The culture of Malta comprises of multifarious cultures which have evolved over centuries in the Maltese Islands, including the merger of the neighboring Mediterranean cultures, and also of the nations that ruled Malta for decades before its independence in 1964.
The first populace of the Maltese Islands is believed to have been farmers, from nearby Sicily sometime before 5000 BCE. They grew cereals and raised domestic livestock and worshipped large statuettes of a female deity. Pottery made in the earliest times by Maltese civilization – the Ghar Dalam phase, is similar to that found in Agrigento, Sicily. These people were either succeeded by, or gave rise to a mysterious culture of megalithic temple builders, whose surviving monuments on Malta and Gozo are now believed to be the oldest standing stone structures in the world. The temples date from 4000 – 2500 BCE, and typically consist of a complex trefoil (cloverleaf) design.
Though not much known about the Malta and Gozo rituals however, some evidence exists that their rituals included animal sacrifice. This culture disappeared from the Maltese Islands around 2500 BCE. The disappearance is still a mystery; however, historians and archeologists consider that the temple builders fell victim to famine and disease. War cannot be the reason behind it, since archeological digs on Malta have yielded little or no evidence of weapons.
The Maltese Islands were uninhabited for several decades, until the arrival of Bronze Age immigrants, bringing the culture of cremating their dead for constructing smaller megalithic structures called dolmens to Malta. Also, Neolithic people left their marks in the mighty temples to their gods, while the long, continuous Christian tradition has given rise to huge and ever-more splendid edifices to the glory of God.
Malta’s strategic location, due to its position at the juncture of the Mediterranean shipping lanes has always played a central role in the island’s history. For centuries the great Mediterranean powers fought to govern the islands, each new arrival leaving its legacy, resulting in a multifaceted blend of ethnic influences. The Arabs introduced citrus trees and the flat-topped houses, and also laid the foundations for the Maltese language. The Aragonese, from central Spain, brought their sense of architecture and building into Malta’s historic town centers and the enclosed wooden balconies.
Under the 268-year rule of the Knights of St John, Malta became cultural hub. With the arrival of the British, they in turn, developed the island, for both military and commercial purposes.
The Island’s defences are equally articulate, as can be seen in the siting of Arab Mdina or the ramparts of Aragonese Birgù (now Vittoriosa) or in the compulsive and incessant military building of the Knights. Malta is above all a fortress and the mighty defensive system, shoring up Valetta, Floriana and the Three Cities, is one of the supreme exhibition architecture to be seen anywhere in the world.
Interestingly, the tool used for these buildings was and still remains the rich honey-coloured globigerina limestone, which can easily be cut and molded.
Malta’s long Christian tradition dates from AD60 when St Paul was shipwrecked on the island. In spite of Islamic and other cultural influences, Catholicism has always been a leading force in Maltese life, influencing social, political and even economic issues. Around 87 per cent of Maltese are pure Catholics.
The village festival, inorder to celebrate the local patron saint, plays a vital role in strengthening community spirit.
Further confirming the religious faith is the several street-corner shrines, from the finely carved to the crude and brightly colored, apart from the shrines present in the buses and a prominent ‘Jesus loves me’ sticker beneath.
The churches of Malta and Gozo are primarily decorative in style. The great architect of the 16th century was Geralamo Cassar (1526-86) who designed St John’s Co-Cathedral and Knights’auberges, the ramparts and several others churches in Valetta. The 17th century experienced the presence of another great Maltese architect, Lorenzo Gafà, whose work is best seen in the community churches and cathedrals of Mdina and Gozo. Splendid domes are a trademark of Maltese churches with their magnificent enormity. The interiors are ostentatious, distinguished by gilded arcades and ceiling, intricately ornate altars and canopies, with walls covered with paintings and frescos.
Malta’s arts and crafts work has been enchanced by tourists. Craft villages on both Malta and Gozo have been set up to advertise all the traditional handicrafts.
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