Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Our Lifestyle Adventures: A Charming Cab Chauffeur Took Us around Malta

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Our Lifestyle Adventures: A Charming Cab Chauffeur Took Us around Malta

Malta Coastline
South of Italy and east of Tunis in the Mediterranean Sea is Malta; a small archipelago made up of the islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino. Just over 122 square miles with a population of 450,000, it has a Mediterranean climate consisting of mild winters and warm summers. According to International Living, Malta is the country with the best climate in the world. No wonder she has three times more visitors than residents. Over 100 movies have been filmed in Malta, the latest being Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s “By the Sea.”
map  of the archipelago of Malta
So as soon as Jingjing and I got to our Diamond Resorts’ timeshare, we asked the Concierge how to cover the most important sites during our four nights and three days in the country. Since we wanted to see all three UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni, Valletta, and the seven Megalithic Temples), he advised us to go to Valetta early and be in line by 7:30 am to assure us of tickets to the first one, the Underground Temple. It is usually fully booked in advance, and only 20 walk-in tickets are given every day.

But, tired from our trip, we woke up late. It was already 7:15 am when we finally got into a hotel taxi. And then we were met by a traffic jam going into the tunnel that led to the city. There was no way we could have made it in time! So we quickly changed our minds. We put the day in the hands of our charming cab chauffeur. He took us to six spectacular places around the island of Malta.

Mosta Cathedral
First, we were driven to Mosta, a small town on the island. The Mosta Cathedral of the Assumption boasts the third largest self-supported dome in the world 122 feet in diameter with 30 foot thick walls to support its weight. Residents of Mosta, at that time totalling not more than 1500, built the church starting in 1833. It took them 27 years to complete the edifice, but the result is a world-class tourist attraction. On April 9, 1942, the church was nearly destroyed. An Axis bomb hit the dome of the church but, fortunately, failed to explode. The detonator was removed, and a replica is now displayed as a memorial to the miracle.

View of Mdina from afar

St. Paul's Cathedral at the Mdina
On the way to the Mdina, we stopped to look at the products of a Mdina Glass factory and the nearby Crafts Village. But soon we were at the old city. Phoenician traders who used the islands as a stop on their trade routes joined the natives and inhabited this town and surrounding areas. The Mdina is a medieval walled town situated on a hill in the center of the island. It was the capital of the land from antiquity until 1530. No vehicles are allowed inside. With a population of less than 300, the city is still confined within its walls, but it is contiguous with the village of Rabat ( an Arabic word for suburb) - population, over 11,000. The city is an unusual mix of Norman and Baroque architecture, and several palaces serve as private homes. St. Paul’s Cathedral was built on the site where Governor Publius met Saint Paul following his shipwreck off the Maltese coast.

Catacombs in Rabat

Malta is an Apostolic See. The Acts of the Apostles tells of how St. Paul, was shipwrecked, at what is today known as St Paul's Bay on his way from Jerusalem to Rome to face trialsometime around AD 60. He is believed to have spent three months on the island, curing the sick including the father of the governor, Publius, A grotto in Rabat, now known as "St Paul's Grotto" is among the earliest known places of Christian worship on the island. Further evidence of Christian practices and beliefs appears in catacombs that lie beneath Rabat, including St Paul's and St Agatha's Catacombs.


Megalith Temple from a distance, protected by modern roofs
The Sicani from Sicily are the only tribe known to have inhabited the island from 5200 BC.  A culture of megalithic temple builders during 3500 BC erected some of the oldest existing free-standing structures in the world, older than the Pyramids of Giza or even Stonehenge. Seven of them comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the two we saw on this cab tour. They sit next to each other, at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. However, the culture disappeared around 2500 BC. It is believed that the temple builders fell victim to famine or disease.

Dingli Cliffs
After historical and religious sights, our charming cab chauffeur took us to see some of Malta’s unique landscape. Much of the island consists of low hills with terraced fields. The highest point is in Ta' Dmejrek, at 830 feet elevation near Dingli. The area provides not only open sea views over the tiny, uninhabited isle of Filfla but is also an excellent vantage point over Malta. The small Church of Mary Magdalene strikes a magnificent pose sitting atop the hill and provides the best view of Dingli Cliffs.

where I got on the little boats 
the biggest cavern in the Blue Grotto
Just a few miles from the temples is the Blue Grotto, a group of sea caverns on the south coast of Malta, east of the fishermen's harbour in the village of Qrendi.The small uninhabited islet of Filfla lies just across. The location of the caves combined with the sunlight leads to the water showing numerous shades of blue. Several caverns mirror the brilliant phosphorescent colors of the underwater flora; other caverns show a deep dark shade of blue. The boat trip to the caves lasted only about twenty minutes but, alone without Bill or Jingjing, it was a little scary for me at the start. And then frenzied picture-taking took over and I forgot that I was supposed to be afraid!

Our charming cab chauffeur not only took us to the best sites in Malta but patiently took our photos and told us of interesting facts about the archipelago and traditions of the Maltese. Even if we did not get to the Hypogeum or Underground Temple, on this particular day we considered ourselves extremely lucky. Read our next two posts and you will see that luck stayed with us on our two other day trips in Malta!

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