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main index    © Jeff Matthews  entry Jan.2011

Everything is related to Naples
Number 143 in this series. Link to all items here.

It is about 25 miles (40 km) from the tip
of the smaller island (upper-left) to the
tip of the larger island (lower-right).
malta sat shotEven Malta is related to Naples? Yes! If you look at where the nation of Malta sits, it isn't too hard to figure out why. As real-estate people tell you: "Location! Location! Location!" The Malta archipelago is only 93 km (c. 58 miles) south of Sicily, yet is actually farther north than the isle of Lampedusa, which is part of Italy. Malta sits smack in the middle of every invasion route you can think of in the Mediterranean and has been attacked, invaded, and trespassed upon by a very long and impressive succession of visitors: Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish, Ottoman Turks, and British.  From the time of the Norman reconquest of Sicily in the 1000s until 1530, the destiny of Malta pretty much ran parallel to that of her colossal island neighbor to the north, Sicily; that is, Malta was part of the Kingdom of Sicily (which then became the Kingdom of Naples). In 1530 Charles I of Spain gave the islands (part of the Spanish vicerealm of Naples) to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (called, simply, "Hospitallers") in perpetual lease. These knights, a military religious order, are now known as the Knights of Malta. (Another interesting connection is that the Hospitallers arose around the work of a hospital founded in 1023 by merchants from Salerno and Amalfi to provide care for poor, sick or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land).

Napoleon captured Malta in 1798; then, the ultimate French defeat by the British led to Malta becoming a British Dominion in 1800. During World War II, Malta was important because it was close to Axis shipping lanes. Malta became independent from the United Kingdom in 1964 and retained membership in the British Commonwealth. Between 1953-1971, Malta also served as the headquarters for the NATO naval forces in the region (first known as AFMED [Allied Forces in the Mediterranean] and then as NAVSOUTH [Naval Forces Southern Europe]).

photo- Wikipedia: M.Thyes, A.Cuerden                         

There are about 400,000 persons on both main islands of Malta (area - 300 km2). That's about 1,318 persons per sq km (3,414 per sq mile); various rankings list Malta as 7th on the list of population density (from more than 200 nations in the world). The capital city of Malta is Valletta, on the south-eastern island. The historic city (pictured above) has around 6,500 persons.  The city of Valletta is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites because it is
...inextricably linked to the history of the military and charitable Order of St John of Jerusalem. It was ruled successively by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John. Valletta’s 320 monuments, all within an area of 55 ha [136 acres], make it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.

Interestingly—but no surprise—is that the population is 98% Roman Catholic. Now, that has a good quiz show stumper in there, and it's too bad you've already read the title of this entry or I might ask you to name an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation that has a dialect of Arabic as an official language.

Indeed, Malta is a linguist's dream! English is one of the two official languages on the island; the other one is Maltese and it is truly the national language. Very few places in the world give linguists the chance to watch almost on a daily basis the rapid and fascinating evolutionary process called "creolization"—that is, the formation of a new language from a mixture of other languages. When cultures speaking different languages meet, they usually communicate in what is called a "pidgin," a primitive mix that has not yet developed into a true grammatical language. Think of Tarzan-speak! ("Ugh. Me Tarzan. You Jane.") Now imagine Tarzan having honed his language to the point where he now says, "Whom did you say was calling, Lady Jane? And do hand me my pipe, won't you, please?" That's creolization. Maltese is a structurally a Semitic language (like Hebrew and Arabic) and directly descended from what is called Siculo-Arabic, (Siculo=Sicilian) the variety of Arabic that developed on Malta, Sicily and even part of the Southern Italian mainland as a result of the Arab conquest of those areas in the 9th century. About half the vocabulary is from Italian, or the Sicilian dialect of Italian, and English. The rest of the vocabulary comes from the parent Siculo-Arabic. Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet; thus, if you feel intimidated not only by non-Indo-European grammar, but also by the Arabic alphabet, you might try Maltese first. With independence, nationhood, and increased perception of the native language as a vehicle for expressing the needs and ideas of a living people, Maltese has had ample time to develop its own literature, as well.

                    megalith Hager qimFinally, Malta is an archaeologist's delight! The islands are home to a series of prehistoric monuments. Seven of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. (Photo, right: the Hager qim site.) From UNESCO literature on the sites:
...[these] prehistoric megalithic temples and underground chambers...are both fascinating and perplexing for there are no definite answers to how and why they were built or for what they were used...They have been described as the oldest free-standing monuments in the world...What is certain, is that several thousand years before the arrival of the Phoenicians, the Islands were the home to a remarkable culture. These people acquired the skills, and had the strength of spiritual devotion, to mobilise men and resources to build megalithic structures... This culture was to vanish from the Islands...whether through famine, fire, natural disaster or routed by invasion no one knows. 

[See also Megaliths of Southern Italy and The Nuraghi of Sardinia.]

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