Over Thanksgiving we traveled to the small island nation of Malta. Located in the Mediterranean Southwest of Sicily, Malta’s location has resulted in it being conquered by many different forces creating a unique blend of Greek, Italian, Arabic, French, and British cultures.

After flying into Malta’s only airport on the main island of Malta we took the bus into Valletta, the first World Heritage Site of the trip!

Valletta has many 16th century buildings built by the Knights Hospitaller, a religious order formed during the First Crusade. After being expelled from the Holy Land, the Knights Hospitaller moved to Rhodes before settling in Malta where they ruled until being kicked out by Napoleon and the French in 1798.

After a popular uprising threw out the French in 1800, Malta asked to become a part of the United Kingdom. It remained part of the British Empire until independence in 1964. You can still see British-style postboxes.

We stopped into St. John’s Co-Cathedral, a very ornate co-cathedral (whatever that is). The floors were made of elaborate marble inlays and the various chapels were covered in gold leaf and fancy carvings. Each “langue”, or subgroup of knights, got their own chapel to decorate.

Outside of Valletta we saw Ħaġar Qim (part of the Megalithic Temples of Malta World Heritage site). The complex is covered by a giant tent to protect it from acid rain. It was built between 3150–2500 BC BC, making it older than Stonehenge (2400–2200 BC) and one of the oldest free standing structures on Earth. Personally, we also thought it was cooler than Stonehenge.

We took the ferry from the main island of Malta to the smaller less populated island of Gozo. We toured around the island and saw some beautiful coastline, took a boat ride through the Azure Window, saw a pilgrimage church, and saw some really old buildings.

Back on the main island on our last day we had a few hours before we needed to be at the airport we decided to try to see the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni. Because it is so fragile, only 80 people a day are allowed in and it is usually sold out. Since it was the off season we tried anyway and were lucky enough to get in on the last tour of the day!

We killed the time until our Hypogeum tour by visiting the nearby Tarxien Temples. It was more ruined than Ħaġar Qim. Past conservation attempts have actually caused more damage to some of the stones and they are now trying to figure out the best way to protect the carvings and sculptures.

The Hypogeum was one of the coolest places we’ve seen. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside and the pictures online don’t really do it justice. The small tour group of around 8 people climbs down into a cave-like structure. Then, as the audio tour explains the history of the site you are led on a path through the underground temple. While it is similar in structure to the above ground temples found elsewhere on Malta, the Hypogeum was carved out of the rock.

It was a fun trip with three new World Heritage sites, bringing our current total up to 34!

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