Located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, between Sicily (Europe) and Tunisia (North Africa), Malta is an archipelago of three main inhabited islands—Gojo, Comino and Malta. A total land area of 316 sq km makes it one of the 10 smallest countries on the planet.
The capital city of Valletta and other tourist quarters such as Mdina, Rabat, the Three Cities—Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua—and the fishing town of Marsaxlokk are all located in Malta Island while much smaller islands of Gozo and Comino are a short ferry ride from its shores. Owing to its size, it’s easy to travel the entire country with no corner more than a two-hour drive away.
Spanning across 7,000 years, its history is very intensive. After the Neolithic era, the land in succession was ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and the Normans who were replaced in the 16th century by the Knights of St. John. They were followed by the French and the British from whom Malta received independence in 1964. A 45-minute audio-visual show at Valletta titled ‘Malta Experience’ is the best way to learn about Maltese history.
Other than some prehistoric temples and necropolises like the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ggantija Temples in Gozo, most of the architecture was built by the Knights during their 268-year reign. This includes forts, palaces, cathedrals, gates and mansions, some expressing the best of baroque design in the world. Two top examples are St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta and St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina which is dedicated to apostle St Paul who introduced Christianity in Malta in 60AD.
While Valletta is famous for its stunning waterbodies and church dome-dominated skyline, modest townships of former capital Mdina, next door Rabat and the Three Cities are characterised by golden yellow limestone architecture flanking narrow cobblestone alleyways opening to piazzas. This is where kings fought, nobles socialised and soldiers paraded in the past. However now, films are shot here. Like at the Mesquita Square in Mdina, or at the Fort St Angelo in Vittoriosa, where scenes from the popular television series Game of Thrones were filmed. Local tour operators take movie-buffs through various locations to bring alive their cinematic memories.
Though there is no shortage of contemporary elements—good hotels, trendy restaurants, shopping malls and wi-fi—in modern Malta, the landscape still displays a medieval character making it a favourite location for filmmakers. Fort St Elmo in Valletta doubled for Marseille in The Count of Monte Cristo, as a Turkish prison in Midnight Express among other movies. Similarly, Fort Ricasoli, commanding entrance to Malta’s grand harbour, served as historic Rome for Russell Crowe’s Gladiator and as ancient Greece in Troy. Most recently Salman Khan’s Bharat has been shot at these locations. Like any versatile actor, Malta can fit into many diverse roles.