Malta tourist information
Tourism in Malta is an important sector of the country's economy, contributing about 15 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). It is overseen by the Malta Tourism Authority, which in turn falls under the responsibility of the Parliamentary Secretariat for Tourism, the Environment and Culture. Malta features a number of tourism attractions encompassing elements of the island's rich history and culture, as well as aquatic activities associated with the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, medical tourism has become popular in Malta in recent years, especially since government efforts to market the practice to medical tourists in the United Kingdom.
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The number of people who visited Malta in 2009 dropped considerably compared to the figures for 2008 - overall, the country's tourism industry suffered an 8 per cent drop from 2008. Visits from non-European Union countries dropped more considerably than visits from European Union countries (and even more so than visits from Eurozone countries), while the average stay length remained the same for both 2008 and 2009. Visitors from most countries require a visa to visit Malta. The nationalities requiring a visa are standardised as per European Union rules. Visitors already holding a valid Schengen Area visa most likely will not need to complete any more formalities to enter Malta (so long as they are already inside the Schengen Area). Visitors holding citizenship of the European Union do not require a visa to enter Malta as they hold the right to free movement within the European Union. In recent years, the country's tourism industry has been faced with a number of issues relating to the nation's small size, both in terms of area and population. These issues include stretched resources and infrastructure (such as water, waste management, beaches and roads), especially during the summer months of July and August.
Malta has a long and rich history, and this is reflected in the island's cultural attractions. The Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Byzantines have all occupied Malta at some point in history, leaving a mix of many different architectural styles and artifacts to explore. The sovereignty of the Knights Hospitaller over Malta from 1530 to 1798 resulted in a legacy of elaborate artistry and architecture throughout Malta. The country's modern museums and art galleries feature relics from Malta's history for tourists and Maltese residents alike to enjoy.
There are also a number of aquatic activities to enjoy on Malta as well as Gozo and Comino. Northern Malta is home to the country's beach resorts and holiday areas, with the beaches most popular with holiday-makers being Mellieha Bay, Ghajn Tuffieha and Golden Bay. These beaches are large enough to be able to house cafes, restaurants and kiosks, but small enough to be crowded rarely. Malta's northwest is home to the island's quietest beaches, and it is on these that the main island's neighbouring two are nearest. Gozo and Comino are also popular beach spots for holiday-makers, although these are much more likely to be quieter, rockier and more suitable for snorkelling. The Mediterranean Sea surrounding Malta is popular for diving - while shallow dips may be attractive to beginning divers, more experienced divers may be able to dive deeper to find historical artifacts from World War II or earlier.
Major Event Tourism
Major event tourism, especially events centered around Catholicism, is an important segment of the Maltese tourism sector. During Holy Week, processions and religious services dominate the country, and food stalls are set up in the village squares of Malta. Another popular major event is Carnival, a five centuries-old traditional celebration lasting for the five days preceding Ash Wednesday. Celebrations for Carnival involve float-based pageants, street parties and street food stalls.
One of the biggest sporting events held on the island is the Malta Marathon. Held every year in late February or early March, the race attracts a number of international competitors and has been sponsored by Land Rover since 2009, BMW from 2003 to 2008, GoMobile in 2002 and Flora Malta in 2001 and prior. In 2009, the full marathon winner, a Belgian, recorded a time of 2:25:59. In 2010, approximately 1,400 entrants participated.
Since 2010, the Malta Tourism Authority has been marketing Malta as a medical tourism destination. Focus areas for medical tourism include "cosmetic surgery, orthopedics, opthalmic, neurological, urological, oncology, diagnostic, bariatric and cardiac services." The focus target market for medical tourists in Malta is the United Kingdom, followed by North Africa, the Middle East, Russia and North America. Part of the reason for targeting the United Kingdom for medical tourists is that many members of Malta's medical profession were trained in the United Kingdom, increasing the confidence of British patients in those taking care of them. In addition, unlike some medical tourism destinations, Malta has a stable political climate. The Maltese government supports the development of medical tourism on the island but believes that private medical providers should be performing medical procedures, not government-run facilities.
In addition to a valid passport, "documents substantiating the purpose and the conditions of the planned visit" and "sufficient means of support, both for the period of the planned visit and to return to their country of origin," travellers arriving in Malta may be required to have a visa for entry into the country.
European Union citizens have the right to travel freely into Malta without completing any special formalities. The nationals of many countries are not required to hold visas to enter Malta, although many are in accordance with uniform European Union regulations. A full list of nationalities required to hold visas to enter Malta and the Schengen Area is published on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' web site.
