The numerous historical landmarks of Malta from prehistoric temple structures to majestic Baroque-styled cathedrals are a testament to the ever changing evolution of architecture in the Mediterranean nation. Each building represent a period in Malta’s past keeping its rich history alive.
Prehistoric Stone Temples
Built long before the construction of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Neolithic temple structures in Malta are one of the earliest constructions of its kind in the world. It has been suggested that Malta was first settled by waves of immigration for the neighbouring nation of Sicily which sparked the development of this once uninhabited island. These temples were the precursors of architectural development in Malta and Gozo. Almost all of these structures follow a similar outline on its design: a corridor located in the center that leads to two or more chambers where small altars are located. Huge boulders and blocks of stones were extensively utilized in these structures using only crude tools in their construction. A temple in Gozo was named even Ġgantija because they thought it had been built by giants.
Sicilian and Arabic architectural influences in Malta during the medieval times was more focused on the climatic needs and lifestyle of the Maltese environment instead of philosophy or design. Cube-shaped houses were prevalent in these times where some has even survived until the present times. These houses are designed to face south to ensure maximum sun exposure. Courtyard terraces were also incorporated in its design that acts as insulation from the hot sun during summer time and also to trap warmth from the sun during winter season.
Roman architecture also influenced Malta with the introduction of decorative mosaic floors and classical marble statues and porches. Roman mosaics are constructed using similar-sized blocks called tesserae and place together to form various shapes, motifs and figures. The present day town of Domus Romana in Malta where the ancient Roman town of Melite once stood has numerous Roman-inspired structures that are beautifully preserved and exhibited.
Concurrently, early-Christians built catacombs to serve as burial grounds for the dead and also to protect them from Roman persecution. Most of these large and complex underground structures were found on the Rabat area where Christians, Jews and pagans can safely practice their faith.
The most enduring of all architectural styles in Malta that had made a lasting impact on its culture and people is Baroque. This architectural style was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in 17th century and soon spread throughout Europe. The flamboyancy of this style which features the use of different shapes, dramatic effects and a good balance of light and shadow was used to showcase the triumph of the church and its power to influence the state. This is in contrast to the conservative and rigid style of Renaissance design prior to the spread of Catholic faith in Europe.
The arrival of Knights of the Order of St. John in Malta helped cemented the Baroque as the most widely used architectural style in the country today. Magnificent European buildings were introduced on a grand scale never seen before by the locals which mostly incorporates simple farm and town houses at that time. The Order of St. John, together with spreading their religion, also brought with them Italian Engineers and architects and founded the Capital city of Valleta and built numerous grand structures and fortifications around Grand Harbour.
The St. John’s Co-cathedral, Grand Master’s Palace and Auburge de Castille are some of the famous baroque-style architectural wonders constructed by the Order in Valleta. Some early buildings were even updated from plain late-renaissance or mannerism-style to more imposing and ornate baroque.
With the arrival of the British Empire in the island nation, English classicism became widely used in their construction of public buildings such as schools, hospitals and churches. Although much of the baroque-style structures from the previous era had remained relatively untouched, the influence of British architecture can be easily seen in towns such as Mtarfa and Sliema, and also beautiful structures such as St. Paul’s Pro-cathedral and the Royal Opera House.
Due to the numerous phases of cultural and religious revolutions in Europe, Malta is literally surrounded by various architectural wonders each representing their own respective era of construction. Due to inconsistent standards and growing popularity of modern building materials, preservation is big issue to Malta’s unique architecture. The old preference for low-lying honey-colored limestone houses are slowly being replaced by new imported materials, vibrant colors and inclination to heights. However, repurposed buildings such as the Fortifications Interpretation Centre are good development in terms of conserving the long history of Maltese architecture.