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Chameleon Island

by Eliza Sullivan

Photography by Eliza Sullivan

The last British Naval ships left the ports of Malta on March 31, 1979, completing the island’s long journey to independence that began years earlier.

Located just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, Malta’s location lead it to its culturally diverse population with a unique national identity. Visitors find themselves dropped into an airport in the middle of the largest island, the Malta archipelago, where the string of islands gets its name.

Towards the coast, there are low-rolling hills covered in rugged greenery and dull, sandy dirt stretching in every direction toward the ocean. Pulling up to the city of Valletta, an overwhelming panorama of church steeples and high walls seemingly rise from the Earth, all mimicking the sandy color of the land around it and contrasting the blue of the southern Mediterranean.

Often lauded by travel writers and vacationers as an underrated European destination, Malta provides an exotic feeling in a nation where English is the second-most commonly spoken language and one of the two official languages of the Republic. The streets of old-town Valletta offers a mix of languages from the Middle East, Africa and Europe that permeate the surrounding collection of wider, winding streets and small alleys leading downhill to the docks and port.

Valletta has seen the collision of many cultures over the centuries, combining the island charm of the Caribbean with architecture like Paris and Rome.

After wandering the cobbled streets of old Valletta, visitors can take a bus to coastal locations like the Blue Grotto: a budding wine industry indicative of Italian influences in Malta.

Toward the center of the island rests the walled city of Mdina, where Malta’s “chameleon” identity and blended cultures is even more evident. Leaving behind the consistency in architecture found in Valletta, Mdina becomes a different view with each corner and sloped road.

Stepping across the bridge and into the walls of Mdina will bring any film and television fan into an assortment of worlds from across years of cinema, such as the entrance to King’s Landing from the first season of HBO’s immensely popular series Game of Thrones. Further inside the walls lay the Venetian courtyards and French houses of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Riding back out towards the coast to a hotel in the town of Gżira, the sunset from Malta’s ocean cliffs stretches out in hues of pinks and oranges that put the sunsets of continental Europe to shame, making any visitor wonder why Malta has been a hidden gem so long.

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