Malta (5 days)
About this blog
After more than a decade on my Top 10 must-do list, I finally made it to Malta. It was much more interesting than I expected, mostly because of the extremely fascinating history of the island from medieval times. Although prehistoric temples and the famous "Hypogeum" burial chamber are there to be seen, Malta is pretty much all about its relatively late attachment and importance to the history of the Crusades as it became the base of the Knights of St. John in the 1500's.
The famous Maltese Cross, Christian symbol of the Order's warrior monks, is everywhere, specially the churches. Back then, the line between priests and royalty and knights and armies and governments and everything was very fuzzy.
The "Maltese Falcon" was the annual rent paid (1 bird) by the knights to the king of Spain who gave them the island after they were forced to retreat from their previous base at Rhodes, which is where they retreated to after losing Jerusalem to a Muslim army long before.
Malta amazingly survived the "Great Siege of Malta" by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1565, making the island and this order of knights forever famous in all of Christendom as well as around the Muslim world, at a time when giant religious armies were endlessly taking over countries from each other, capturing/torturing/killing/enslaving/raping/pillaging/destroying each other for centuries.
Malta is also known as a summer getaway vacation hotspot for Europeans, but the "fortress island" is more worthy of a few days to see its insane fortifications and learn about all this "Military Hospitaller Order of St. John" stuff (as in today's first aid with St. John's Ambulance), the Crusades and how people can be convinced to do anything at any cost, long before guns were around. Good trip!