjoining annex, there is an old sedan chair. The library contains rare books and an interesting Melitensia collection. It is adorned with a curious wall-cabinet which could be used as a portable chapel. Other rooms include the Green Drawing Room, the Porphyry Room, the Blue Sitting Room and a charming Dining Room. All these chambers are full of antiques, paintings and works of art.
As its name implies, Casa Rocca Piccola is small in size, but it is of major importance as a specimen of a nobleman's city house in Old Valletta. The house is open to visitors, and guided tours are available.
The long stretch of the western coastline consists of steep cliffs, which present an impressive sight especially if seen from the sea.
The awesome precipice to the west of Dingli is particularly striking from the high ridge near the roadway. The sloping terrain, dotted with tiny cultivated plots, ends sharply on the edge of steep cliffs which drop straight into the deep sea.
The Madliena Chapel marks the highest altitude of the Maltese Islands - 250 metres above sea-level. From this spot and from the nearby military post, one can admire the green rugged slope and coastline, as well as the vast expanse of water, and the islet of Filfia in the distance.
The cliffs proceed well beyond Dingli Village. To the north-west they pass through Il-Qaws and Migra l-Ferha to end at Fomm-ir-Rih. The south westerly stretch takes in its sweep the evocative heights of Buxih, Fawwara, Ghar Lapsi and the far away Munqar above the sea at Blue Grotto.
The Granaries Square & St. Publius Church, Floriana
The vast open quadrangle in front of St. Publius Church is characterised by the number of underground silos for the storage of grain. The silos, which consist of deep bell-shaped pits, were dug during the grandmastership of Martino de Redin (1657-1660). They were intended as safe storage space during wars and sieges.
There are 76 of these pits in the Square; and similar ones are found in other parts of the Valletta-Floriana area. They are very deep and wide at their bottom end. The pits are secured by large circular stone caps which can be seen protruding above the square surface. More than 5,OOO tons of wheat and grain could be stored beneath the square.
The granaries have been in continual use since their construction. They proved to be very useful during the last war, when the island was under siege for more than two years. They are still in excellent condition for storage, but their importance has diminished since the building of a modem above-ground silo in 1962.
St. Publius Church, Floriana. St. Publius was the First Citizen or Governor of Malta, during the Roman period. He was converted to Christianity in AD 60 by St. Paul, who was in captivity on the island. Tradition has it that Publius was consecrated first Bishop of Malta.
The people of Floriana chose Publius as their patron saint and dedicated to him their parish church. The first stone was laid in 1733 in the presence of Grand Master Vilhena, but owing to lack of funds, work on the structure was delayed. It was only in 1792 that the nave was completed and the building was then consecrated as a vice-parish church. It attained parochial status in 1856. Two new aisles were added, and a classical portico was completed in 1890.
The church suffered heavy damage during the war, but it was not long before it was fully rebuilt to its original glory. The statue of St. Publius, which is carried in procession during the annual feast day, dates from 1815.
The graceful temple fronts Granaries Square which is the venue of religious congregations and other gatherings of a social and political nature, including the annual Isle of MTV music event. The Isle of MTV Malta is unique in offering young people across Europe an exclusive opportunity to experience some of the world’s best new and established artistes here in Malta, and for free. This event has become an important annual destination for music lovers.
Notable Buildings of Mdina
When the Knights made Valletta the island's capital, Mdina lost much of its importance and its population began to dwindle. Houses were abandoned and fell into decay. The earthquake of 1693 brought further havoc, which reduced the city to a deplorable state.
Grand Master de Vilhena undertook the task of rebuilding the city. He removed a number of disused dwellings, restored the damaged palaces and built some of the stately houses which still embellish the ancient city.
CASA INGUANEZ is the house of the oldest noble family in Malta. The palace occupied the same site since 1370, but several alterations were made to the structure especially after the great earthquake.
