Malta’s history and heritage

Since Neolithic times, for over 8,000 years, Malta has been populated and remains of the earliest inhabitants can still be found on the island. The large structures of Neolithic temples are still standing in the south of the island of Malta (Tarxien Temples, Hagar Qim, Mnajdra), and in Gozo (Ggantija).

 

Scientists reckon that some of these temples were erected around one thousand years before the construction of the famous pyramids of Giza in Egypt, and are believed to be the oldest free-standing monuments in the world. After the Neolithic culture faded away, around 2,000 B.C., the island was conquered by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs respectively.

During the Middle Ages, Malta was involved in the Byzantine-Arab Wars and was invaded by the Arabs, who introduced new irrigation, some fruits and cotton to the island. The Arabs also brought over the Siculo-Arabic language from Sicily, to which Malta was closely affiliated at the time. The language would eventually evolve into current-day Maltese. The Arabs allowed the native Christians to practice their religion but were discriminated against by being charged with an extra tax.

The Normans seized Malta around 1091, and were welcomed by the native Christians, who will have been pleased to see Roman-Catholicism reintroduced as the state religion. The Maltese islands became part of the Kingdom of Sicily, which also covered a large part of present-day Italy.

The Order of Knights of St John (also known as the Knights of Malta) ruled the islands from 1530 until 1798, during which period they built present-day capital city Valletta. (Learn more about Valletta’s history here.)

The Knights improved living conditions across the Island building hospitals, stimulated trade and commerce and erected strong fortifications. During their rule, the Knights successfully held out for many months throughout the horrific fighting and massive assaults by Ottoman invaders, now coined The Great Siege of 1565.

In 1798 Napoleon’s army conquered the island, easily removing the Knights of St John from power, who had not been prepared for the force with which the French charged. In the six days that followed the conquest, a civil code was laid down for Malta. Slavery was abolished and all Turkish slaves were freed. Napoleon himself created a primary and secondary education system and a more scientific based university replaced the old one.

The British Throne took over Malta after Napoleon’s demise and ruled the islands for the next 160 years. Malta was bombed persistently by German forces during World War II in an attempt to take over the Malta, which was known as a location of high strategic importance for both trade and conflict. Malta was bombed more heavily in 1942 than the whole blitz of London. The British and Maltese unified in their battle for survival and the Germans failed to conquer neither Malta, nor the Maltese.

The determination and strong spirit shown by the population of Malta led King George VI to award Malta the George Cross. His official message, which was engraved in a marble plaque on the façade of the Presidential Palace in Valletta, reads: “To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta, to bear witness to a heroism and a devotion that will long be famous in history.” This award is still part of the national flag of Malta and is seen as a symbol of a proud nation. The Maltese gained their independence from the British in 1964 and the country would continue as a sovereign state and republic. Since May 2003, Malta is a member of the European Union and a popular tourist destination for many Europeans.

Timeline of Malta’s modern history

B.C. – Pre-history and classical Malta (5000-218 B.C.)

5000First human settlers. Ghar Dalam phase.
3600-2500Megalithic temples constructed.
2000-1400Bronze-using people.
800-480Phoenician rule
700-600Greek influence.
480-218Carthaginian rule.
264-146Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome.
218Roman rule begins during the 2nd Punic War.

A.D. – Classical and Medieval Malta (60-1530)

