The island of Malta has been a crossroads of Mediterranean trade since antiquity. The Maltese are descended from the original rulers of the island – the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians. And the isle's 7,000-year history is a tale of conquest and defense. Successive rulers included the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines, the Saracens from North Africa, the Norman kings of Sicily, and the knights of the First Crusade – the Knights Hospitalers – now known as the Knights of Malta. The Ottoman Turks, under Suleiman the Magnificent, were repulsed in 1565. Malta in 1800 became part of the British Empire. During World War II, the Axis Powers mounted an annihilating bombing campaign against the island. The devastation – and resistance – were so fierce that the entire population was awarded the George Cross for bravery.
Our day begins with a drive to the The Wignacourt Collegiate Museum in Rabat – a baroque residence of the Chaplains of the Knights of Malta inaugurated by Grand Master Aloph de Wignacourt (1601-1622). It forms part of a Pauline complex just outside the walls of the old Roman City of Malta and is materially linked to St Paul's Grotto, the cradle of Christianity in Malta, the place where St Paul the Apostle in A.D. 60 is believed to have founded the first Christian Community on the island. The building, fully completed in 1749, is on three levels: the underground level consists of a labyrinth of Punic, Roman and Christian Hypogea with interesting architectural features as well as a complex of World War II shelters with two main corridors and fifty rooms. The ground floor level consists of a corridor with one side consisting of a number of rooms used as offices and minor collections and on the other side, a spacious garden area which once included the refectory of the Chaplains of the Order and an oven which during World War II provided daily more than 2000 loaves for the population of Rabat. The main floor has an impressive picture gallery with works by Mattia Preti, Antoine Favray, Francesco Zahra and other Maltese as well as European Artists. Also a collection of 17th- 19th century Spanish, Italian and Maltese silver; a unique wooden altar used for the celebration of Mass on the galleys of the Order of the Knights of Malta; a collection of old relics and reliquaries, sculptures in wood, alabaster and bronze, including a medallion by Alessandro Algardi; maps, coins, prints and rare books among which is King Henry VIII's 'Septem Sacramants" written to confute Martin Luther and above all a baroque chapel for the private devotions of the residing chaplains.
Afterwards, we make our way to the medieval fortified city of Mdina. Also known as the “Silent City”, Mdina was the capital of Malta until the 16th century. Mdina is a superb example of a typical medieval town, and one can admire the panoramic views of most of the island from its bastion walls. On entering the city through the main gate, we’ll visit the magnificent cathedral dedicated to St. Paul, who was shipwrecked in Malta in 60A.D. After our visit we will make our way to the quaint village of Naxxar.
Arriving in Naxxar, we will visit Palazzo Parisio, the private estate of the Scicluna family. Often called “a mini Versailles”, we’ll observe how Maltese nobility lived in luxury during the early 1900’s. The residence reflects the wealth and eccentric personality of the Marquis Scicluna. We will have a short viewing of the gardens and main rooms, and then it will be time for lunch. Weather permitting; we will dine in the beautiful gardens, feasting on a delicious repast of traditional Maltese specialties accompanied by local wines. After lunch, we will return to the ship via the scenic coastal route, “the golden mile of the Sliema seafront”, passing through the fashionable areas of Ta Xbiex and the Yacht Marina.
Suggested Attire/Walking Notes: Smart casual wear with a sun hat and comfortable shoes (ladies are not permitted to enter Malta's churches in sleeveless shirts). Moderate walking on cobblestone streets and uneven surfaces. Approximately 30 minutes of walking in Mdina.
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