Last year I travelled to Malta and visited the Ħal Saflieni
Hypogeum, which is an underground tomb and ceremonial cave
first used by men around 7000 years ago. I stood beneath red
ochre painted rooves that I could have reached out and touched
if I wanted to. I did want to, but I also know the havoc the
oils on human hands can wreak on such beautiful things. Ergo I
resisted that powerful temptation.
Malta's history has been an interesting one, isolated and dry
in the middle of the Mediterranean between so many great
civilizations. Charles Dalli's
Malta: The Medieval Millennium
details the centuries during the late Byzantine empire, the
Muslim conquests and Christian conquests, through when the
Spanish crown handed the island over to the Knights Hospitaller
as they left their old base on Rhodes.
The British were the last to conquer Malta and left their
mark of language, as they often do, behind when they left.
Sadly they'd didn't depart before establishing driving on the
left which unfortunately led me to enter traffic circles in the wrong
direction, to the peril of myself and other motorists.
Dalli's book is in the English language and has plenty of sources
therein to fall back on, although it also draws from Latin,
Arabic, Italian and, of course, Maltan originals.
Malta's history is one of a back and forth between European
and African spheres of influence befitting its geographical
location between them. By the end of the 11th century with the
conquest of Roger the Norman of Sicily, Malta was basically
in the European sphere for good although raids did still
occur from Africa. Thereafter Malta's shared the fate of
Sicily as the Italian royal houses struggled for dominance.
Eventually the Aragonese came out on top though, which is why
the kings of Spain still have a right of residence there.
Often the Medieval Period is misnamed the Dark Ages, no doubt because
the shifting borders and houses and alliances seem incredibly
comlicated to modern eyes used to the simple borders of the
few dozen European countries today. Dalli adequately demonstrates
in this work that the millennium between Byzantium and the
Knights is anything but dark in Malta, and indeed in Sicily as
well. While in Malta I also took a jaunt up to Catania where
I saw a Norman castle on the volcanic coast created by
erutions of Etna.
While there were no pictures allowed in the Ħal Saflieni
Hypogeum, I did take a number of
at other archeological sites and places of interest around the
island during my short stay.