60Shipwreck of St. Paul the Apostle.
117-138Islands become municipium under Emperor Hadrian.
395-870Byzantine rule.
454Islands occupied by the Vandals (?)
464Islands occupied by the Goths (?)
533Islands restored to Byzantine rule (?)
870-1090Arab rule.
870Aglabiti (Tunisian) Arabs invade Malta and expel the Byzantine.
1048First Byzantine attempts to regain islands.
1091-1194Norman rule.
1091Count Roger of Hauteville, aka the Norman, takes Malta and imposed taxes but leaves Arab rulers
1127Roger II, Count Roger’s son, establishes Norman rule
1122Arab uprising fails.
1144Second Byzantine attempt to regain islands.
1154John made Bishop of Palermo and Malta.
1154-1205Genoese influence.
1194-1266Swabian rule.
1224Final expulsion of Arabs from Sicily and Malta.
1266-1283Angevin rule. Creation of the Universita’ (body of administration and not academic institution).
1282Sicilian Vespers (uprising against Angevin (French) rule).
1283-1412Aragonese rule.
1412-1530Aragonese and Castilian rule.
1350Establishment of Maltese Nobility.
1350-1357First incorporation into Royal Domain (of Aragon)
1393-1397Time of the Tyrants – Malta given to feudal lords.
1397-1420Second incorporation into Royal Domain.
1420Feudal possession of Don Antonio Cardona.
1425Revolt against Don Consalvo de Monroy.
1429Tunisian Saracens fail to capture of islands.
1428-1530Last incorporation into Royal Domain.

The Knights of St. John (1530-1798)

1530Knights of St. John take possession
1551Dragut, prominent Turkish corsair, raids Gozo.
1561Inquisition officially established.
1565Great Siege. Malta besieged by Turks but the Knights helped by the Maltese resist and win.
1566Founding of Valletta, the new capital city named after Grand Master La Valette, hero of the Great Siege.
1568Jean Parisot La Valette buried in Valletta.
1571Battle of Lepanto. Christian victory over Turks.
1573Foundation stone laid for St. John’s Co-Cathedral.
1592Founding of Jesuits College, which later becomes the academic University of Malta.
1615Wignacourt Aqueduct completed to supply fresh water to Valletta.
1676School of Anatomy and Surgery founded at the Sacred Infirmary, the Knight’s hospital in Valletta.
1732Manoel Theater dedicated.
1768Jesuits expelled and property transferred to the Knights by Papal Order.
1769Conversion of Jesuits College to a University.
1775Uprising of the priests brutally repressed.
1784Creation of a legal code by Grand Master De Rohan.
1792Possessions of the Knights of St. John located in France seized by the French revolutionary government.

The French Occupation (1798-1800)

1798 June 9thA French army under Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the Maltese Islands on its way to Egypt. The
Knights of St. John expelled after 268 years in Malta. Inquisition abolished.
1798
September 2nd
The Maltese revolt against the French when these confiscate property belonging to the Maltese Church. The French take refuge behind the walls of Valletta and Cottonera and a two-year siege begins.
1799Dun Mikiel Xerri and other Maltese executed by the French after a failed plot to storm the Valletta walls. The British take the islands under their protection in the name of the King of Two Sicilies.
1800
September
The French surrender.

The British Period (1800-1964)

