Malta, the Fantastic

One of the things to see in Rome is the keyhole of Malta. Visiting Malta is so much more than that glimpse into the world of the knights of Malta. The tiny central island just off of Sicily is as fantastical as one imagines it to be.

Upper Barakka gardens, Valletta.

I visited on a cold winter day with torrential rains bucketing down like biblical times. Yes, I still loved it.

Photogenic shop in Valletta.

Maybe because of the weather, it was a better experience — free of the millions who flood the island every year searching for Gladiator or Game or Thrones…

Valletta, tourist and native.

We did a food and cultural walking tour. It was a great introduction to Malta.

Lots of streets in Valletta are steep.

The island of Malta has a long history as a embattled island due to its central location in the Mediterranean. To borrow from the Visit Malta site, “the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Byzantines” and then the Berbers, Knights of Malta, French, and British all had influences on the island.

Famous harbor seen from the Upper Barrakka gardens.

St. Paul was shipwrecked here in current era 60 (AD). This is a big deal. Christianity is a big part of the island. The Knights of Malta were a Christian order which is considered sovereign, but now they are a Christian humanitarian organization. They have had different names at different times in history but they ruled Malta from the 1500s (when they were given Malta as a territory after fleeing Rhodes after the rise of the Ottoman empire) to the 1800s.

This mall also has subsidized public housing, right downtown, for as little as 30 euro per month.

Valletta has been the capital for 450 years and has a uniform look to it because it was built in three years. The buildings of the old town are all made of the same pale yellow rock that was quarried from the exact place where the buildings were built. In some ways, Valletta reminded me of the towns of Apulia like Lecce, Bari, and Polignano a mare. Maybe that is why I liked it so much. The stone is the same color as the stone used in Jerusalem.

Another instagrammable shop and remnant of the British influence.

Malta had a capital before Valletta was chosen. The old capital goes back 4,000 years and is located about 20 minutes drive from Valletta. Mdina, not to be confused with Medina, is the old capital and right outside its gate is Rabat, not to be confused with Rabat.

Gate of Mdina, the former capital.
Mdina is crushingly quaint.
The eight pointed star is symbolic for the eight “langhe” or rulers of Malta.
Mdina is a perfectly preserved walled city.
Mdina has a few pops of color other than the sandstone color of the native rock.

The language of Malta, like the people and culture, is also a mix. It has many words that are the same in Italian but I did not understand Maltese at all. No matter as they speak English as well.

The Beheading of John the Baptist by Caravaggio is in the church in Valletta.

Another reason to go to Malta is to see a Caravaggio painting. The church is also beautiful but to be in front of a Caravaggio is a special moment. This brings a visit to Malta full circle. Many consider Caravaggio to be the first cinematographer for his use of dramatic light and shadow. Malta, with its dramatic history, seems most famous now as a movie location.

All Roads Lead to Rome

Six miles outside the Aurelian walls of Rome.

This is such a well known expression. While “all roads lead to Rome” is an idiom, I don’t think it gets used that way as much these days. People seem to take it literally. Everyone wants to visit Rome. As an idiom, it actually means the opposite, that there are many ways to approach the same subject. No one seems to know if the Romans ever said this. The earliest example of its use in English is from Chaucer. If you want to geek out about this, read this article.

Great place for a bike ride.

On a beautiful sunny day, it is hard to imagine the atrocities carried out along this road 2,000 years ago. The Romans crucifed people, famously Christians, along this road. But, this road was also used as a graveyard and many of the most famous sites today are the remains of mausoleums. This road was built more than 2,300 years ago. In 71 BCE, the famous Sparticus fought along here. Over 6,000 slaves were crucified as a result of that slave revolt. At that time in the Roman Empire, one in three people were slaves.

The large paving stone are original and have the groove marks from chariots.

The Appian Way goes all the way to Brindisi in Apulia. I would like to see it down there too. But, closer to Rome, one Sunday, I decided to go walk on the most well preserved part of Roman road, near Rome. Today, this road is a park and tourist attraction. There seems no trace of the sorrow of the past. And the only armies one sees are joggers, walkers, and bikers.

One can get to the archeological park and join a bike or walking tour, or just choose a spot and go there. I took a 20 minute car ride out to a spot where a modern road intersects with the Appian Way. It seemed so far out. Cars are allowed on the Appian way but there are parts where most drivers choose the highway. The taxi service had no problem finding me when I wanted to return. One can walk from the center of Rome and walk out but the road is busy for the first five or six miles (8-10 kilometers). One can take the bus or metro as well. My taxi ride cost 29 euro each way. It was so far removed from central Rome that I saw bales of hay and chatted with farm hands.

Even the air is fresher out here.

Emerald Winter

The highest quality emerald in the shop at the time.
The highest quality emerald in the shop at the time. $32,000.

If it’s possible, Bogota is even more lush and verdant in December due to the thunderstorms every day and the sun every morning. It seems natural that a country so green would be famous for a green gem — emeralds.

There are many shops selling emeralds, both rough cut and polished. Most of the emerald store attendants will explain karat and clarity (I’m told that the deeper the green, the bigger the stone, the fewer flaws — the better). Apparently, this is the place to be to buy emeralds.

A less expensive emerald.
A less expensive emerald. $500.