Blue2Hi, Jo here, having just returned from a week in Malta. So of course I'm going to tell you about it!

I've wanted to visit for a long time, in part because it features in Dorothy Dunnett's The Disorderly Knights, the third book if her Lymond Chronicles. In it, Francis Crawford, all around genius (but especially militarily) at a loose end, is drawn into the world of the Knights of Malta, aka the Knights of St. John or the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights are struggling internally, and against the Ottoman Empire.

502px-General_map_of_Malta.svgThe nation, Malta, is just south of Sicily, which is just off the southern toe of Italy. It is composed of three islands — Malta, Gozo, and Camino, and it is one of the smallest countries in the world, being only about 122 square miles, and with a population of about half a million, it's one of the most densely populated. I didn't know this, and I confess I'd expected something a bit more rural and quaint.

In fact it has a scarcity of water and thus few trees, and nearly everything is built of limestone, from the simplest house to a magnificent cathedral. It also has a fascinating and complex history, as it's been occupied by nearly all European forces at one point or another.

This pattern of building with the local limestone goes way back. Way, way back, to before 3000 BC when stone age people were already moving large blocks of the rock and carving others in most interesting ways. It seems that the people living on Malta then were cutting edge — if you'll pardon the expression when their only edge was on flint tools.

I0552wOne site we visited, at Hagar Qim, is now covered to protect it from the elements. That doesn't take away from its complexity and sophistication, with its walls, passages and chambers. (Picture on the right.)

Think about it. No metal tools. Much more impressive than Stonehenge!

Read more