The Republic of Malta is an island country in southern Europe, a beautiful archipelago formed by Gozo, Comino, and Malta, also known as the “Heart of the Mediterranean.“
In its history, Malta has been part of the Holy Roman Empire for 72 years, ruled by the Arabs for no less than two centuries, conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte on his way to Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1798, and also a British colony for more than 150 years.
All these peoples have left traces in the Maltese language, culture, and architecture as a legacy of their dominion.
1. Malta, UNESCO heritage
Maltese architecture is very varied even though the archipelago is small in size.
The country boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Seven Megalithic Temples, Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum, and Valletta.
- The Seven Megalithic Temples: The Ġgantija temples (two sites) were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. In 1992, the UNESCO Committee extended the existing list to include five more megalithic temples: Ħaġar Qim (in Qrendi), Mnajdra (in Qrendi), the temples of Ta ‘Ħaġrat (in Mġarr), the temples of Skorba (in Żebbiegħ), and the temples of Tarxien (in Tarxien). During ancient times, it was thought that these temples were fortifications built by giants to defend themselves.
The Ħal-Saflieni hypogeum: is an underground structure excavated between 3600 BC and 2500 BC in Paola, on the island of Malta. It is believed that it was originally a sanctuary, which became a necropolis in prehistoric times. It is the only prehistoric underground temple in the world.
- La Valletta: capital of Malta, with a total area of 0.8 square kilometers has more than 300 monuments. The city is awarded the crown of the most concentrated historical areas in the world by UNESCO. It is the smallest national capital of all European countries. It is also the first planned city in Europe. It took about 15 years to build the city this way, which also makes it one of the fastest built cities in the world.
2. Santa Maria Assuntas Rotunda
Maltese architecture also boasts the presence of the third largest unsupported dome in the world.
Dedicated to the Assumption, is located in the Church of S.M.Assunta and was built between 1833 and 1871 on the site of a previous church, the projects were designed by Giorgio Grognet de Vasse, who based them on the Pantheon in Rome.
During the Second World War, it was spared from destruction when a bomb dropped by German forces smashed through the ceiling but failed to detonate; two more bombs bounced off the dome and ended up in the square, but they too did not explode. This saved the lives of around 300 people.
3. The legend of Atlantis
Some of Malta’s ruins date back to around 9,000 years ago, making them – most likely – the oldest ruins in the world. It has been also proven that huge animals, such as elephants, lived in Malta, which would suggest that there was an advanced civilization, destroyed by a huge cataclysm.
Many authors and archaeologists have shown that 12,000 years ago the island was much larger and connected to several other places in the Mediterranean. This is why it is supposed to be the place where the mythical Atlantis once stood.
4. The traditional house
Among the peculiar Maltese architectures are the traditional houses that have acquired a distinctive character drawn from the different cultures that over the years have settled in Malta following the conquests.
These traditional buildings are built in limestone with 120 cm wide walls, have wooden balconies and doors in bright colors, another distinctive feature is the courtyard, paved in stone and placed in the center of the house.
Another notable feature of a traditional Maltese house is the height of the ceiling. Each traditional Maltese house exudes an airy feel with ceilings that can go up to 20 feet with exposed wooden beams in the older houses.
5. Maltese balconies
A peculiar detail of Maltese architecture is the “closed wooden boxes” balconies that are found on the facades of all the oldest houses and are used in some modern buildings and have become a distinctive icon of Malta’s identity.
The first to be enclosed by a wood and glass structure was, in 1679, the corner balcony of the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta. They did not really become popular until the nineteenth century following a decree issued by the Order of the Knights which imposed the affixing of distinctive elements on the facades of Maltese houses.
In this period, many Turkish and North African slaves came to the island and in this, we find hints on the origin of this architectural element, which can be traced back to Moroccan prototypes derived from the Arab Muxrabija (lookout place).
Unlike Muxrabija, Maltese balconies do not serve the function of hiding women behind perforated wooden panels but have the aim of observing the world while maintaining privacy.
Malta is currently the subject of several large-scale construction projects, including the construction of SmartCity Malta, M-Towers, and Pendergardens, while areas such as the Valletta Waterfront and Tigné Point have been or are being refurbished.