The Inguanez family were among the rulers of Mdina. Their escutcheon can still be seen on the inside of the main gateway. In 1432, King Alfonso V of Spain and Sicily visited the island and he was received as guest in their palace. The family have ever since left untouched the hall in which the King was received.
The house, still the residence of the family, contains numerous paintings, valuable documents, art objects and a collection of sedan chairs, coaches and harness.
Mdina Gate, Mdina, Malta THE BANCA GIURATALE or Town Hall was built by de Vilhena for the city Commune, when he took over their premises to build his own Magisterial Palace near the city entrance. This stately house flaunts an extravagant baroque style of architecture.
When the Universita', or Commune, ceased to exist at the end of the 18th century, the building was used for various purposes. Today, it is a depositary of old state documents and archives.
THE ARCHBISHOP'S PALACE, adjacent to the Cathedral, dates from 1722. It replaces another building of the 14th century.
The twenty six bishops or archbishops who headed the See of Malta had their seat in Mdina - only the last ten were Maltese. Before the island came under British rule, bishops were nearly always prelates from other countries.
THE CARMELITE CHURCH was originally founded in 1370 when that monastic order established itself in Malta. The present church and convent were rebuilt and enlarged in the late 17th century. The belfry, which was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693, was rebuilt a year later.
In September 1798, French troops came to the church to sell its treasures by auction. The Mdina citizens and other Maltese revolted and killed most of the soldiers. That insurrection led to the blockade of Valletta by British forces, which in turn contributed to the final surrender of the French two years later.
THE HERALD'S LOGGIA housed the town-criers who used to proclaim the Commune's decrees in the city squares. That was how the Universita promulgated edicts or 'bandi' intended to safeguard law and order, to impose taxes and to issue warrants against fugitive criminals.
Other notable buildings in Mdina include Xara Palace in St Paul Square, Palazzo Gourgion, and Casa Testaferrata, both in Villegaignon Street.
THE GREEKS' GATE at Magazines Street, is of great antiquity. A part of the bastion here is from the defensive wall built originally under the Saracen rule.
Siculo-Norman Buildings of Mdina
The city of Mdina reached its zenith during the Aragonese rule, which started from the late 13th to the beginning of the 16th century. By contrast, the social conditions of the Maltese people under the Spanish feudal system were bad. In 1428, the indigenous population had to raise 30,000 florins to redeem their homeland from their harsh overlords. It was this act of faith that induced Alfonso V, the Spanish King of Sicily, to grant the island a Charter of Rights, which envisaged a limited autonomy conducted by a local Commune under the name of Universita.
This assembly was entrusted with local administration, imposition of taxes and judicial matters it consisted of a Chairman, called Captains of the Rod (or Hakem in Maltese) and four Jurats. These officials were chosen from the local nobility. Mdina became the centre of all administrative activities.
At the time Aragonese monarchs ruled over Sicily and Malta was their dependency. The Maltese nobility, tried to emulate the Sicilian nobility in the building of their palaces. This explains the introduction in Mdina of 'Siculo-Norman' architecture, which was in vogue in Palermo and in other major townships in Sicily and Southern Italy.
The main features of the 'Siculo-Norman' style are the pointed hoodmoulds over doorways and on top of mullioned windows, and the sculpted string-course at roof level and beneath the first storey.
PALAZZO GATTO MURINA, one of the earliest 'Siculo-Norman' structures, was erected during the latter part of the 14th century. Originally, the entrance of this house was in the narrow Gatto Murina Street, from which one can still admire the double-lighted windows and the string-course which is shaped like small consoles embossed with the eel-like emblem of the Gatto Murina family.
PALAZZO FALZON, popularly known as the Norman House, is the finest complete building still standing from the late 15th century. The Falzon family used to serve on the Commune of Mdina and their palace testifies to their high way of life in the city. The characteristic hood - mould over the two doorways and over the windows are the finest in Mdina
The palace is of great historical importance. When Philippe de l'lsle Adam, first Grand Master of Malta, came to Mdina in 1630 to be presented with the keys of the city, he was received by the Falzon family and he resided for several days in this house.