1800The French capitulate. British rule begins.
1802Treaty of Amiens. The Napoleonic Wars resume because of Malta.
1813The Bathurst Constitution
1814Treaty of Paris. Malta declared free of the plague.
1815Congress of Vienna affirms Treaty of Paris.
1828Vatican Church-State proclamation. Right of Sanctuary revoked.
1831(Church) See of Malta made independent of See of Palermo.
1833Construction begins on Mosta dome.
1835First Council of Government under British rule.
1839Abolition of Press censorship. Laying of cornerstone for St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral.
1846Carnival riots.
1849Council of Government with elected members under British rule.
1869Opening of the Suez Canal.
1870Referendum on Ecclesiastics serving on Council of Government.
1881Anglo-Egyptian Bank founded in Malta
1882Creation of Executive Council under British rule.
1883Malta Railway begins operation.
1885First postage stamps issued.
1886Surgeon Major David Bruce discovers microbe causing Malta Fever.
1887Council of Government with “dual control” under British rule.
1888Construction begins on Royal Opera House.
Simmons-Rampolla agreement (Vatican-British)
1903Return to the 1849 form of Council of Government under British rule.
1904Tram service begins.
1905Dr. Themistocles Zammit discovers source of Malta Fever.
1911English overtakes Italian as the secondary language after Maltese, increasing tensions between Italophile (anti-colonial) and Anglophile (pro-colonial) political parties. This division dominates Maltese politics in the period leading up to World War II.
1912Dun Karm writes his first poem in Maltese.
1914-18World War I; Malta is not directly involved in the fighting but becomes known as the “Nurse of the Mediterranean”.
1919Sette Giugno riots sparked by cost of living. National Assembly convened.
Self-government granted under British rule. The Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) is the first Maltese trade union.
1921First Parliament opens. Joseph Howard named Prime Minister.
1923The Maltese National Anthem, “Innu Malti” played first time in public. Dr. Francesco Buhagiar becomes Prime Minister.
1924Sir Ugo P. Mifsud becomes Prime minister.
1927Sir Gerald Strickland becomes Prime Minister. The Malta Labour Party comes to power for the first time together with Strickland’s party.
1930Constitution suspended because of a political-religious dispute between Strickland and the Church.
1931Malta railway closes.
1932Constitution restored under British rule. Sir Ugo Mifsud becomes Prime Minister.
1933Constitution withdrawn as Fascist Italy increases its influence on Malta. Malta reverts to the Crown Colony status it held in 1813.
1934Malti and English become dual official languages.
The first official grammar for the Maltese Language published.
1935Rediffusion Radio launched, with the aim of countering Fascist propaganda from Italy.
1936Constitution revised to provide for nomination of members to Executive Council under British
rule.
1939Constitution revised to provide for an elected Council of Government under British rule. Germany invades Poland and WWII starts
1939-45World War II.
1940On June 11th the first Italian bombs are dropped in Malta
1941Daring Italian e-boat attack on Grand Harbour fails. British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious damaged, bombed, repaired and departs. The Germans join the Italians in bombing Malta.
1942Award of the George Cross to the people of Malta to honour their bravery. Operation Pedestal Convoy arrives in Grand Harbour and saves Malta from starvation and surrender.
1943Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and King George VI visit Malta. Invasion of Sicily from Malta. Italy surrenders on the 8th of September and the Italian Fleet comes to Malta. The General Workers Union, Malta’s largest trade union, set-up.
1945Churchill and Roosevelt meet in Malta prior to the Yalta Conference with Stalin.
1946National Assembly results in 1947 constitution under British rule.
1947Self-government restored under British rule. Dr. Paul Boffa becomes Prime Minister with a landslide victory for the Malta Labour Party.
1949A young ambitious politican, Dom Mintoff, brings a split in the MLP.
1950Dr. Enrico Mizzi becomes Prime Minister from September to December when he dies. Dr. Giorgio Borg Olivier becomes Prime minister in December.
1955Dom Mintoff becomes Prime Minister. Roundtable Conference held to discuss Malta’s future with Britain
1956Referendum on Integration with Britain.
1958Dom Mintoff resigns as Prime Minister and a national strike called by the General Workers Union on the 18th of April ends in clashed between workers, police and British soldiers. Dr. Giorgio Borg Olivier declines forming alternative government. Colonial governor takes direct administration under British rule.
1959Interim Constitution provides for an Executive Council under British rule.
1961Blood Commission provides for a new constitution allowing for a measure of self-government and
recognizing the “State” of Malta. Another political-religious struggle erupts between the Church led by Archbishop Gonzi and Mintoff’s MLP.
1962Dr. Giorgio Borg Olivier becomes Prime Minister.

Independent Malta (1964-to date)

