Malta’s culture reflects the various cultures that have come into contact with the Maltese Islands over the centuries, from the Phoenicians to the British, including neighboring Mediterranean cultures and the cultures of the nations that ruled Malta for long periods of time prior to its independence in 1964.
While modern Maltese music is mostly Western, traditional Maltese music contains gana. This includes background folk guitar music as a few individuals, mostly males, take turns arguing a topic in a sing-song voice. The goal of the improvised lyrics is to create a pleasant but difficult environment, and it takes years of preparation to be able to combine the necessary aesthetic characteristics with the ability to argue successfully.
Maltese literature has been documented for over 200 years. A newly discovered love song, on the other hand, attests to literary activity in the local language dating back to the Medieval period. Malta follows a Romantic literary heritage, culminating in the writings of Malta’s National Poet, Dun Karm Psaila. Following authors like as Ruzar Briffa and Karmenu Vassallo attempted to distance themselves from the rigidity of formal topics and versification.
Maltese literature saw its most dramatic change among poets, prose writers, and dramatists in the late 1960s. Among the notable poets of the latter quarter of the twentieth century are Mario Azzopardi, Victor Fenech, Oliver Friggieri, Joe Friggieri, Charles Flores, Daniel Massa, Maria Ganado, Lillian Sciberras, and Achille Mizzi. In literature, Frans Sammut (Malta’s National Modern Author), Paul P. Borg, and Joe J. Camillerile pioneered the avant-garde; in theatre, notable names include Francis Ebejer, Alfred Sant, Doreen Micallef, Oreste Calleja, Joe Friggieri, and Martin Gauci.
The following generation of authors broadened the tracks much further, particularly in prose. Young authors such as Guze’ Stagno, Karl Schembri, and Clare Azzopardi are quickly establishing themselves, while notable poets include Adrian Grima, Immanuel Mifsud, Norbert Bugeja, and Simone Inguanez.
Peter Serracino Inglott, Oliver Friggieri, and Charles Briffa brought insightful historical, philosophical, and psycho-social issues into Maltese theory via literary criticism. Ivan Callus, the current Head of the English Department at the University of Malta, is also a well-known literary critic for the English language in academic circles.
Other Maltese-born or Maltese-descent authors have made a name for themselves in other countries. Trezza Azzopardi, best-selling children’s author Saviour Pirotta, and comic-book artist/journalist Joe Sacco were among them.
Art and architecture
Over the course of its history, Maltese architecture has been inspired by a variety of Mediterranean civilizations as well as British architecture. The earliest inhabitants on the island built gantija, one of the world’s oldest manufactured freestanding buildings. The numerous temples of Malta and Gozo were endowed with intricate bas relief designs, including spirals evocative of the tree of life and animal portraits, designs painted in red ochre, ceramics, and a vast collection of human form sculptures, particularly the Venus of Malta, by Neolithic temple builders between 3800 and 2500 BC. These may be seen in the temples (particularly the Hypogeum and Tarxien Temples) as well as the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. Malta is presently undertaking numerous large-scale construction projects, including the development of SmartCity Malta, the M-Towers, and Pendergardens, as well as the renovation of places like as the Valletta Waterfront and Tigné Point.
The Roman era brought extremely ornate mosaic flooring, marble colonnades, and classical sculpture, the remains of which are magnificently maintained and shown in the Roman Domus, a rural house just beyond Mdina’s walls. The early Christian paintings that adorn the tombs under Malta show a preference for eastern, Byzantine aesthetics. These preferences continued to affect medieval Maltese painters’ work, although they were more impacted by the Romanesque and Southern Gothic styles. Maltese painters, like their counterparts in neighboring Sicily, fell under the influence of the School of Antonello da Messina around the end of the 15th century, which brought Renaissance ideals and ideas to the ornamental arts in Malta. Malta’s temples, such as Imnajdra, are steeped in history and have a compelling backstory.
Malta’s artistic heritage flourished during the reign of the Knights of St. John, who brought Italian and Flemish Mannerist painters to decorate their palaces and churches, most notably Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, whose works can be found in the Magisterial Palace and the Conventual Church of St. John in Valletta, and Filippo Paladini, who was active in Malta from 1590 to 1595. For many years, Mannerism influenced the preferences and aspirations of Maltese painters.
Caravaggio’s presence in Malta, where he created at least seven pieces during his 15-month stay, further revolutionized local art. The Oratory of the Conventual Church of St. John has two of Caravaggio’s most famous works, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Jerome Writing. Local painters Giulio Cassarino (1582–1637) and Stefano Erardi (1630–1716) carry on his heritage. The Baroque movement that followed, on the other hand, was destined to have the greatest lasting influence on Maltese art and architecture. Mattia Preti’s magnificent vault paintings turned the austere, Mannerist interior of the Conventual Church St. John into a Baroque marvel. Preti spent the final 40 years of his life in Malta, where he produced many of his greatest works, which are currently on exhibit at Valletta’s Museum of Fine Arts. During this time, local artist Melchior Gafà (1639–1667) rose to prominence as one of the Roman School’s finest Baroque sculptures.