Palazzo Falzon has now been converted into a private Museum. Apart from the lovely courtyard and the interior of the building, museum pieces in themselves, one finds on display period furniture, ceramic ware, oil paintings and family portraits. Of great interest is a portrait of Grand Master l'lsle Adam.
PALAZZO SANTA SOFIA, in Villegaignon Street, is another 15th century structure, but only the ground floor is medieval. The first floor, also in Siculo-Norman style, was added in 1938. The house has the usual architectural features, but its string-course is characterised by a series of peculiar triangular pendants.
CASA ISABELLA stands smugly in a blind alley in King Ferdinand Street. This house which was recently restored to its original state, is privately owned. It is embellished with the usual mullioned windows and the other features of the Siculo-Norman style.
Walking along the winding, narrow streets of Mdina, one comes across other minor buildings, with double-light windows decorated with Gothic tracery. A number of modest houses from an earlier period also line these sombre streets. These are not marked out by elegant sculptural motifs, but they stand out on their own as the humble abode of the people who inhabited the mediaeval city of Mdina.
The Magisterial Palace & Armoury, Valletta
As its name implies, the Magisterial Palace served as official and private residence of the Grand Masters of the Order. It was erected by Gerolamo Cassar between 1572 and 1580 to the order of Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere. Its plain facade, 100 metres long, follows Cassar's mannerist style, with the characteristic corner quoins and the massive cornice surmounted with a high balustrade. Originally, the Palace had one single doorway, the one nearer Archbishop Street - the second door and the balcony were commissioned by Grand Master Pinto in the second part of the 18th century.
During colonial days, British Governors used the Palace as the administrative centre. Today, the Palace serves a dual role: the office of the President and until recently, the seat of the Maltese Parliament. The main door leads through a large vestibule to the lower court, with its prominent Neptune statue - hence the name, Neptune's Court. The door nearer Republic Square leads to Prince Alfred's Courtyard, dominated by the 18th Century Pinto Clock and decorated with a number of exotic trees planted during the visit of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1858. The first floor, or Piano Nobile, contains the State Rooms and Apartments, the President's Offices and the House of Representatives. Three imposing corridors known as the Armoury, the Entrance and the Prince of Wales corridors, give access to the State Chambers. A spacious circular staircase, with shallow steps leading to the ground floor, opens into the Entrance Corridor.
The main rooms and apartments comprise: the Tapestry Chamber (or Small Council Room), the Banqueting Hall, the Grand Council Chamber, the Ambassador's Room and the Pages Room.
The Armoury occupies two large vaulted rooms in the rear groundfloor.
The long facade of the Palace borders the south side of Palace Square, with the columned Main Guard building on the opposite side.
THE PALACE ARMOURY dates from 1763 when Emanuel Pinto de Fonseca was Grand Master. At the time, the Order's Armoury had weapons for 25,000 men, but most of these arms were very old and obsolete.
During the Napoleonic occupation (1798-1800) a considerable amount of these arms were taken by the French troops. In 1900, during British rule, Sir Francis Laking, the King's Armourer, re-arranged and catalogued the arms - 5721 pieces were registered. Nearly all the items are authentic pieces from the early years of the Order in Malta i.e. the period before and after the Siege of 1565.
Among the numerous exhibits, there are genuine suits of armour, pole arms such as pikes, halberds, forks and partisans, bows and arrows, powder flasks, swords, firearms and various types of ordinance. One of the guns is a rare 18th century type with its muzzle reinforced with hide and tarred rope. There are also several iron and stone cannon balls, possibly relics of the Great Siege. Two heavily decorated suits of armour belonged to Grand Masters Alof de Wignacourt and Martino Garzes respectively are on display. Another suit of an unusual size is attributed to the French Bailiff, Jean de Verdelin.
