Although only a small dot on the map, the country of Malta has a long and rich history. Situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, today Maltese culture reflects the influence of thousands of years of cultural exchange with European, North African, and Middle Eastern peoples.
Evidence of Malta's prehistory survive today at the megalithic Mnajdra and Hagar Qim Temple complexes, as well as the Hal Salfieni Hypogeum, dating from 3600-2000 BCE. Malta was colonized by the Phoenicians around 900-750 BCE, the Carthaginians c. 480 BCE, and the Romans in 218 CE. Evidence of this period of Maltese history can be found at the Roman Villa in Rabat, and at various baths and catacombs around the islands. In 395 CE Malta was taken over by the Byzantines, following the East/West division of the Roman Empire.
In 870 CE Malta was conquered by Arabs, and it is from this culture that Malta gets the root of its national Maltese language. In 1090 Count Roger I established Norman rule on the islands. In the following centuries the Maltese Archipelago transferred hands from the Normans to the Hohenstaufens, to the Angevins, finally becoming part of the Aragonese kingdom in 1283. From the 9th to the 13th centuries the capital of Malta was the fortified city of Mdina.
In 1530 Malta's modern history began to take shape when Emperor Charles V of Spain granted the Maltese Islands to the then-homeless Knights of the Order of St. John, who had been driven out of their former base in Rhodes. The Knights, a naval force, first established a settlement in Malta around the harbour of Vittoriosa (also known as Birgu).
In 1565 an Ottoman army invaded Malta, battling the Knights of St. John in The Great Siege. Following the defeat of the Ottomans, and fearing a second attack, the Knights began constructing a new, fortified capital city in 1566. It was named Valletta, after Jean de la Valette, the Grandmaster of the Knights of St. John during The Great Siege. The Order moved their headquarters to the new city in 1571. Valletta remains the capital of Malta today.
The Knights of St. John maintained control in Malta until 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte drove them out. Resistance to French rule in Malta was considerable, and the French were driven out of the islands during a revolt in 1799. Malta was taken under British protection in the same year, and became a British Crown Colony in 1814. Contemporary Maltese culture is greatly influenced by its colonial history.
Over a century later Malta's first self-government was established in 1921. In 1934, English and Maltese were declared the official languages of the colony.
During WWII Malta was heavily bombed by Axis forces. These air raids destroyed many lives and national treasures, such as Valletta's Royal Opera House. In 1942 King George awarded the people of Malta the George Cross for their bravery and perseverance during this period. Evidence of the effects of war in Malta can be found at Malta's National War Museum in Valletta, and various shelter sites, such as the World War II Shelters in Mellieha.
In 1964 Malta gained independence from Britain to become a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State. Ten years later, Malta became a republic.
In 1979 the Military Agreement between Malta and Britain expired, and British forces left the island. In 1980 Malta signed the Neutrality Treaty, marking the first time in its history no foreign military presence was established on its shores.
In 2004 Malta became a member of the European Union, adopting the Euro, which replaced the Maltese Lira, as its currency in 2008. In 2018 Valletta will become the European Capital of Culture.
Although Malta's history stretches back to prehistoric times, the villages of Sliema and St. Julian's are relatively new additions to its landscape, finding their origins primarily in Malta's British era. Sliema and St. Julian's developed during the mid-nineteenth century as popular summer resort destinations for wealthier Valletta residents. Remnants of an Art Nouveau, Victorian, and Neoclassical architectural heritage can still be found on their streets.
Sliema and St. Julian's also played host to several British forts, such as Fort Tigne and Fort Cambridge, which have today been developed into modern shopping and residential complexes.
As with all villages in Malta, Sliema and St. Julian's have their own local social clubs. Sliema's football club is the Sliema Wanderers. Its band clubs - which became popular in Malta in the 19th century under the influence of military bands - include the Stella Maris Band Club (est. 1914), the Sucieta Filarmonuica Sliema (est. 1923), the Mount Carmel Band Club (est. 1987) and the St. Gregory Band Club (est. 1987). The 1st Sliema Scout Group (Bernard's Own) was established in 1909 by Sir Edward Bernard, and is the oldest surviving Scout Group outside the United Kingdom. Sliema celebrates three feasts in celebration of its patron saints: Our Lady of Stella Maris in August, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in July, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in July, and St. Gregory in September. Sliema's main parish church is Stella Maris (est. 1855).
St. Julian's patron saint is, unsurprisingly, Saint Julian. St. Julian's feast day is celebrated on the last Sunday of August.
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