Malta sits at the centre of the Mediterranean, 93 km south of Sicily and 288 km north of Africa. It’s one of Europe’s smallest countries, comprising three idyllic islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in history, culture and adventure, with megaliths, medieval dungeons and some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. It’s a fascinating mix of Italian, Arabic and British influence too, with plenty of opportunity to peel back the layers of its 7000 year history. Interested in finding out more about the island? Here are some interesting facts about Malta to pique your interest.
Interesting Facts about Malta
1. Valletta was the first planned European city in Europe
Valletta, the capital city of Malta, is believed to have been mapped out in 1564. At this time, the country was ruled by the Knights of St John. Before the arrival of the knights, the area was just an arid tongue of land with a single small watchtower called St Elmo. The Knights planned the city as a refuge to care for injured soldiers and pilgrims during the Crusades in the 16th century. The eight-point crusade cross is now a symbol of Malta, seen everywhere from building facades to the flag.
It’s also Europe’s smallest capital city.
2. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The entire city of Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is frequently and fondly described as an open-air museum, brimming with elaborate baroque palaces, imposing fortifications and embellished building facades. You can see its 450-year history showcased on every street.
According to UNESCO, it’s the most concentrated historic areas in the world, with 320 monuments within 135 acres.
3. Malta boasts more cars per square metre than anywhere else in the world
There are more than 394,955 vehicles registered in Malta. With a population of just over 425,000, that means there are 766 vehicles per 1000 people. In fact, according to the National Statistics Office’s Transport Statistics, the number of cars on the road is increasing faster than the population.
The high density of cars has a big impact on the small island. Traffic is part and parcel of the island experience.
4. It’s a famous filming spot for big budget locations
Malta is a popular filming destination, which is particularly impressive given its size. It’s been the filming location for everything from Captain Philips to Clash of the Titans. Brad Pit has actually returned to the island at least every other year, each time shooting a different movie.
Mdina, St Dominic’s Convent, Verdala Palace and Fort Manoel have all provided the backdrop for some of Game of Thrones most recognizable destinations. Gladiator fans may recognise Fort Riscasoli in Kalkara and the old port of Virrotiosa, which depict ancient Rome throughout the movie.
5. Malta was once connected to North Africa
Around 17,000 years ago, Malta formed part of the underwater ridge that connects North Africa and Sicily but it was completely submerged underwater. When the Strait of Gibraltar closed, the sea level lowered to reveal the island. It remained connected to both North Africa and Sicily for thousands of years after.
Archaeologists have found the remains of animals indigenous to both Europe and North Africa, including elephants and hippopotami.
6. Malta’s Megalithic temples are older than Stonehenge
In fact, Malta is home to the oldest free-standing structures in the world. The Megalithic Temples of Malta date back to 3600-2500 B.C. The Ggantija Temples in Gozo are classified as the oldest structure in the world, dating back to around 3600 B.C. They’re older than the Great Pyramids too.
7. It’s home to the love prison of Ulysses
In the epic poem, The Odyssey, Homer charts the journey of the fabled Greek King Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca. Along the way, he encounters an intriguing nymph, Calypso who traps him and keeps him as her ‘prisoner of love’ for seven years.
You can actually visit Calypso Cave today. It sits on a cliff off Xaghra in Gozo. While the cave itself isn’t particularly impressive, the views over the sweeping sands of Ramla Bay are glorious.