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Five unusual things you can do in Malta

Malta may be a small island but size can be deceiving. From an entire ‘village’ full of cats to a neolithic necropolis, there’s much more to Malta than meets the eye.

Five unusual things you can do in Malta
Diving at the site of the Azure Window. Photo: Visit Malta

Presenting five unusual things you shouldn’t miss in Malta.

Explore a prehistoric tomb

From mythological Atlantis to the lost city of El Dorado, hidden or lost places have always captured the imagination.

In Malta, you can explore an underground burial site that went undiscovered for thousands of years. The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a neolithic necropolis nestled under the streets of Paola, also known as Raħal Ġdid. The large underground burial chamber is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of seven on the island. Dug directly into the limestone, the prehistoric complex, which was in use for up to 1500 years, dates back to 4000 BC. Carved with Stone Age tools like flints and antlers, the subterranean chamber, complete with stellar acoustics if you feel like a chant, paints a fascinating picture of prehistoric life. Make sure to book in advance, numbers are limited with just 10 people admitted per hour.

Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. Photo: Visit Malta

Cosy up with the cats

Malta is a country where you’ll find The Three Big Cs of Tourism: culture, cuisine…and cats.

Yes, in Sliema, a town on Malta’s northeast coast, is Cat Village, a park that’s home to many (well-fed and healthy) homeless cats. There’s also a giant multicoloured cat statue because what cat village would be complete without one? It’s an essential pitstop for all visiting ailurophiles (that’s ‘cat fans’, to you and me).

Test the waters

Malta went into mourning when its famous Azure Window, a 28-metre-tall rock arch, collapsed in 2017. But where one door closes (or one window collapses), another one opens.

The arch itself is no longer there but under the water a new tourist lure has emerged. Where the limestone formation once stood has become a popular diving spot that is quite literally swimming with marine life. With a depth-range of five to 52 metres, it’s suitable for divers of all levels who are keen to explore this underwater playground.

It’s a spectacular sight at the moment but won’t stay this way long. Soon, the sharp-edged chunks of white rock will be smoothed down by the ebb and flow of the Mediterranean and blanketed in plants — so there’s no time to waste if you want to catch it in its current condition.

Delve into the ‘Dark Cave’

Ghar Dalam. Photo: Visit Malta

Malta has more prehistoric sites than a caveman could shake a club at. The island’s oldest prehistoric site, of which the lowermost layers are over 500,000 years old, was discovered in the second half of the 19th Century. Għar Dalam (the ‘Dark Cave’) has gifted palaeontologists, archaeologists and ecologists with the bones of Ice Age animals, remains and artefacts from the first human settlers in Malta and many geological features including stalactites and stalagmites. There’s also an interesting little museum at the entrance where you can read about how the cave was formed and see some of the treasures its turned up.

Take a bite of Maltese history

Food is to culture what eyes are to the soul. It’s the window into a country’s history and the simplest way to understand local culture. There are plenty of restaurants where you can try modern Maltese fare, but if you really want to get a taste for the island’s past then try Heritage Malta’s new concept ‘Taste History’. Join professional historians, curators and chefs and sample traditional dishes revived from the 17th and 18th Centuries. From what would have been typical peasant snacks to a merchant’s decadent dinner, it’s a unique opportunity to discover Malta and its eclectic past through your tastebuds.

Photo: Taste History – Heritage Malta

Click here to start planning your trip to Malta

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Visit Malta.

 

TRAVEL

IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images

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