The sunny islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino make up the Maltese archipelago. The Knights of St. John fortified the Grand Harbour at Valletta, one of the Mediterranean’s great bastions.

Points ofInterest

Area:The five islands (two are uninhabited) cover 122 square miles (altogether making up an area smaller than Philadelphia).Population:365,000 (Valletta, 9,300).Language:Maltese, English (Italian and French are also widely spoken).

Highlights

Valletta‘s sights include the Palace of the Grand Masters and the Armoury, St. John’s Co-Cathedral and Museum, the National Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Museum of Archaeology.

Sliema, with the neighboring St. Julian’s-St. George’s area, is the modern residential area with hotels, clubs and restaurants.

Cospicua,Senglea,andVittoriosa, are also known as Bormla, L’Isla, and Birgu — The Three Cities. These fortified towns on the eastern shores of the Grand Harbour were built before Valletta was constructed in 1566.

Mdina, the old Saracen capital near Rabat, has come to be called the Silent City — for the peace and seclusion of its ancient streets. Of particular interest are the Mdina Cathedral and Museum, and Palazzo Falzon. The Mdina Experience, a spectacular audio-visual presentation of 7,000 years of Maltese history, is well worth a visit.

Rabatis known for St. Paul’s Church, built next to a grotto where St. Paul is said to have taken refuge when he was shipwrecked on the island while being taken to Rome in AD 60. Also noteworthy are the early Christian catacombs dedicated to St. Paul and St. Agatha and the Museum of Roman Antiquities.

Gozo, the isle of mythical Calypso, can be reached in 20 minutes by car-ferry from Malta. The capital of Gozo, Victoria (popularly known as Rabat), is dominated by the Citadel and dates back to the 17th century.

Cominois the smallest of the inhabited islands — there are just a few families and one hotel. It can be reached only by ferry; boats from Malta (a 20-minute crossing) operate from April to mid-November.

Attractions

Palace Armoury, Valletta. Display of armaments of the Knights of St. John — also known as the Knights of Malta — from their 268-year rule. These include armor, muskets, cannons, and other weapons of the period.

National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta. Artifacts from Malta’s prehistoric temples.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta. Built in the 16th century, the cathedral displays Caravaggio’sBeheading of St. Johnin the oratory. A museum houses a set of Flemish tapestries and church vestments.

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum,Valletta. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the elaborate 5,000-year-old underground burial labyrinth was recently re-opened.

Megalithic Temples, Mgarr and Skorba. The world’s oldest free-standing structures (c. 3250 B.C.) predate the Egyptian pyramids by three and a half centuries.

Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta. Exhibits portray Malta’s art treasures through the centuries.