While Malta cannot unilaterally drop the requirement for nations it makes agreements with to obtain visas to enter the Schengen Area through its border crossing points, it is permitted to offer visa discounts to certain nationalities. At present, Malta has 'visa facilitation agreements' with eight nations: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Macedonia, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.
Malta has a Subtropicalâ€“Mediterranean climate (KÃ¶ppen climate classification Csa), with mild winters and warm to hot summers. Rain occurs mainly in winter, with summer being generally dry.
The average yearly temperature is 22â€“23 Â°C (72â€“73 Â°F) during the day and 15 Â°C (59 Â°F) at night. In the coldest month â€“ January â€“ the temperature ranges from 12 to 20 Â°C (54 to 68 Â°F) during the day and 7 to 12 Â°C (45 to 54 Â°F) at night. In the warmest month â€“ August â€“ the temperature ranges from 28 to 34 Â°C (82 to 93 Â°F) during the day and 19 to 24 Â°C (66 to 75 Â°F) at night. Generally â€“ summer's/holiday season lasts to 8 months, starting from around mid-April with temperatures 19â€“23 Â°C (66â€“73 Â°F) during the day and 13â€“14 Â°C (55â€“57 Â°F) at night, ending in November with temperatures 17â€“23 Â°C (63â€“73 Â°F) during the day and 11â€“20 Â°C (52â€“68 Â°F) at night, although also in the remaining 4 months temperatures sometimes reach 20 Â°C (68 Â°F). Amongst all capitals in the continent of Europe, Valletta â€“ the capital of Malta has the warmest winters, with average temperatures of 15â€“16 Â°C (59â€“61 Â°F) during the day and 9â€“10 Â°C (48â€“50 Â°F) at night in the period Januaryâ€“February. In March and December average temperatures is around 17 Â°C (63 Â°F) during the day and 11 Â°C (52 Â°F) at night. Large fluctuations in temperature are rare. Also, Malta is one of the few places in Europe which are "green" all year round.
Average annual temperature of the sea is 20 Â°C (68 Â°F) (the highest in the continent of Europe), from 16 Â°C (61 Â°F) in January to 26 Â°C (79 Â°F) in August. In the entire 6 months â€“ from June to November â€“ the average sea temperature exceeds 21 Â°C (70 Â°F)
Sunshine hours total around 3,000 per year (one of the highest results in Europe), from an average above five hours of sunshine per day in December to an average above 12 hours in July. This is about double that of cities in the northern half of Europe, for comparison: London â€“ 1,461, however in winter up to some times more sunshine, for comparison: London has 37 hours while Malta has 155 or 164 (depending on the sources) hours of sunshine in December.
Traffic in Malta moves on the left, as in the UK. Car ownership in Malta is exceedingly high, given the very small size of the islands; it is the fourth highest in the European Union. The number of registered cars in 1990 amounted to 182,254, giving an automobile density of 582 /km2 (1,510 /sq mi).
Malta has 2,254 kilometres (1,401 mi) of road, 1,972 km (1,225 mi) (87.5%) of which are paved and 282 km (175 mi) were unpaved (December 2003).
The main roads of Malta from the southest point to the northest point are these: B'Bugia Road in BirÅ¼ebbuÄ¡a, GÄ§ar Dalam Road and Tal-Barrani Road in Å»ejtun, St. Lucia Avenue in Paola, Malta, Aldo Moro Street (Trunk Road), 13 December Street and Ä¦amrun-Marsa Bypass in Marsa, Malta, Regional Road in Santa Venera/Msida/GÅ¼ira/San Ä wann, St. Andrew's Road in Swieqi/Pembroke, Malta, Coast Road in BaÄ§ar iÄ‹-ÄŠagÄ§aq, Salina Road, Kennedy Drive, St. Paul's Bypass and Xemxija Hill in San Pawl il-BaÄ§ar, Mistra Hill, Wettinger Street (MellieÄ§a Bypass) and Marfa Road in MellieÄ§a.
Buses (xarabank or karozza tal-linja) are the primary method of public transport. Established in 1905, the service underwent an extensive reform in July 2011. The management structure changed from having self-employed drivers driving their own vehicles to a service being offered by a single company through a public tender (in Gozo, being considered as a small network, the service was given through direct order). The public tender was won by Arriva Malta, a member of the Arriva group.
The new service includes a day and night services. The fast Crossline services operating at a frequency of 30 minutes. The Crossline service shall connect with Mainline services, which will operate at a frequency of between 10 and 30 minutes. At regional and local levels the feeder lines will serve villages and neighbouring areas at a frequency of 30 minutes. Interchanges are located in Valletta, Mater Dei Hospital, Swieqi, Paola, Marsa, Malta International Airport and Msida.
