Friday, October 24, 2014
A week in Malta - 4
After Paul and I got the tickets for the Hypogeum and put them safely away in the room, we all headed down to the port to get the ferry over to Sliema for the Captain Morgan Harbour Cruise. This gives you a good feel for the geography of the peninsula and islands; there are many ports, in fact. There was one filled with yachts taking part in the race on Saturday; they were all decked out with sponsor flags -- Rolex. There are also a few military boats, which are used mostly for rescue missions as Malta is an emergency landing place for refugees from North Africa. Cruise vessels also spend a day in Malta. They are gigantic! They hide the waterfront. They spit out tons of diesel as they enter or leave the port. That said, the view from the ships must be beautiful and friends who have been on such large cruise ships say they loved the trip. We had lunch at a little hidden snack bar on the main street of Sliema before catching the ferry back to Valletta, where some of us went to visit the state rooms in the Grand Master's Palace and the armory. Actually, we kept encountering one another: Valletta is small, so we had time for an ice cream or coffee to compare impressions. I was struck by the decorative beauty of the armor and arms. The Knights of Malta were a rich order and when a knight died, the order inherited his armor, so it's an impressive collection, even after the passage of Napoleon at the end of the 18th century and the English, from 1800. The helmuts and full body armor was made of heavy metal and engraved, decorated with pearls and stones, and sometimes gilded. The pistols, lances, crossbows, and cannons were elegant and also expansively end expensively decorated. All this to go to battle!
Saturday, we met up at the bus station to catch the bus to Paola: 6 to visit Tarxien and 4 for the Hypogeum. We were in the first group for the Hypogeum. This is an underground temple/catacomb dug into the rock. It's an exact replica of the temples above ground, complete with roof structure and decorations. It boggles the mind to think of how they managed to dig into the rock. It's already mind-boggling when you see what they did above ground. It may have been a temple at the start but it was used later to dispose of bodies. There is speculation as to whether the bodies were deposited there to decompose and then the bones were pushed aside to make room for more or if the bodies were allowed to dry before being placed underground. If they decomposed in the crypt, then the stench must have been horrible, especially as the structure was constantly being extended with new digging. This is where the statuettes were found, such as the woman lying on a couch, which is only about 10 cm. (4 in.) long and is beautiful.
Tarxien was one of the earliest sites to be preserved. As such, in the 1950s, they covered the damaged stones with cement and concrete, which, as we know now, accelerates the deterioration. It is still worth the visit. This site was used by several different groups, so there are subtle changes in the temple structure as additions were made.
This day of local bus cost us €1.50 each; a day ticket.
Dinner again at the Ordinnance Pub, for convenience, and a conversation of summing up the day's sightseeing. Early to bed as Y and M had a very early flight back to Lyons on Sunday and we were all tired, anyway. The trip was over. Time to pack. Our minibus picked us up at 11 on Sunday to take us to the airport. We arrived back in Paris to warm weather and sun, but Monday morning, the temperature and skies were more October-like.
Links to Wikipedia articles that might be of interest to you:
Malta, general article
Co-cathedral St. John
Museum of Fine Art
National Museum of Archeology
St.. Paul Catacombs