Monaco and Malta
MONACO & MALTA
What do Monaco and Malta have in common? They both start with an "M." Seriously though, they have very little in common except that I visited both of them during a vacation a few years ago. Both places have long held a certain fascination for me as exotic locales. While Monaco is more glamorous as the playground for the rich and famous; Malta has an incredible history sitting as it does smack in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. I didn't know anyone who had been to either so I made the trip to see what it was all about. I could not have had a better vacation. My Hub Pages AVATAR is a photograph of me in Monaco.
Monaco is the most densely populated country in the world; and the smallest, save Vatican City. You can walk across it in about an hour. Only 33,000 people actually live there. Monaco is in the French Riviera, surrounded by France but only ten miles from Italy, on the shores of the Mediterranean. It is also home to the longest ruling family in Europe, The House of Grimaldi, which has ruled Monaco since 1297 from the same Royal Palace.
Monte Carlo (Mount Charles) is a district of Monaco with 3,000 residents, widely known for its casino gambling. Citizens of Monaco are forbidden from entering the casinos. But I'm not. I played blackjack in the Monte Carlo Casino; won a few hundred dollars in an hour or two; and walked away a winner!
GRACE KELLY IS BURIED HERE
Besides the Casino at Monte Carlo and the Royal Palace, I also visited Old Monaco and the St. Nicholas Cathedral. The Cathedral only dates back to 1875. but sits on the site of the old Monaco Church, built in 1252. Most of the Grimaldi family are buried there including Grace Kelly.
Malta (which means honey) is 58 miles from Sicily and has approximately 400,000 full time residents, densely packed onto about 100 square miles of three inhabited islands. I first became intrigued by Malta when I read the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles that St. Paul had been shipwrecked there. Due to its obviously strategically important location, these tiny pieces of land have been fought over for millennia.
HISTORY OF MALTA
The ancient Greeks settled on Malta 2700 years ago; followed by the Phoenicians about 100 years later; the Carthaginians 200 years after that; then the Romans another 200 years later. The Byzantines took control in the 4th Century A.D. and held on, despite brief conquests periodically by the Goths and Vandals, until the conquest of Malta by the Arabs in 909. Then it was the Normans turn in 1091; followed by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1194. The French took over for around 12 years in 1266 before finally, the Spanish settled in for a long reign. Then it gets really interesting.
In 1530 Spain gave Malta to the Knights Hospitaller. Also known as the Order of St. John, these knights were a Christian military organization founded in Jerusalem in 1080. The original purpose of the Knights Hospitaller was to protect Christian pilgrims who traveled on foot from Europe to the Holy Land, often coming under attack from Muslims (and especially to care for the poor, sick or injured—hence their name, Hospitallers). The Arabs had taken Jerusalem and The Holy Land from Christians in 638, and it long had been a dream in Europe to retake the Holy Land where Jesus Christ lived, died and was resurrected. When Jerusalem was conquered by Christians during the First Crusade in 1099, the Knights Hospitaller became the defenders of the Holy Land. Within 100 years they lost Jerusalem to the Muslims again, and within 200 years were driven completely out of the Holy Land. Given Malta by Spain as their new home, the Knights stayed for 268 years there, transforming what they called "merely a rock of soft sandstone" into a flourishing island with mighty defenses.
Napoleon, through legerdemain, captured Malta in 1798 but two years later the Maltese were rescued by the British. Malta remained a British Dominion until 1964 when it became an independent nation.
GRAND MASTER'S PALACE
After that lengthy history lesson, which I apologize for to the uninterested, let's proceed to my visit there, which encompassed four cities. The main attraction is the capital city of Valletta. I toured the 500-year-old Grand Master's Palace, which houses the President of Malta and its House of Representatives, as well as The Amoury, which displays the finest collection of weapons used by Knights. The walls of the palace feature fabulous tapestries and frescos.
ST JOHN'S CATHEDRAL
The ultimate experience for me though, was my visit to St. John's Cathedral. The Knights built it in the 1570s. The marble mosaic floor is inlaid with the tombs of 400 Knights. The more important knights were placed closer to the front of the church. These tombstones, richly decorated the coats of arms of the knight buried below as well as images relevant to that knight, often telling a story of triumph in battle, form a rich visual panoply in the church.
SIDE TRIPS IN MALTA
I also made side trips to the ancient capital of Mdina, where the Cathedral of St. Paul is a main attraction; to Mosta, to see the Assumption Church, which holds 12,000 people; and to Vittoriosa, a principle maritime Medieval town. Enough talk—let's finish taking a look at the pictures.
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