Between 1883 and 1931, Malta had a railway line that connected Valletta to the army barracks at Mtarfa via Mdina and a number of towns and villages. The railway fell into disuse and eventually closed altogether, following the introduction of electric trams and buses. At the height of the bombing of Malta during World War II, Mussolini announced that his forces had destroyed the railway system but by the time war broke out, the railway had been mothballed for more than nine years.
Malta has three large natural harbours on its main island, these include the Grand Harbour in Valletta and Marsamxett Harbour within close proximity.
There are also two man-made harbours that serve a passenger and car ferry service that connects ÄŠirkewwa Harbour on Malta and MÄ¡arr Harbour on Gozo. The ferry makes numerous runs each day.
Malta International Airport (Ajruport Internazzjonali ta' Malta) is the only airport serving the Maltese Islands. It is built on the land formerly occupied by the RAF Luqa air base. A heliport is also located there, but the scheduled service to Gozo ceased in 2006. The heliport in Gozo is at Xewkija. Since June 2007, Harbour Air Malta has operated a thrice-daily floatplane service between the sea terminal in Grand Harbour and Mgarr Harbour in Gozo.
Two further airfields at Ta' Qali and Ä¦al Far airfields operated during World War II and into the 1960s but are now closed. Today, Ta' Qali houses a national park, stadium, the Crafts Village visitor attraction and the Malta Aviation Museum. This museum preserves several aircraft, including Hurricane and Spitfire fighters that defended the island in World War II.
The national airline is Air Malta, which is based at Malta International Airport, and which operates services to 36 destinations in Europe and North Africa. The owners of Air Malta are the Government of Malta (98%) and private investors (2%). Air Malta employs 1,547 staff. It has a 25% shareholding in Medavia.
Air Malta has concluded over 191 interline ticketing agreements with other IATA airlines. It also has a codeshare agreement with Qantas covering the following routes: Sydneyâ€“Singaporeâ€“Heathrowâ€“Malta, Sydneyâ€“Bangkokâ€“Heathrowâ€“Malta and Melbourneâ€“Singaporeâ€“Heathrowâ€“Malta. In September 2007, Air Malta made two agreements with Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways by which Air Malta wet-leased two Airbus aircraft to Etihad Airways for the winter period starting 1 September 2007, and provided operational support on another Airbus A320, aircraft which it leased to Etihad Airways.
The culture of Malta reflects the various cultures that have come into contact with the Maltese Islands throughout the centuries, including neighbouring Mediterranean cultures, and the cultures of the nations that ruled Malta for long periods of time prior to its independence in 1964.
Art and Architecture
Malta has a long history of architecture, influenced by many different Mediterranean cultures over its history, and most recently, British architecture. The first settlers on the island constructed Ä gantija, one of the oldest manmade freestanding structure in the world. Malta is currently undergoing large scale building projects that includes constructions such as SmartCity Malta, the M-Towers, and Pendergardens, while areas such as the Valletta Waterfront and Tigne Point are receiving renovation.
The Neolithic temple builders 3800â€“2500 BC endowed the numerous temples of Malta and Gozo with intricate bas relief designs, including spirals evocative of the tree of life and animal portraits, designs painted in red ochre, ceramics, and a vast collection of human form sculptures, particularly the Venus of Malta. These can be viewed at the temples themselves (most notably, the Hypogeum and Tarxien Temples), and at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.
The Roman period introduced highly decorative mosaic floors, marble colonnades and classical statuary, remnants of which are beautifully preserved and presented in the Roman Domus, a country villa just outside the walls of Mdina. The early Christian frescoes that decorate the catacombs beneath Malta reveal a propensity for eastern, Byzantine tastes. These tastes continued to inform the endeavours of medieval Maltese artists, but they were increasingly influenced by the Romanesque and Southern Gothic movements. Towards the end of the 15th century, Maltese artists, like their counterparts in neighbouring Sicily, came under the influence of the School of Antonello da Messina, which introduced Renaissance ideals and concepts to the decorative arts in Malta.
The artistic heritage of Malta blossomed under the Knights of St. John, who brought Italian and Flemish Mannerist painters to decorate their palaces and the churches of these islands, most notably, Matteo Perez d'Aleccio, whose works appear in the Magisterial Palace and in the Conventual Church of St. John in Valetta, and Filippo Paladini, who was active in Malta from 1590 to 1595. For many years, Mannerism continued to inform the tastes and ideals of local Maltese artists.
