You all know Malta's sweetheart Ira Losco, right? Well, back in 2002 she sang her heart out, in front of thousands of people, to her 7th wonder. Here we're listing our top 7 Maltese heritage sites, with the hope of inspiring you to visit the ones you've never been to and re-visit those which you have been in the past. Most museums provide free entrance to the sites to children 5 or under and reduced fees for older children, so make sure to take your little ones along!
1. Megalithic temples
There are plenty of temple ruins around the Maltese islands, but six, in particular, are listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. These are Ġgantija, Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Skorba, Ta’ Ħaġrat and Tarxien. Although similar in structure, they are still very unique architectural masterpieces, especially when one considers the limited resources available to their builders.
How is each temple different from the other?
Ħaġar Qim & Mnajdra: these two temples are just 500 metres apart (same entrance ticket) and the latter’s construction impresses mostly during solstices and equinoxes. The surrounding area is mostly garigue, apart from the Ħamrija watchtower overlooking the islet of Fifla.
Ġgantija: these are the oldest free-standing monuments in the world dating between 3600-3200BC, making them older than the Stonehenge in the UK and the pyramids of Giza.
Tarxien is the younger version of temple building dating 3250BC.
Skorba's importance is more in the remains than the building itself. A charcoal fragment found in the temple dated it at 4800BC.
Ta’ Ħagrat temples are just 1km away from Skorba. A pre-historic village was found at the site.
Tip: The sites are accessible with prams/pushchairs for most of the paths, although it can get a bit bumpy close to the temples.
2. St. John's Co-Cathedral
Originally it was the conventual church of the Order of St. John and now shares the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Malta together with the older Cathedral of Saint Paul in Mdina. The co-cathedral was designed by the famous Maltese architect Ġilormu Cassar who was also the lead architect of the city of Valletta. It hosts one of the most famous artworks in Malta - Caravaggio's beheading of St. John, completed just 2 years before he died. The interior of the co-cathedral is a scene in itself - all frescos were done by artist Mattia Preti.
The floor houses tombs of 375 knights and officers of the order!
The balcony found on the exterior was used to announce the name of the newly elected grandmaster.
Want your children to learn more about Valletta? Check out Colour My Travel's Educational Kids Tour.
3. Għar Dalam
Għar Dalam, translated to English as "cave of darkness" is Malta’s only cave where a sequence of fossilised deposits of animals was discovered making it the most important paleontological site. The cave, which is 144 metres deep, holds the remains of ancient and extinct animal bones from the last ice age included dwarf elephants, hippopotamus, deer and bears.
Interesting fact: The deepest layer is around 500,000 years old and the most recent, which contains the first human remains of the island, is 7,400 years old.
4. Sacra Infermeria
The Sacra Infermeria used to be one of the leading hospitals in Europe until the 18th century. Built by the Order of St. John in the 16th century, it remained in use as a hospital until 1920. It could house up to 2,500 patients and had two pharmacies. It received both Maltese and foreign patients and provided lodging to pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. The Sacra Infermeria is located in the Southern part of Valletta and is one of the top sites to visit while in Valletta.
Interesting fact: Would you like to stand next to the grandmaster during the blessing of the chapel? All this and much more is available through an augmented reality app that will make your kids' visit much more memorable. Our kids loved it!
5. Fort St. Angelo
Malta is sometimes referred to as Fort Island, namely in view of a large number of fortresses around the island. Fort St. Angelo has been a castle since the late Middle Ages, with whoever gained control of this area in the last 1,000 years being able to rule the Maltese islands as it meant control over the Grand Harbour. In fact, it played an important role in the Great Siege of Malta of 1565.
Interesting fact: The Order of St. John upgraded the existing structure to a fortress as it became the seat of the Grand Master in 1530. Fort St. Angelo played an important role during the air raids of World War II.
Tip: To get to see the best view of the Grand Harbour and the surroundings, you need to do some flights of stairs. Thus, we suggest that you use a baby carrier to move comfortably around.
6. Inquisitor’s Palace
The palace, a unique architectural gem, is a stone throw's away from Fort St. Angelo, making it ideal to visit on the same trip to Birgu. The inquisitor was an ambassador and direct representative of the Holy See. His aim was to instil a sense of correct behaviour and belief expected from a Catholic using torture where needed.
Interesting fact: The Inquisitor normally had the say over the Grandmaster or the Bishop during quarrels as they were able and ambitious clergymen sent by the pope. In fact, they normally became Cardinals and two of the Maltese Inquisitors even became Popes.
7. Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum
Last but definitely not least - the hypogeum. Do you have any idea what the term 'hypogeum' means? In Greek, it literally means underground. The Ħal Saflieni hypogeum, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an underground burial site built in the Neolithic age and contains the remains of around 7,000 people in three levels, dating from 4000 to 2500BC. What's interesting is that some chambers appear to have been cut in imitation of the famous megalithic temples found above ground. Other chambers contain decorations in red ochre, a mineral pigment, and are the only prehistoric wall paintings found on the Maltese islands.
Interesting Fact: It is the only known European example of a subterranean ‘labyrinth’ of that period together with its quality of architecture and remarkable state of preservation.
Tip: Make sure you book your tickets prior to your visit as the number of visitors is limited and the guided tours are usually fully booked weeks in advance. Tarxien temples are close by, so you can easily combine them in the same visit.
Need inspiration on where to go and what to do with kids? Visit www.colourmytravel.com for more information or follow @colourmytravel & @offdisland on Instagram and Facebook.