Neapolitan and Rococo influences emerged in the works of Italian painters Luca Giordano (1632–1705) and Francesco Solimena (1657–1747) during the 17th and 18th centuries, and these developments can be seen in the work of their Maltese contemporaries such as Giovanni Nicola Buhagiar (1698–1752) and Francesco Zahra (1710–1773). The transfer to Malta of Antoine de Favray (1706–1798), who took the post of court painter to Grand Master Pinto in 1744, significantly aided the Rococo style.
Neo-classicism made inroads among Maltese artists in the late 18th century, but this trend was reversed in the early 19th century, as local Church authorities – possibly in an effort to strengthen Catholic resolve against the perceived threat of Protestantism during the early days of British rule in Malta – favoured and avidly promoted the religious themes embraced by the Nazarene mob. Romanticism, tempered by the realism brought to Malta by Giuseppe Cal, influenced early twentieth-century “salon” painters such as Edward and Robert Caruana Dingli.
In the 1920s, Parliament created the National School of Art. During the postwar reconstruction period, the “Modern Art Group,” which included Josef Kalleya (1898–1998), George Preca (1909–1984), Anton Inglott (1915–1945), Emvin Cremona (1919–1986), Frank Portelli (b. 1922), Antoine Camilleri (b. 1922), and Esprit Barthet (b. 1919), greatly enriched the local art scene. The National Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta exhibits work by painters like as H. Craig Hanna.
Maltese cuisine is heavily influenced by Sicilian and English cuisines, as well as Spanish, Maghrebin, and Provençal cuisines. A variety of geographical differences, especially in Gozo, may be seen, as well as seasonal changes linked with food availability and Christian feasts (such as Lent, Easter and Christmas). Food, particularly traditional fenkata, has traditionally been essential in the formation of a national identity (i.e. the eating of stewed or fried rabbit).
According to the National Statistics Office, the Kinnie is the most popular Maltese beverage.
According to a Charities Aid Foundation survey from 2010, Maltese were the most charitable people in the world, with 83 percent donating to charity.
Maltese folktales contain a variety of stories concerning strange animals and supernatural occurrences. Manwel Magri, a researcher and pioneer in Maltese archaeology, collected them most thoroughly in his fundamental critique “rejjef Missirijietna” (“Fables from our Forefathers”). Following scholars and academics were motivated by this collection of information to collect traditional stories, fables, and legends from all across the Archipelago.
Magri’s work also influenced a series of comic novels (published by Klabb Kotba Maltin in 1984), with names such as Bin is-Sultan Jiewwe x-Xebba tat-Troniet Mewwija and Ir-Rjie. Many of these tales have been widely re-written as children’s literature by Maltese writers like Trevor Ahra. While giants, witches, and dragons appear in many of the tales, some depict completely Maltese monsters such as the Kaw kaw, Il-Belliega, and L-Imalla. Because of the Maltese preoccupation with spiritual (or ceremonial) purity, many of these creatures protect prohibited or restricted places and attack people who violated the stringent rules of behavior that characterized the island’s pre-industrial culture.
Traditional Maltese proverbs show the cultural significance of childbirth and fertility: “i-wie mingajr tarbija ma fihx tgawdija” (i-wie mingajr tarbija ma fihx tgawdija) (a childless marriage cannot be a happy one). This is a belief shared by many Mediterranean civilizations, including Malta. “u gammru u tgammru, u spiat” is the Maltese version of the traditional ending phrase, “and they all lived happily ever after” (and they lived together, and they had children together, and the tale is finished).
Rural Malta and Mediterranean culture share a variety of superstitions about fertility, menstruation, and pregnancy, such as avoiding graves during the months leading up to delivery and avoiding the cooking of particular meals during menstruation. Pregnant women are advised to fulfill their desires for certain meals in order to avoid having a symbolic birth mark on their unborn kid (Maltese: xewqa, literally “desire” or “craving”). Maltese and Sicilian women also share certain traditions that are thought to predict the sex of an unborn child, such as the moon cycle on the expected date of birth, whether the baby is carried “high” or “low” during pregnancy, and the movement of a wedding ring dangled on a string above the abdomen (sideways denoting a girl, back and forth denoting a boy).
Traditionally, Maltese infants were baptized as soon as possible, partly to avoid the child dying in infancy without receiving this important Sacrament, and partly because an unbaptised kid is not yet a Christian, but “still a Turk,” according to Maltese (and Sicilian) legend. Biskuttini tal-magmudija (almond macaroons coated in white or pink icing), it-torta tal-marmorata (a spicy, heart-shaped pie of chocolate-flavored almond paste), and roolin, a liqueur prepared with rose petals, violets, and almonds, are traditional Maltese sweets offered during a baptismal feast.
On a child’s first birthday, Maltese parents would organize a game known as il-quija, in which a variety of symbolic items would be randomly arranged around the sitting infant. A hard-boiled egg, a Bible, a crucifix or rosary beads, a book, and so on are examples. Whichever item the kid is most interested in is believed to foretell the child’s future course and fortunes.
