Towns and Villages|
There is modern, urban living at its fastest with cafés, nightlife, clubs and restaurants. Then there are unique baroque towns and cities, sleepy villages and bustling fishing ports.
There are places in which to live it up, or while away time. Malta is to enjoy life at its simplest one day and at its most cosmopolitan the next. However short your stay, it’s possible to have a taste of Island life from traditional villages to urban resorts.
| Gozo & Comino
| Towns & Villages
Malta’s capital, the World Heritage City Valletta, and the medieval fortified towns of Mdina and Cittadella, Gozo, are the Islands' historical highlights. Sliema, Bugibba, Qawra and St Julian's in Malta and Marsalforn and Xlendi in Gozo are the main resorts. They bustle with activity, and not just in summer.
Valletta is a cornucopia of European art and architecture. This city of the Knights remains virtually intact. Its streets flanked by palaces and tiny, old-world shops. Across Grand Harbour lie the Three Cities of Senglea, Cospicua and Vittoriosa. Older than Valletta, they offer a fascinating insight into the Islands’ maritime fortunes.
The southern fishing village of Marsaxlokk and neighbouring resort town of Marsascala are also worth a visit.
With little effort, just a desire to explore, you’ll find inland towns and villages with character and treasures of their own. Churches reveal masterpieces by the artists to the Knights while each village square is a slice of history, its café-bar the hub of rural life.
Mdina & Rabat
The history of Mdina and its suburb Rabat is as old and as chequered as the history of Malta itself. Mdina, Malta’s medieval capital, can trace its origins back more than 4000 years. Rabat can claim the origins of Maltese Christianity. It was here in A.D. 60 that the Apostle St Paul is said to have lived after being shipwrecked on the Islands. Both Mdina and Rabat are fascinating to tour for their timeless atmosphere and their cultural and religious treasures.
Mdina has had different names and titles depending on its rulers and its role. It was Melita to the Romans; Medina to the Arabs; and Citta’ Vecchia, the old city, when Valletta became the lifeblood of the Islands. None describe it better than its medieval name, Citta’ Notabile, the noble city.
It was home then, as now, to Malta’s noble families; some are descendants of the Norman, Sicilian and Spanish overlords who made Mdina their home from the 12th century onwards. Their Impressive palaces line its narrow, shady streets. Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city, and unusual in its mix of medieval and baroque architecture.
Today Mdina has a quiet, restrained atmosphere in keeping with its noble past. Lamplit by night, Mdina transforms itself into the ‘Silent City’. For a relaxed evening, seek out the restaurants tucked away in its bastions and palace courtyards.
The Three Cities
The Three Cities offer an intriguing insight into Malta and its history. Left largely unvisited, the Three Cities are a slice of authentic life, and a glimpse into Malta’s maritime fortunes.
The Three Cities can rightly claim to be the cradle of Maltese history. Vittoriosa and Senglea on rocky promontories jutting into Grand Harbour, and Cospicua at the end of the creek between, have provided a home and fortress to almost every people who settled here.
Their harbour inlets have been in use since Phoenician times: the docks always providing a living for local people, but also leaving them vulnerable when Malta’s rulers were at war. As the first home to the Knights of St John, the Cities’ palaces, churches, forts and bastions are far older than Valletta’s.
The local communities here celebrate holy days and festas as nowhere else on the Islands. The most spectacular events are the Easter processions when statues of the "Risen Christ" are carried at a run through crowded streets. Another attraction is the Birgu Festival in October which re-enacts the arrival of the Knights on Malta in 1530.
Although renamed by the Knights to reflect their victory over the Ottoman Turks, the Cities are still called by their older names of Birgu, L’Isla and Bormla. They are known as the ‘Cottonera’ after the Grand Master Cottonerwho built their inland defences. Understanding this name game is all part of discovering a fascinating area of the Islands.
Worlds apart from the main resorts and the capital Valletta, are the Islands’ villages. They are the epitomé of Mediterranean life. The soul of the Islands’ past. Yet with their lively festas and unique everyday life they are very much part of the Islands’ culture today.
Even the smallest has its own baroque wonder, the parish church. And to locals, each village has its unique character. After visiting a few, you’ll soon pick up on the differences.
Some are known for their festas and traditions, others are national gems as they house archaeological or architectural treasures. Then there are the seaside villages, where the rhythm of life is dictated by fishing. While life in inland villages is determined by the harvesting of the various fruits and vegetables grown nearby.
The oddity about the Islands’ villages is their size. A village is not defined by the number of residents or streets. The description really dates back to a time when village boundaries were defined by parishes. Some of the larger ones, like Zebbug in central Malta are still referred to as villages.
Malta also has its ‘Three Villages’, rather like its Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea. The Three Villages are Attard, Balzan and Lija in central Malta. During the Golden Age of Malta after the Great Siege, many noble families built houses here, and identified the villages with a semi-urban sophistication.
While the size of Malta's villages may vary, those in Gozo are usually small and life here is mostly centred on the activities of the parish and community.