In 1980, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions undertook to produce a Popeye adventure movie in Malta. They spent a great deal of money to construct a set adapted to the story - an old type Canadian seaside village.
Special wood was imported from Canada and it-took seven months to complete the construction work, with 165 men working round the clock. The nineteen wooden structures which make up Sweethaven, as the village was called, include sailors' taverns, a hotel, a school-house, a store, a post office and a church.
Sweethaven still occupies the craggy slope at Anchor Bay, a lonely cove just one kilometre west of Mellieha Bay. The Village, which is managed by a private company, has been turned into a tourist attraction. Many local and foreign visitors, particularly children, visit this curious film-set, and stroll in the enchanting world which the film industry has created around the fascinating character of Popeye, the Sailor Man.
The calm sea at Anchor Bay heightens the attraction of the place.
Roman Baths at Ghajn Tuffieha
At a short distance uphill on the road leading from Ghajn Tuffieha to Mgarr are the remains of a Roman country-house, or villa. The site was excavated in 1929. Little is left of the villa proper but the baths which were attached to the house are still in a good state of preservation. As in the case of the Roman House at Rabat, this villa gives an idea of the leisurely life enjoyed by the Romans serving in Malta.
Restoration of this interesting archaeological site was undertaken with UNESCO funds. The complex consists of five rooms along a corridor paved with earthenware tiles. Nearby are the ruins of a piscina, or pool. On the other side of the corridor is the Tepidarium (warm bath) with a fine polychrome mosaic pavement. The Frigidarium (cold waterbath) stands at a lower level - its mosaic floor is worn out. At a little distance, there is the Caldarium (the hot room). Hot air from a furnace circulated beneath the floor to heat this room, which probably served as meeting place for the guests in the villa. This heating method was the Roman version of modern central heating.
It appears that this country house had all the necessary comforts known in those distant days. its owner must have been a man of substance and of cultivated tastes.
The Yacht Marina
Malta's position in the central Mediterranean, its mild climate and the safety of its natural harbours, contribute to make the island a popular base for yachtsmen cruising in these waters.
This Marina occupies the Ta' Xbiex shoreline in Lazzaretto Creek which is sheltered by Manoel Island and Ta' Xbiex promontory. Msida Creek is equipped with numerous pontoons, and hundreds of boats can berth safely in the Marina.
The Manoel Island Yacht Yard, on the Sliema side of Manoel Island, has various slipways and the necessary equipment for repairs and servicing of all boats, including large 'Super yachts'. Moreover, the yard provides facilities to yachtsmen to winter ashore: there are many dry-berths, serviced by a powerful mobile hoist for the purpose.
The Malta Yacht Marina is very popular. With new developments constantly underway, it is fast growing into one of the largest and most notable marinas in the Mediterranean.
The gardens around Verdala Castle, situated on a high ridge overlooking Buskett Gardens, form part of an extensive green area in Malta. In 1595, Grand Master Hugh de Verdale built his summer palace on the site where Grand Master La Vallette had his modest hunting lodge. De Verdale planted trees, built fountains and planned to make this locality a restful resort. This intention is spelled out by the Latin motto inscribed on the main doorway: "Caedant curae loco"- "All cares end here".
The castle is a quadrangular structure with an elegant turret at each angle. It is oriented in such a way that the sun shines on it at all hours during daytime. From the rooftop one can enjoy an extensive view of the island.
Subsequent Grand Masters embellished the castle and made it their favourite retreat. It consists of three stories made up of three large halls and twelve smaller rooms. A graceful balustrade surrounds the building at the rooftop.
The Grand Master had his appartments on the left of the entrance corridor. The main hall, also on the groundfloor, is painted with frescoes exalting Grandmaster de Verdale.
The attendants'.quarters, stables and coach-houses are to be found in the large courtyard fronting the main entrance. The church of St. Anthony the Hermit, built by Grand Master Nicholas Cottoner, is next to the castle.
Verdala Castle is today the summer residence of the President of Malta. The castle is open to the public.