Tourist attractions and information on Malta  

In the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, God felt that he just had to put in a safe haven for ships and weary navigators and in all his might, he almost overdid it, by creating the most out-of-this-world multitude of harbours, all on the same little island, which is now called Malta.

Ever since man started paddling around in a hollow log, he began to stop over in Malta to catch his breath or to shelter from a storm and here he thanked the Good Lord for his generosity in providing such a safe haven. In fact these three small islands have the oldest temples of the whole world, going back 7000 years! 

The main complex of harbours in Malta is divided by the central promontory of Valletta, with the spectacular fort Saint Elmo on the point. The entrance to the pleasure boating marinas of Marsamxett is on the north, whereas the entrance to Grand Harbour, the huge commercial and industrial port, is on the left, the southern side of the fortress.

The Grand Harbour entrance is easily distinguishable from the open sea, as there is a narrow entrance on the right divided by a large round pillar, to be used only by the fearless and a high stone wall leading to the principal entrance further to the left. A visit around the several internal harbours of the commercial port is recommended. You must first ask permission from Valletta Harbour Control on channel 9. Entering, you will find three deep but narrow bays on the left (called “creeks” by the Maltese) and generally known as “three cities”, because of the three beautiful ancient fortified cities that were built there: Senglea, Vittoriosa (so-named because of the victory over the Turks) and Cospicua.

There is plenty of depth, so deep hulled boats may safely explore the bays and fully enjoy the splendid spectacle of the cities, literally glowing with a warm, golden colour of the lovely local stone. Malta actually got its name from the ancient Romans, who described it as “Mielita”, meaning “honey-coloured”, which is still quite appropriate, as the inhabitants have been careful not to marr  the landscape with very different facings. (A closer look, however, will reveal a disturbing array of gaudy shop signs, which the whole city could well do without.)

At the far end of the harbour are the impressive industrial dry docks of Cottonera, with their 2000 years of operation and the commercial shipping piers. Overlooking it all is the central city of Valletta.

All the main marinas for pleasure yachts are on the other side of Valetta, so one must turn around and exit Grand Harbour and enter Marsamxett Harbour to the north. The view here is just as impressive, as vast ancient fortifications and steep bastions dominate the harbours, testifying the huge efforts the Knights of Saint John put into defending their tiny fiefdom from invading marauders and besieging warlords.

One of the biggest battles of all Maltese history, was the one against the Turkish-Ottoman forces of 1565, when 9000 Maltese valiantly defended their island against 45,000 invading soldiers, saving not only themselves, but also all of Europe from Muslim domination.

Entering Marsamxett Harbour you are greeted on the right by the Royal Yacht Club, housed in the bastions of yet another fort on the tip of Manoel Island, where you will find an excellent restaurant. Let the yachtsman on foot beware of the distance to reach this culinary wonder, as it is further than it seems, notwithstanding the supposedly encouraging street signs, indicating only another 150 metres, as it would appear that the Maltese metre is much much longer that the European one. However it is all worth the walk. Manoel Island is also home of the largest shipyards for yachts, structured to carry out any repairs or winter maintenance. Just before crossing the only bridge to the island you will find a stunning collection of ship-chandlers for all types of marine supplies.

Further deeper into the harbour is magnificent Msida Marina, an excellent place for winterising in Malta. Excellent security, strategically placed with respect to the city and it probably has the most polite and most helpful harbour office of the whole Mediterranean.

In Malta the public transport system revolves around a colourful but antiquated bus system, that goes out in all directions from the central square of Valletta. The standard fare is 15 cents per person and it will get you to all significant places of Malta much faster than what you immagine, as the busses race like hell downhill, but clutter and wheeze as they struggle uphill (the many saints and madonnas plastered on their insides are a sure assistance in help them reach their destinations).

Valletta itself has much to offer the curious visitor, as it has a long and colourful history, very much influenced by the Church and its benevolent Cavaliers.

You will also most appreciate a visit to Mdina, the ancient inland capital, a half hour’s bus ride, where the old buildings have been lovingly conserved, with the help of UNESCO, I understand.

Another half hour’s unnerving bus ride will take you to Marsaxlokk (pronounced “Marshalok”), another lovely harbour on the south of the island. The name comes from the Arab “marsa” meaning “port” and the Maltese word (or is it Phoenecian?) for “south”. This is a very pretty fishing village, harbouring hundreds of the characteristic multi-coloured fishing boats. These are definitely of Punic origin, as they are direct mini replicas of the ships we see in Phoenecian history books. On the waterfront there are many inexpensive fish-food restaurants. But deep-keeled boats beware, they cannot approach this shallow side of the harbour.

The visitig yachtsman will of course have his own boat, so he must visit the many small bays and attractions of the island of Comino and of Gozo.                                                                                                 

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    Copyright L. Camillo 2000