english                nederlands



the arabs

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 medina , which means 'fortified city', whilst the rest of the city outside the walls was called rabat or 'suburb'. The place names Mdina and Rabat are only two of many other names of Arabic origin.

The tombstone of Maimuna from the 12th century, found in Xewkija, Gozo Rubble walls around the fields, a system introduced by the Arabs

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 abracadabra , but don't worry: almost all Maltese speak fluent English, the second official language of the country.

The fortifications of Mdina Palazzo Falzon in Mdina, built in the Norman style

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 Università . Mdina remained the most important city on the island, the place where most of the noble families used to live - and still live nowadays.

A narrow street in Mdina Charles V

charles V

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.

 hints for visitors

The old city of Mdina 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 Birgu (Vittoriosa) you can still see a so called Norman window.

In the Roman Villa in Rabat some remains are to be found of muslim tombs from the Arab period.


back home next


Home - Introduction - Prehistory - Romans - Middle Ages - Knights - British - Pictures - Quiz