Historical sites in Malta

Updated 2017-09-19 07:30

The Maltese islands are world-famous for their historical significance. With some of the world's oldest free-standing structures and thousands of years of settlement history, you will love exploring these top historical sites in Malta.


Valletta is the capital city of Malta overlooking the Grand Harbour. The city is the oldest planned city in Europe and the smallest capital city in the European Union.

Valletta was named for the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St. John, Jean Parisot de Valette. He was head of the Order during the Great Siege of Malta of 1565, which was a pivotal point in Maltese history.

After successfully thwarting Ottoman attempts to take the island, the Knights of St. John founded the new capital city of Valletta on the Sceberras Peninsula to further fortify their position in Malta. The city was designed by Francesco Laparelli, while many of the buildings were built by Gerolamo Cassar. Valletta was one of the earliest sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

St. John's Cathedral

St. John's Cathedral, located in Valletta, was built between 1573 and 1578 and designed by Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar. The floor is entirely taken by knight's graves, all having intricately inlaid marble in different colours.

The cathedral was largely decorated by the Italian artist - a Knight himself - Mattia Preti in the 17th century. Preti designed the intricately carved stone walls, all created on-site, and painted the vaulted ceiling and side altars with scenes from the life of St John.


The word Mdina is derived from the Arabic word medina, which means city.

Mdina was the main settlement point for the Phoenicians around 3,000 years ago, and, until the arrival of the Knights of St. John in the mid 1500s, was the capital of Malta. Today, Mdina is a major attraction recognised internationally as an important archaeological and heritage site. Mdina also serves as the seat of the Maltese bishop.

Ggantija Temples

Located in Gozo, the Ggantija Temples (meaning Giants' Tower) are the best-preserved and oldest free-standing structures in the world. They consist of two neolithic temples dating back to 3600 BC, which are surrounded by a massive wall.

The Ggantija Temples became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980; other Megalithic Temples around the Maltese islands were later incorporated into this listing to be one site renamed the Megalithic Temples of Malta.

St. Paul's Catacombs

Located in Rabat, just outside of Mdina, St. Paul's Catacombs are a maze of narrow passages, originally used as underground cemeteries by the Romans.

St Paul's Catacombs specifically represent the earliest and largest archaeological evidence of Christianity in Malta. They were cleared and investigated in 1894 by Dr. A.A. Caruana, the pioneer of Christian archaeology in Malta.

The catacombs were likely abandoned when burial customs changed with a new conquering invader, but parts of the catacombs were used again around the 13th Century. Today, you can visit the Catacombs to better understand the depth of history in Malta.

Mosta Dome

The Mosta Dome is the third largest unsupported dome in the world, and is dedicated to the Assumption. It was built between 1832 and 1863 around Mosta's previous parish church, which was then demolished and brought out stone by stone through the doorways of the magnificent new edifice.

The Mosta Dome is an architectural masterpiece distinguished by its grand 67- metre-high cupola and neo-classic façade embellished by iconic columns.

The church escaped destruction in the Second World War when an afternoon air-raid on the 9th of April 1942 dropped a 200kg bomb on the dome. The 300 people who had gathered to pray saw the bomb penetrating the dome and landing on the mosaic floor. The bomb failed to explode- dubbed a miracle by the Maltese- and not a single person was injured. A replica of the bomb is now on display in the church.

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Burial Street, Paola

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is a subterranean prehistoric burial site that was excavated between 1904-1911. The complex dates back to around 4000BC and consists of a system of caves, passages, and cubicles cut into the stone, similar to the interiors of megalithic temples.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Hypogeum also contains Malta's only prehistoric paintings. To ensure its conservation, the site's microclimate is strictly regulated. For this reason, the site is open to a maximum of 80 visitors each day. It is the only prehistoric burial site that is open to the general public.

Blue Grotto, Zurrieq

The Blue Grotto is the most famous cave in Malta with its deep waters displaying magnificent dazzling colours, ranging from turquoise to deep blue. Situated near the village of Zurrieq in the southwest of Malta, the Blue Grotto is a system of six caves created by centuries of persistent wave action. A massive 30-metre arch overlooks the area.

The waters around the limestone caves and archways are said to be at their most impressive in the early morning when the sun's rays glimmer through the opening to the grotto. The cave was given its English name by British soldiers who thought that its blue waters resembled the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto) in Capri. To get to the grotto, visitors have to travel by boat.

Hagar Qim Temple, Qrendi

Hagar Qim temple was excavated for the first time in 1839. The megalithic temples date from what is known as the Ggantija phase, between 3600-3200BC, and are estimated to be 1,000 years older than the Pyramids at Giza.

The temples are built of limestone rock, some towering over five metres high and weighing around 20 tonnes. The complex is an impressive maze of corridors, chambers, niches, and altars, all carved out of stone using flint. On the morning of the summer solstice, sunlight passes through a hole known as the "oracle hole" and fills the apse of the temple.

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