UNESCO once described Malta as an open-air museum, due to the island’s hundreds of sites of historical interest.
Although Malta’s rich history is indeed visible in every corner of the island, there are some unmissable spots to help you experience the past as if you had been there in person at the time.
This list would be incomplete without a mention of Malta’s capital city of Valletta. Built in the 16th century by the Knights of St John and led by Grand Master Jean de Valette, the gridded city is overflowing with gorgeous architecture and fascinating historic landmarks. Head to the city’s famed Upper Barrakka Gardens and Saluting Battery for a breath-taking view across Grand Harbour, where countless battles have been fought and won, as recently as during the Second World War. A visit to Valletta Living History and the Malta Experience, both in the capital, will also give you unique audio-visual experiences of the island’s rich past.
Fort St Elmo, Valletta
Still in the capital city, a trip to the magnificent Fort St Elmo is a must for history-hunters. One of the most significant fortifications in Malta, the fort played a key role during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, helping the Maltese to defeat the invading Ottoman army despite being almost razed to the ground. While Valletta was being first constructed the following year Fort St Elmo was returned to its original glory, and more recently also became home to the National War Museum.
The Palace State Rooms
Elsewhere in Valletta are the Palace State Rooms, within the Presidential Palace in the heart of the city. Over the centuries, the Palace has absorbed the styles of all who have resided there, from the Grand Masters of the Knights of St John, Governors during the British rule, to Malta’s Presidents. Beyond their historic interest, the Palace State Rooms are worth a visit just to behold the splendour of their interior décor, with significant artworks displayed throughout.
Malta’s former capital city, the ‘Silent City’ of Mdina, is as untouched and peaceful as it was centuries ago. Maintaining its distinctive medieval character since the arrival of the Knights, walking through the city is like a stroll through the past, complete with jaw-dropping views from the bastions and exquisite architecture along the narrow, cobbled streets. Check out also the medieval dungeon near to the city gate, for an authentic peek into the horrors of Malta’s medieval era.
The Three Cities
Known locally as the ‘Three Cities’, Senglea, Birgu and Conspicua are intertwined into most events that have coloured Malta’s heritage. Gifted with quaint winding streets and spectacular views across Grand Harbour, to stand in these cities is to stand in the past. Pay a visit to the Inquisitor’s Palace in Birgu, which was used as the seat of the Inquisition from 16th century. Today, the building is used to display incredible works of art, including paintings, furniture and artefacts, that have all been collected since the time of the Knights.
It’s impossible to choose just one of Malta’s numerous megalithic temples for this list. From the magnificent Tarxien Temples that date as far back as 3600BC, to the Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra prehistoric Temples near Qrendi, historians still flock to Malta to seek out the earliest evidence of mankind on this planet, and so can you. Make sure not to miss the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum in Paola which is an ancient burial site with remains from around 4000BC, and the extraordinary Għar Dalam in Birżebbuġa, which as Malta’s oldest prehistoric site still has bones of Ice Age animals visible inside the cave.
Looking for more suggestions? Check out 5 Historical Homes You Must Visit!