Malta – Ħaġar Qim, Marsaxlokk and the Dingli Cliffs

One of the most, shall we say, exciting things about Malta is driving. They label roads here like other countries label cigarettes–“Speed Kills“, “Slow Down Immediately“, “Don’t Drink and Drive“. The signs are everywhere. And sure enough, most people appear to be ignoring them, at least the ones that have to do with speed. The road conditions aren’t exactly conducive to safety either. They are a mass of pot-holes and blind hair-pin turns. Most of the roads have no line down the middle to separate lanes of oncoming traffic. Instead, people just drive on whichever side of the road has fewer potholes, or right down the middle of it. To say nothing of the fact that they are supposed to be driving on the left side of the road, and a good portion of the rest of Europe, whence come their tourists, are used to driving on the right.

Speaking of that, it’s become my working theory for the reason Google maps keeps sending us the wrong way down one-way streets–that somebody crucial to the Google maps Malta implementation has not been informed that as a former part of the British Empire, the convention in Malta is to drive on the left. Because it’s also always telling us to go the wrong way in roundabouts, of which, as in Italy, there are a great many here. Although even that doesn’t explain why it would insist that we drive down this “road”.

This is all to say, we went on a bit of a road-trip yesterday. I’ve come down with a cold (side effect of too many kissing selfies with Tony when he had a cold), so we decided to postpone going out for our anniversary dinner (yes, it was our anniversary yesterday–happy thirteen years to us!) until I feel a bit better. However, I wasn’t about to miss a chance to sight-see a bit, even sick.

A road trip from one end of Malta to the other lasts about an hour. We headed from our northern base of Mellieħa down to the southern edge of the island, where some truly ancient temples, built by nobody knows quite whom, still stand facing the sea on rocky cliffs. This rather jumbled example is the only one that still stands in the open air like a tumbledown stonehenge:

The rest were protected with state-of-the-art coverings back in the 1990’s.

Dating back to the fourth millenium BC, they are some of the oldest religious sites on earth. It’s a bit of a weird feeling to walk through them, realizing we know virtually nothing about the civilisation that built them. Other than, I suppose, the fact that they had enough of a handle on the basics of food, water, shelter, and social organisation to dedicate significant resources to manage the design, quarrying, transport, and erection of the massive stone structures.

None of these photos gives an especially good impression of what the temples are really like. Here’s a scale model, so you can see the design and proportions bit better.

There were also spectacular views of the sea, including the smallest island of the Maltese archipelago, Flifla, which is an uninhabited reserve for nesting birds. In this photo the kids look like they’re enjoying a close-up of the island. But really the telescope didn’t work, although it was happy to accept a coin from hopeful tourists.

After seeing the temples, we drove a little further down the coast to picturesque Marsaxlokk. The place is like something out of a storybook, all palm trees and blue sky reflected in water, and colourful fishing boats. The boats aren’t for show either. Most of the fishing in Malta happens out of this port, which is also where the Turkish forces landed to start the Great Siege of 1565, and where Napoleon put in when he conquered the island a few hundred years later.

There was a delightful tourist market with some of the traditional handicrafts of Malta, like hand-blown glass and lace, of which I bought the tiniest of examples, having been reminded by Tony of the size of our house.

On the way home we stopped off at the Dingli Cliffs, another of Malta’s iconic views.

Once again, we managed to arrive just at dusk, and were treated to a lovely, if understated sunset over the cliffs.

These are the images I have to store away in my head for when we go back to cold, rainy Amsterdam.