Here is a partial list of countries / civilizations that have conquered or tried to conquer the islands we now call Malta: Arabs, Phoenicians, Carthagenians, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantiens, Normans, Swabians, Hohenstaufens, Angevins, Aragonians, Turks, Knights of St John, French, British. Some of these I had to look up. Have I ever been taught about the Swabians or the Hahenstaufens? The crown of Aragon I thought was a fictitious kingdom invented for the Lord of the Rings/ Renaissance Faire crowd.
Growing up an American European history of the Middle Ages was never particularly interesting to me. Even the popular show Game of Thrones, while visually beautiful, always seemed to me impossible to follow and entirely inconsequential. Now here in Malta, staring up at the limestone bastion separating Fort St Angelo from the Mediterranean Sea, built first by the Arabs in 1091, I find myself entirely overcome with wonder. 1091. I can’t even imagine what life was like for people in 1091. There was no 1091 in America; was there? Indians in teepees perhaps. Do we even know? I don’t. First constructed in 1091 this jagged knob of land was fortified by each subsequent culture who successfully penetrated the wall, or found another way to conquer these diminutive islands at the center of conflict in the Mediterranean for hundreds of years. Staring up at the this fort with a Spanish name, edged with fleur de lys, British built barracks, tears slip down my face. Just a few. Just for a minute this mash up of cultures takes my breath away.
“Cry? Why?” My Maltese friend Alex mocks me in his crisp charming Maltese accent when I would later recount my day. “I don’t know exactly,” I told him.
I still don’t know precisely why staring at the face of the grandeur of a world I could barely imagine brought me to tears. I just know that it was beautiful.