I am struck by a country so small has such a history and heritage as to dwarf most others – it has been a privilege to be here this week. We stayed in what the locals call a village, but to me Mellieha is more of a small town. It seems that every part of Malta is expanding with new apartments and hotels going up on every piece of land available, Mellieha is no different in this respect. From our apartment we look out over the impressive catholic church that sits on the town’s main prominence overlooking Ghadira bay below, just beyond lie Camino and Gozo the two smaller inhabited islands that, together with the St Pauls Islands and Filfla, make up the archipelago of Malta.
We are facing north east, a short walk past the church opens up views of the north west shore of the island with Popeye village in the near distance – just five minutes on the bus takes you from Ghadira bay across the island to Popeye village. According to cab the driver when we arrived, the main Island is a mere 28K in length and 18 Km at its widest point. From our balcony we can see the Red Tower on the other side of the bay, it was built in 1647 one of many such towers along the coastline used as communications and lookout posts when the country was owned and ruled by the Knights of St John.
The Knights of St John together with St Paul seem to form the two central pillars of Malta’s history and culture. The Knights were originally the Order of St John of Jerusalem where in the 11hundreds they ran a Christian hospice Eventually their emphasis turned to fighting for their faith and in 1187 they were driven out of Jerusalem by Saladin. Based in Rhodes for a while they were eventually given the Islands of Malta in 1530 when all 4000 of them relocated to make the country their base. 35 years later the Turks joined forces to take Malta, their 30,000 against the Maltese 7,000, this first great siege in the history of the country lasted almost four months but finally ended as relief came from Sciliy. It is said that during the siege, Grand Master Valette (leader of the Knights) aged 72, threw himself into the fray inspiring his followers by his courage. Against all the odds, due to the resilience and courage of the people and their Knights, the Turks were defeated and this turned the tide of the expanding Ottoman empire on its march through Europe. This small nation literally turned the tide of history in Europe.
I’ll share more of my reflections on my time in Malta in other posts, but as I look back over my week in this incredible country, I am so grateful for the gift of inspiration I have received just by visiting a few places and hearing the stories. Once again as I sit with all this and recall many other similar stories, lives of friends, family and other heroes, I am somewhat awestruck by the capcity of the human spirit to dig deep and transcend the most difficult and painful situations, to find life and purpose in sacrifice, creativity, love and the giving of self for others.