Saturday, 15 June 2019

Touring Malta

Recently I had a week touring Malta and Gozo, its sister island. We stayed at Mellieha in the north of the island. Like many Maltese towns it has an enormous church with a vast dome: a recent building, but with a far older shrine to "Our Lady of Mellieha" below it. In this picture, Mellieha bay is the larger area of sea to the right of the church: Gozo can be seen on the far side of the sea to the left.

From here it is no great distance to the capital, Valletta, though it can take over an hour because of the narrowness of the roads. The bus fare was only 1.50 Euros, and travelled there three times. 
   Valletta was built after the Knights Hospitaller had repelled (just!) the great Turkish siege of 1565, and named in honour of the man who commanded them. Within massive fortifications, it is built on a regular gridiron pattern, and contains several fine museums and noble Baroque buildings

as well as the "co-cathedral" of St. John the Baptist, which is supremely over-the-top, and owns two Caravaggio paintings.

The view over the Grand Harbour fromValletta I would rate as one of the finest in the world

The best way to view the massive fortifications is from the little boats plying the harbour. They look like gondolas with outboard engines!

These fortifications were built by the Knights after the great siege, in case the Turks attacked again - but in fact they never did.

Mdina, the old capital of Malta, is in the centre of the island. It also has impressive fortifications.

Within the walls there are many fine old buildings, 

and an impressive cathedral

From the walls, you can see almost the whole island.

Outside the walls of Mdina is Rabat (which is merely the Arab word for a suburb). It is noted for several mazes of catacombs from the early Christian period

Malta has several unique temples, constructed from enormous rocks. They date from the Neolithic period, around 3,500 B.C., which makes them older than Stonehenge and a thousand years earlier than the Pyramids. This is the one at Hagar Qim, near the south-western coast of the island.

There are few surviving buildings that date from before the great siege of 1565. But in more recent times there has been a massive campaign of church-building. Even quite small towns boast huge churches, often with soaring domes; the most spectacular being at Mosta 

Many of the hillsides still have terraces of tiny fields, supported by  drystone walls originally built by the Arabs. Some are still farmed, but others have reverted to scrub or to thickets of prickly pear cactus; another Arab introduction.

I saw no farm animalsat all: we were told they were always kept indoors.

The coast has some spectacular features, such as the Blue Grotto.

But there are also modern seaside resorts, such as Marsaxlokk in the south-east.

Gozo, the island a short distance north of Malta, is quite different in many ways. I shall deal with Gozo in a later post.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

King Louis of England?

It is often asserted that the last invasion of England was in 1066, but this is by no means the case.
When King John's disastrous reign finally came to an end in 1216, his son and heir, Henry, was no more than nine years old, and without any sign of being a forceful character. The boy was now crowned as Henry III; but many of the barons who had rebelled against John were of the opinion that Louis, the younger son of Philip Augustus of France (the greatest of the French mediaeval kings) would make a much better King of England.
   Louis was already in England, and was willing to take the crown. But William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, the most respected knight of his age, remained loyal to the ruling family, and attacked and defeated Louis and his supporters at Lincoln in May 1217
Image result for Battle of Lincoln.

Soon afterwards, French ships in the Channel were defeated off Dover. Louis withdrew to France, and as a result of the death of his brother became King Louis VIII of France in 1223. But, without the determination of William Marshal, England could easily have had a King Louis I.
   Young King Henry III now enjoyed a reign of 56 years, one of the longest in British history. But "enjoyed" is probably the wrong word, since he displayed complete ineptitude for the job. For a while he was little more than a prisoner and puppet of Simon de Montfort. But Henry's very incompetence proved to be of crucial constitutional importance, since it resulted in the first appearance of an English Parliament.