11979 964“Innu Malti” recognized as the national anthem. Referendum on Independence Constitution. Malta
granted independence, becoming a sovereign nation within the British Commonwealth.
1968Central Bank established.
1970Malta enters an Association agreement with the European Economic Community (EEC), today known as the European Union (EU).
1971Dom Mintoff becomes Prime Minister after Malta Labour PArty wins general election in June. Sir Anthony Mamo becomes the first Maltese national to be named Governor General. He is the last one for the Maltese Islands.
1972Military base agreement signed by Malta, the United Kingdom and other NATO nations.
The King’s Own Malta Regiment disbanded.
Change to decimal monetary system.
Government bars the U.S. Naval Forces from using Malta as a liberty port.
1973Formation of Air Malta.
1974Malta becomes a Republic, remaining in the Commonwealth. Sir Anthony Mamo elected first
President.
Government increases its control over the University.
1975Barclays Bank International, Ltd. taken over to become Mid-Med Bank.
1976Dr. Anton Buttigieg becomes second President.
Mintoff confirmed as {Prime Minister after Malta Labour Party is obtains win in general election
1977Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami elected leader of the Nationalist Party.
1979Military base agreement terminated. British forces leave. First Freedom Day celebrated on the 31st of March.
1981The Malta Labour Party wins the general election by its majority of seats in Parliament, but the Opposition Nationalist Party has the absolute majority of votes. The Nationalist Party begins a protest campaign against the unjust election result.
1982Agatha Barbara becomes third, and first female, President of Malta.
1984Dr. Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici becomes Prime Minister after the resignation of Prime Minister Dom Mintoff.
Stand-off between the government and teachers in a seven-week strike following government’s attempt to make private schooling free of charge.
1987Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami becomes Prime Minister following a Nationalist victory in the May general election.
1988Freeport Corporation set-up.
1989First gathering of Knights of St. John in Malta since their departure in 1798.
U.S.-Soviet Summit meets in Malta to end the Cold War.
Dr. Vincent Tabone elected fourth President.
1990Government formally applies for full membership in the European Community.
Pope John Paul II makes the first Papal visit in Malta.
Prof. Guido De Marco elected President of 45th Annual UN General Assembly.
1991Malta Cable Television given license as the first cable tv operator in Malta.
Two Vatican Agreements between the Malta Government and the Holy See signed in Rome.
New Delimara Power Station begins operations.
1992New Malta International Airport terminal inaugurated.
Nationalist Party wins election. Dr. Alfred Sant elected Leader of the Malta Labour Party as Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici steps down following his party’s defeat.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in Malta for the 50th Anniversary of the awarding of the George Cross.
50th Anniversary of Operation Pedestal, popularly known as the ‘Santa Marija Convoy’ celebrated. Stock Exchange opened.
Maritime Museum opened in Vittoriosa.
1993The European Union’s first report on Malta says it is eligible for EU membership.
First University degree courses
offered in Gozo.
Government signs the Inter- national Convention banning the use of chemical weapons.
The Fifth Games of the Small States of Europe held in Malta. First elections for Local Councils held.
1994Dr. Ugo Mifsud Bonnici elected fifth President.
1996Malta Labour Party wins the elections held in October. Dr. Alfred sworn in as Prime Minister of Malta.
1997Malta’s application to join the EU is ‘frozen’ (suspended) but not withdrawn in accordance with the MLP’s policy. MLP government instead seeks industrial free trade
zone and closer relations to EU but not membership.
1998Dr. Alfred Sant calls for a snap election following a vote of no-confidence. Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami is elected Prime Minister after the Nationalist Party wins the election.
1999Prof. Guido de Marco appointed President of Malta.
2004Malta joins the European Union after a referendum proves a slight majority of the Maltese population is in favour the previous year.
2008The country adopts the Euro as its currency.

Sources

  • Berg, Warren G. Historical Dictionary of Malta. Maryland, US: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1995. Miscellaneous other publications
  • Timeline originally compiled by Martin Debattista and published on AboutMalta.com

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3 Comments

  1. You did a wonderful job writing this article. Very interesting and educational.
    Thank you

    Reply
  2. My parents with their six girls arrived in Australia in August 1951 but I have always been proud of my wonderful heritage. I love my adopted country. The spirit of the Lighthorsemen but I still call myself a Maltese and am not ashamed to be one.

    Reply
  3. I am so proud to be part of Malta’s heritage. This article is a wonderful depiction of Malta’s history. Born in Canada to 2 Maltese parents I hope to keep your wonderful traditions alive! Thanks so much for the insight.

    Reply

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