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Valetta, Malta (Photo by Josh Roberts)

Who: Josh Roberts 

Where: Valletta, Malta

When: November 2006

What: Here in the foreground is a traditional Maltese boat (either a “dghajsa,” “luzzu,” or “kajjik”—unfortunately the differences among the three are subtle and I have difficulty telling them apart). Maltese boats in general are characterized by their vibrant turquoise color and unique, streamlined shape. In the background is the walled city of Valletta, fortified centuries ago by the order of the Knights of Saint John.

Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea just 56 miles from Sicily and 180 miles north of Africa, the Maltese Islands (Malta, Gozo, and Comino) have been inhabited for more than 7,000 years—occupied at different times by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Brits, the French, and the order of the Knights of Saint John.

In the past I’ve described Malta as “a lively little melting pot of European, African, and Arabic cultures unique in all the world,” and I think that really hits the nail on the head. Because of its strategic location between Europe and the Middle East, Malta has always enjoyed (or suffered, actually) a disproportionately large level of importance in the battle between the East and West.

If you enjoy history, adventure, and romance on a grand scale, I recommend David Ball’s epic historical novel Ironfire,  which tells the story of two siblings—one who’s kidnapped by Ottaman raiders and the other who’s left behind to grow up on Malta—in the years leading up to the 16th century Battle of Malta. A must-read for anyone who loves historical fiction.

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