The arrival in Malta of Caravaggio, who painted at least seven works during his 15-month stay on these islands, further revolutionized local art. Two of Caravaggio's most notable works, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Jerome Writing, are on display in the Oratory of the Conventual Church of St. John. His legacy is evident in the works of local artists Giulio Cassarino (1582â€“1637) and Stefano Erardi (1630â€“1716). However, the Baroque movement that followed was destined to have the most enduring impact on Maltese art and architecture. The glorious vault paintings of the celebrated Calabrese artist, Mattia Preti transformed the severe, Mannerist interior of the Conventual Church St. John into a Baroque masterpiece. Preti spent the last 40 years of his life in Malta, where he created many of his finest works, now on display in the Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta. During this period, local sculptor Melchior GafÃ (1639â€“1667) emerged as one of the top Baroque sculptors of the Roman School.
During the 17th and 18th century, Neapolitan and Rococo influences emerged in the works of the Italian painters Luca Giordano (1632â€“1705) and Francesco Solimena (1657â€“1747), and these developments can be seen in the work of their Maltese contemporaries such as Giovanni Nicola Buhagiar (1698â€“1752) and Francesco Zahra (1710â€“1773). The Rococo movement was greatly enhanced by the relocation to Malta of Antoine de Favray (1706â€“1798), who assumed the position of court painter to Grand Master Pinto in 1744.
Neo-classicism made some inroads among local Maltese artists in the late 18th century, but this trend was reversed in the early 19th century, as the local Church authorities â€“ perhaps in an effort to strengthen Catholic resolve against the perceived threat of Protestantism during the early days of British rule in Malta â€“ favoured and avidly promoted the religious themes embraced by the Nazarene movement of artists. Romanticism, tempered by the naturalism introduced to Malta by Giuseppe CalÃ¬, informed the "salon" artists of the early 20th century, including Edward and Robert Caruana Dingli.
Parliament established the National School of Art in the 1920s. During the reconstruction period that followed the Second World War, the emergence of the "Modern Art Group", whose members included Josef Kalleya (1898â€“1998), George Preca (1909â€“1984), Anton Inglott (1915â€“1945), Emvin Cremona (1919â€“1986), Frank Portelli (b.1922), Antoine Camilleri (b.1922) and Esprit Barthet (b.1919) greatly enhanced the local art scene.
Maltese cuisine shows strong Sicilian and English influences as well as influences of Spanish, Maghrebin and ProvenÃ§al cuisines. A number of regional variations, particularly with regards to Gozo, can be noted as well as seasonal variations associated with the seasonal availability of produce and Christian feasts (such as Lent, Easter and Christmas). Food has been important historically in the development of a national identity in particular the traditional fenkata (i.e. the eating of stewed or fried rabbit).
Traditional Maltese proverbs reveal a cultural preoccupation with childbearing and fertility: "iÅ¼-Å¼wieÄ¡ mingÄ§ajr tarbija ma fihx tgawdija" (a childless marriage cannot be a happy one). This is a belief that Malta shares with many other Mediterranean cultures. In Maltese folktales the local variant of the classic closing formula, "and they all lived happily ever after" is "u gÄ§ammru u tgÄ§ammru, u spiÄ‹Ä‹at" (and they lived together, and they had children together, and the tale is finished).
Rural Malta shares in common with Mediterranean and traditional Jewish society a number of superstitions regarding fertility, menstruation, and pregnancy, including the avoidance of cemeteries during the months leading up to childbirth, and avoiding the preparation of certain foods during menses. Pregnant women are encouraged to satisfy their cravings for specific foods, out of fear that their unborn child will bear a representational birth mark (Maltese: xewqa, literally "desire" or "craving"). Maltese and Sicilian women also share certain traditions that are believed to predict the sex of an unborn child, such as the cycle of the moon on the anticipated date of birth, whether the baby is carried "high" or "low" during pregnancy, and the movement of a wedding ring, dangled on a string above the abdomen (sideways denoting a girl, back and forth denoting a boy).
Traditionally, Maltese newborns were baptised as promptly as possible, partly out of fear of limbo should the child die in infancy, and partly because according to Maltese (and Sicilian) folklore an unbaptised child is not yet a Christian, but "still a Turk". Traditional Maltese delicacies served at a baptismal feast include biskuttini tal-magÄ§mudija (almond macaroons covered in white or pink icing), it-torta tal-marmorata (a spicy, heart-shaped tart of chocolate-flavoured almond paste), and a liqueur known as roÅ¼olin, made with rose petals, violets and almonds.
