Cultural Heritage is often associated very narrowly with museums and archaeological sites. But Malta possess a much more extensive patrimony of heritage assets. Not surprisingly, these are found closer to home, and the villages and towns in which we live.
The Maltese islands possess a unique, but fragile cultural landscape. This landscape has been shaped by seven millennia of human activity. Geological features, topography and the intricate resources of the land have conditioned the many ways in which Maltese culture and identity have developed over the centuries.
Within this landscape, prehistoric architects built unique temples within which were placed some of the finest artworks of world prehistory. Throughout antiquity, the custom of building public structures and adorning them with beautiful works of art continued. The Phoenicians, Romans and Byzantines left numerous remains, which ranged from public buildings, town houses to cemeteries and catacombs. These can still be visited today in various localities.
With the arrival of the knights of St John, and the lifting of the Great Siege of 1565, the building of modern Malta commenced and transformed the archipelago’s landscape beyond configurations that had changed very little since prehistoric times. Baroque Malta saw the building of fortifications, wonderful palaces, churches and a network of small cities, towns and villages that today form the historic centres of the archipelago’s urban landscape.
Within this infrastructure, artists like Caravaggio, Mattia Preti, Lorenzo Gafa, Francesco Zahra and many others, worked to provide a unique aesthetic that today defines Maltese Baroque. Visual art was accompanied by theatre. Churches required hundreds of musical compositions. Public feasts and celebrations developed around into traditions that still mark modern Malta.
The British period contributed its share to the building of modern Malta. The Baroque landscape inherited from the Knights of St John, was adopted and utilized as a fortress colony. New fortifications and new road infrastructures were built all over the Maltese Islands. The war experience led to great demographic shifts as well as to the creation of several underground shelters. The Second World War also saw the destruction of one of the major architectural and cultural projects undertaken by the British, namely the Opera House.
During the British period, when systematic archaeological excavation was on its way throughout the Empire, Maltese scholarship in this field took on a novel impetus, largely through the work of Sir Temi Zammit, with his excavations at Tarxien Temples, the discovery of the Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum, and the establishment of the Museums Department.
The Museums Department served its role as the protecting body and the manager of Maltese cultural heritage in its wide variety for almost a hundred years, when it was replaced by a number of entities according to the Cultural Heritage Act 2002, including the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage
Brief and general information about the various aspects of Malta’s cultural heritage is given under each relative heading.