After the collapse of the Roman Empire Malta came under Byzantine influence,
until it was occupied in 870 from Sicily by the Arabs. The Arab domination was
of great importance to Malta. New irrigation techniques and new crops were
introduced, like citrus fruits and cotton. Also the habit of protecting the
fields against erosion by means of small rubble walls dates back to Arab times.
Ever since the rubble walls dominate the Maltese countryside.
The old Roman city of Melita was reduced in size for a better defence. The city
inside the new walls was called the
, which means 'fortified city', whilst the rest of the city outside the walls
or 'suburb'. The place names Mdina and Rabat are only two of many other names
of Arabic origin.
The old city of Mdina still bears a touch of its Arab past: walking through the
narrow streets it almost feels like being in a serene version of a
North-African town. Yet Mdina has much more remains from more recent times: the
late Middle Ages and the 18th century.
The Maltese language is a descendent of the Arab dialect that was spoken here
during the early Middle Ages, although many Maltese prefer to give it a
Phoenician origin. The language is extensively influenced by Italian and
English, causing Maltese to be a mixture. Yet the language is a Semitic
language, so it is related to Arabic and Hebrew. Maltese is quite a unique
language: it is the only Semitic language written with the Latin alphabeth. For
most visitors Maltese will be
, but don't worry: almost all Maltese speak fluent English, the second official
language of the country.
the spanish empire
In 1090 Malta was occupied by Count Roger the Norman from his stronghold in
Sicily. He did not succeed in establishing a permanent rule during his reign,
but his son Roger II did manage to do so in 1127. From then onwards gradually
Malta came more and more under European influence, but until at least in the
13th century, part of the population remained muslim.
Regularly Malta changed owners: the German Hohenstaufen, the Angevins,
Barcelona and Aragon - they were all ruling the islands. When Aragon united
with Castile in 1479, Malta became part of the Spanish Empire.
Malta was a feudal state: the administration of the country was in the hands of
the local nobility, that was mainly from Sicilian and Spanish origin. They had
their own governing council both on Malta as well as on Gozo: the
. Mdina remained the most important city on the island, the place where most of
the noble families used to live - and still live nowadays.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the power of the Turkish Empire under
Süleyman I expanded over South East Europe. The Turks were in fact at the
city walls of Vienna and Charles V, the Spanish king, feared that they would
reach Rome from Southern-Italy. If Rome would fall into the hands of the Turks
it could mean the end of catholic Europe. In 1530 Charles V, took a strategic
decision to prevent this: he handed Malta over to the Knights of St. John, who
had been expelled from Rhodes in 1522 by the Turks. This decision was going to
have great consequences for the history of Malta.
The old city of
is worthwhile visiting. You will get a good idea about the history with a
visit to the Mdina Experience, a multivision show about the history of this
small town. In Mdina some noble palaces can still be seen, like Casa Inguanez.
The architectural style from the Normandic era can still be recognized in
several buildings in Mdina, like Palazzo Santa Sofia and Palazzo Falzon. In
(Vittoriosa) you can still see a so called Norman window.
In the Roman Villa in Rabat some remains are to be found of
from the Arab period.