On a child's first birthday, in a tradition that still survives today, Maltese parents would organize a game known as il-quÄ‹Ä‹ija, where a variety of symbolic objects would be randomly placed around the seated child. These may include a hard-boiled egg, a Bible, crucifix or rosary beads, a book, and so on. Whichever object the child shows most interest in is said to reveal the child's path and fortunes in adulthood.
Money refers to a rich future while a book expresses intelligence and a possible career as a teacher. Infants who select a pencil or pen will be writers. Choosing bibles or rosary beads refers to a clerical or monastic life. If the child chooses a hard-boiled egg, it will have a long life and many children. More recent additions include calculators (refers to accounting), thread (fashion) and wooden spoons (cooking and a great appetite).
Traditional Maltese weddings featured the bridal party walking in procession beneath an ornate canopy, from the home of the bride's family to the parish church, with singers trailing behind serenading the bride and groom. The Maltese word for this custom is il-Ä¡ilwa. This custom along with many others has long since disappeared from the Islands, in the face of modern practices.
New wives would wear the gÄ§onnella, a traditional item of Maltese clothing. However, it is no longer worn in modern Malta. Today's couples are married in churches or chapels in the village or town of their choice. The nuptials are usually followed by a lavish wedding reception, often including several hundred guests. Occasionally, couples will try to incorporate elements of the traditional Maltese wedding in their celebration. A resurgent interest in the traditional wedding was evident in May 2007, when thousands of Maltese and tourists attended a traditional Maltese wedding in the style of the 16th century, in the Village of Å»urrieq. This included il-Ä¡ilwa, which led the bride and groom to a wedding ceremony that took place on the parvis of St. Andrew's Chapel. The reception that followed featured folklore music (gÄ§ana) and dancing.
Local festivals, similar to those in southern Italy, are commonplace in Malta and Gozo, celebrating weddings, christenings and, most prominently, saints' days, honouring the patron saint of the local parish. On saints' days, the festa reaches its apex with a High Mass featuring a sermon on the life and achievements of the patron saint, after which a statue of the religious patron is taken around the local streets in solemn procession, with the faithful following in respectful prayer. The religious atmosphere quickly gives way to several days of revelry, band processions, fireworks, and late night parties. Lija is one villages with a notable firework display.
Carnival (Maltese: il-karnival ta' Malta) has had an important place on the cultural calendar after Grand Master Piero de Ponte introduced it to the Islands in 1535. It is held during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday, and typically includes masked balls, fancy dress and grotesque mask competitions, lavish late-night parties, a colourful, ticker-tape parade of allegorical floats presided over by King Carnival (Maltese: ir-Re tal-Karnival), marching bands and costumed revellers.
Holy Week (Maltese: il-Ä imgÄ§a Mqaddsa) starts on Palm Sunday (Ä¦add il-Palm) and ends on Easter Sunday (Ä¦add il-GÄ§id). Numerous religious traditions, most of them inherited from one generation to the next, are part of the paschal celebrations in the Maltese Islands, honouring the death and resurrection of Jesus.
A national feast since the rule of the Knights, Mnarja is a traditional Maltese festival of food, religion and music. The festivities still commence today with the reading of the "bandu", an official governmental announcement, which has been read on this day in Malta since the 16th century. Originally, Mnarja was celebrated outside St. Paul's Grotto, in the north of Malta. However, by 1613 the focus of the festivities had shifted to the Cathedral of St. Paul, in Mdina, and featured torchlight processions, the firing of 100 petards, horseraces, and races for men, boys and slaves. Modern Mnarja festivals take place in and around the woodlands of Buskett, just outside the town of Rabat.
It is said that under the Knights, this was the one day in the year when the Maltese were allowed to hunt and eat wild rabbit, which was otherwise reserved for the hunting pleasures of the Knights. The close connection between Mnarja and rabbit stew (Maltese: "fenkata") remains strong today.
In 1854 British governor William Reid launched an agricultural show at Buskett which is still being held today. The farmers' exhibition is still a seminal part of the Mnarja festivities today.
Mnarja today is one of the few occasions when participants may hear traditional Maltese "gÄ§ana". Traditionally, grooms would promise to take their brides to Mnarja during the first of year of marriage. For luck, many of the brides would attend in their wedding gown and veil, although this custom has long since disappeared from the Islands.
In 2009 the first New Year's Eve street party was organized in Malta, parallel to what other major countries in the world organize. Although the event was not highly advertised and controversial, due to the closing of an arterial street on the day, it is deemed to have been successful and will most likely be organized every year.