Money represents a prosperous future, while a book represents intellect and a potential job as a teacher. Infants who choose a pencil or a pen will become writers. Choosing Bibles or rosary beads denotes a priestly or monastic lifestyle. A hard-boiled egg will have a long life and many children if the kid chooses it. Calculators (refers to accounting), thread (fashion), and wooden spoons are more recent additions (cooking and a great appetite).
Traditional Maltese weddings included the bridal party going in procession from the bride’s family house to the parish church under an elaborate canopy, with singers trailing behind serenading the bride and husband. This tradition is known as il-ilwa in Maltese. In the face of contemporary customs, this tradition, like many others, has long ago vanished from the islands.
The gonnella, a traditional Maltese garment, was worn by new wives. It is, however, no longer worn in contemporary Malta. Today’s couples marry in churches or chapels of their choosing in the hamlet or town of their choice. The wedding is typically followed by a spectacular and joyful wedding celebration attended by several hundred people. Couples may sometimes attempt to integrate aspects of a traditional Maltese wedding into their celebration. In May 2007, hundreds of Maltese and tourists attended a traditional Maltese wedding in the manner of the 16th century in the hamlet of Urrieq, indicating a resurgence of interest in traditional weddings. This featured il-ilwa, which brought the bride and groom to a wedding ceremony on St. Andrew’s Chapel’s parvis. Following the ceremony, there was traditional music (gana) and dancing.
Local celebrations, similar to those seen in Southern Italy, are popular in Malta and Gozo, commemorating marriages, christenings, and, most notably, saints’ days, which honor the patron saint of the local parish. On saints’ days, the festa culminates with a High Mass including a discourse on the life and accomplishments of the patron saint, followed by a solemn procession of the holy patron through the local streets, with the faithful following in reverent prayer. The holy mood soon gives way to several days of celebration and revelry: band processions, fireworks, and late-night partying.
Since Grand Master Piero de Ponte brought it to the islands in 1535, Carnival (Maltese: il-karnival ta’ Malta) has played an important role in the cultural calendar. It is typically held during the week preceding Ash Wednesday and includes masked balls, fancy dress and grotesque mask competitions, lavish late-night parties, a colorful, ticker-tape parade of allegorical floats presided over by King Carnival (Maltese: ir-Re tal-Karnival), marching bands, and costumed revellers.
Holy Week (Maltese: il-imga Mqaddsa) begins on Palm Sunday and concludes on Easter Sunday (add il-Gid). Numerous religious traditions, the majority of which are passed down from generation to generation, are part of the Maltese Islands’ paschal festivities, which honor Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Mnarja, also known as l-Imnarja (pronounced lim-nar-ya), is a significant day in the Maltese cultural calendar. Officially, it is a national holiday commemorating the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul. Its origins may be traced back to the ancient Roman feast of Luminaria (lit. “the lighting”), when torches and bonfires illuminated the early summer night of June 29.
Mnarja, a traditional Maltese celebration of food, religion, and song, has been a national feast since the Knights’ reign. The celebrations still begin with the reading of the “bandu,” an official governmental proclamation that has been issued on this day in Malta since the 16th century. Mnarja was originally celebrated outside St. Paul’s Grotto in the north of Malta. By 1613, however, the emphasis of the celebrations had moved to Mdina’s Cathedral of St. Paul, with torchlight processions, the firing of 100 petards, horseraces, and races for men, boys, and slaves. Modern Mnarja celebrations take held in and around the Buskett woods, close outside Rabat.
It is claimed that under the Knights’ reign, this was the one day of the year when the Maltese were permitted to hunt and eat wild rabbit, which was normally reserved for the Knights’ hunting pleasures. The link between Mnarja and rabbit stew (Maltese: “fenkata”) is still strong today.
British governor William Reid established an agricultural fair at Buskett in 1854, which is being held today. The farmers’ exposition is still an important element of the Mnarja celebrations today.
Today, Mnarja is one of the few places where participants may hear traditional Maltese “gana.” Grooms would traditionally vow to take their wives to Mnarja during their first year of marriage. Many brides would come in their bridal gowns and veils for good luck, but this tradition has long since vanished from the islands.
Isle of MTV is an annual one-day music event organized and aired by MTV. Since 2007, the festival has been held yearly in Malta, with prominent pop singers playing each year. In 2012, internationally renowned singers Flo Rida, Nelly Furtado, and Will.I.Am performed at Floriana’s Fosos Square. Over 50,000 individuals came, making it the largest turnout to date.
The first New Year’s Eve street celebration was held in Malta in 2009, similar to what other major nations across the globe do. Despite the fact that the event was not well publicized and was contentious owing to the closure of a major thoroughfare on the day, it was considered a success and would most likely be held again next year.
The Malta International Fireworks Festival is an annual event held in Valletta’s Grand Harbour since 2003. The event features fireworks displays from a variety of Maltese and international pyrotechnics manufacturers. Every year, the event is held in the final week of April.