HIS­TORIC HAVEN

An­cient catacombs and me­dieval citadels pro­vide a the­atri­cal back­drop for gath­er­ings with grav­i­tas

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENTS - WORDS JULIET RIX

Malta’s an­cient citadels pro­vide a the­atri­cal back­drop for gath­er­ings with grav­i­tas

In the past few years, the Mediter­ranean is­land­na­tion of Malta has leapt into the 21st cen­tury. A Smart City busi­ness park is un­der de­vel­op­ment in Kalkara, for ex­am­ple, and Renzo Pi­ano, ar­chi­tect of Lon­don’s the Shard, has re­designed the main gate­way into the walled UNESCO World Her­itage cap­i­tal city, Val­letta. But at the same time, Malta has not aban­doned its re­mark­able his­tory – in fact there has been a frenzy of restora­tion and ren­o­va­tion, pro­tect­ing and en­hanc­ing its range of his­toric build­ings and for­ti­fi­ca­tions, spurred on by Val­letta’s des­ig­na­tion as a Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture this year.

Ly­ing in the mid­dle of the Mediter­ranean Sea, just 60 miles south of Si­cily, Malta, with its su­perb nat­u­ral har­bors, has been vis­ited, owned or be­sieged by every power with de­signs on the Mediter­ranean – and each cul­ture has left its mark.

From ex­tra­or­di­nary Stone Age tem­ples (older than Stone­henge and a lot more so­phis­ti­cated) to Ro­man vil­las and me­dieval citadels, Malta has it all. But it was 1530 when the is­land was given to the Knights of St John Hospi­taller, who soon be­came known as the Knights of Malta, and their unique ar­chi­tec­tural and artis­tic legacy still char­ac­ter­izes the is­lands to­day.

Th­ese war­rior monks ran Malta, and its lit­tle sis­ter is­land of Gozo, un­til Napoleon kicked them out in 1798, only to find him­self ejected in turn by the Mal­tese to­gether with the Bri­tish. The re­sult of all this fas­ci­nat­ingly check­ered his­tory is that Malta has the great­est den­sity of his­toric sites of any na­tion. And more are now open to the pub­lic – and for pri­vate events – than ever be­fore.

Within the tow­er­ing bas­tion walls of Val­letta, his­toric houses and palazzi are be­ing ren­o­vated and turned into bou­tique ho­tels as tourist num­bers keep in­creas­ing. Malta, with a pop­u­la­tion of just 435,000, has wel­comed a ris­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors – more than two mil­lion vis­i­tors last year, some 140,000 of them for meet­ings and events.

An English-speak­ing na­tion well-con­nected with Europe and the UK, yet sur­rounded by azure seas and blessed with 300 days a year of sunshine, Malta will con­tinue to at­tract vis­i­tors of all kinds. Its USP, how­ever, is un­doubt­edly its his­tory, so here is a se­lec­tion of his­toric venues you can book for your next event.

MEDITER­RANEAN CON­FER­ENCE CEN­TRE

Malta’s flag­ship con­fer­ence fa­cil­ity, and a mem­ber of the ex­clu­sive group of His­toric Con­fer­ence Cen­tres of Europe (HCCE), this venue be­gan its life in the 1570s as the Sacra In­fer­me­ria, the hospi­tal of the Knights of Malta. Here, al­most at the tip of the Val­letta penin­sula, the Hospi­tallers min­is­tered to the sick. Even their leader and ruler of Malta, the Grand Mas­ter, was ex­pected to take his turn work­ing in the wards.

The 508-foot-long Great Ward was, at the time of its con­struc­tion, fa­mously the long­est room in Europe.

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