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What islands in the Maltese archipelago are inhabited

01:00 Mon 07th Jan 2002 |

Asks sharan

A. The three main islands of the Maltese archipelago are the only ones that are inhabited, and these are Malta, Gozo and Comino.

Q. Where exactly is Malta

A. Malta is located off the coast of Sicily (58 miles away) and north Africa (180 miles away).

Q. Was Malta once part of Britain

A. Yes, it gained independence in 1964.

Q. What is the language and currency

A. The main language is Maltese, although English is widely spoken, as is Italian - and the currency is the Maltese Lira.

Q. What are the main places to visit

A. Malta is a strictly Catholic country full of old churches and cathedrals and has a religious festival season that lasts for six months. It is also overrun with palaces, museums and ancient relics some of which date back to the Copper Age.

Valletta: Most tourists will stay in or visit Valletta during their trip; it is the capital of the island and dates back to the 16th Century when the Knights of St John built it.

Today, it is a well-preserved 16th-century walled city, some of the best places to visit include the Co-Cathedral of St John (it has Caravaggio's famous painting The Beheading of St John hanging in its oratory), the Church of Our Lady of Victories (oldest church in Valetta, built in 1566), the Grand Master's Palace (dates back to 1565 and has a massive armoury collection, today it is the seat of Government), the Manoel Theatre (oldest theatre in Europe) and the National Museum of Archaeology (boasts pre-history exhibits).

Valletta is also famed for its fine gardens, the best of which is the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which offer magnificent views of the Grand Harbour and the Cottonera.

From Valetta you can visit many archaeological sites at Tarxien (Neolithic temple), Ghar Dalam (contains the remains of extinct birds and animals), Hypogeum (underground burial chambers) and Hagar Qim (Neolithic temple over 3000 years old, and the oldest surviving human structure in the world).

Mdina: was the capital of Malta before Valletta and today is one of the best-kept and well-preserved medieval cities in the world - it is over 3000 years old. It still has a fine wall encircling the entire city, complete with a stone drawbridge and tiny narrow streets that house lots of cathedrals, churches, monasteries and palaces - it is an amazing place steeped in history and lasting architecture. Its most fascinating and best-preserved buildings include the 11th Century Sicula-Norman Cathedral and the Norman-style Palazzo Falzon, built in 1495.

Sliema: is a modern resort in complete contrast to Mdina, that lies across the harbour from Valletta. It is full of hotels, shops, restaurants, clubs and discos and has a beach that is very popular, although rocky.

Q. Is it worth visiting Gozo and Comino during a trip to Malta

A. Both of these islands can be visited by ferry from Malta - and are great day trips. If you find the pace in Malta too fast, a few days on Gozo will sort you out, as it's a lot quieter and prettier than Malta and has fewer tourists.

Gozo: The landscape here consists of flat-topped hills, steep valleys and rugged cliffs and is well known for its flowers - hibiscus, oleander, mimosa and bougainvillaea - which all set the hills a light with colour in the spring and summer months.

The capital of Gozo is Victoria, which has an impressive citadel and cathedral (without a dome). The view from atop the Citadel, or Gran Costello, takes in the entire island. Places of interest to visit include Calypso's Caves, Alabaster Caves (in Xaghra) and the neolithic Ggantija temple complex. Gozo also has some great beaches at Ir-Ramla I-Hamra, Xlendi Bay and are I-Qawra.

Comino: is inhabited but only by farmers, so there is little to do for tourists except walk along a few structured paths and see many herbs growing in the wild, it is best known for its cumin.

Q. Can you fly direct to Malta from the UK

A. Yes, Malta has one international airport at Luga and the flight time from London is three hours.

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By Karen Anderson

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