The Backpacker’s Journal: The Warmth of Colour

I have just returned from a fantastic trip to Malta with my beloved sister. This small, historically and gastronomically rich country sits in between Italy and North Africa which gives the traveller (who is on a quest for sunlight) a glimmer of hope that they can find a sunny winter location in Europe. Websites say that “it rarely rains” in Malta so it was a shock to us, and the Maltese, when blustery winds whipped up the sea into an angry rage (there goes our Kayak tour) and the rain continuously hammered at the roofs of restaurants (our daily refuge), yet the colours of Malta betrayed the weather and still gave the illusion of warmth despite it being the coldest New Year’s Eve since 1988.

Unnatural amounts of rain
Unnatural amounts of rain

As we all know, colours can easily portray emotion and atmosphere, but apply it to cities and you’ve got a whole new kettle of fish. The majority of Maltese buildings are beautifully confident stone structures bathed in washed out reds and oranges. Coupled with the clear blue sea, these buildings seem to retain the light of the sun and exude the heat in colour.

The coastal walk from Sliema to Valletta
The coastal walk from Sliema to Valletta

The buildings themselves range from Norman homes to the Knights of Saint John’s Baroque architecture and I’d even go as far to say that even a touch of islamic influence can be found here. Malta is the gateway to Europe and still remains a strategic island so it is of no surprise that so many styles and cultures have left their mark on this island. Each style uses the same warm Maltese stone creating a unity between the buildings and a sense of summer amongst the people.

Norman home in Mdina
Norman home in Mdina
Mdina
Mdina

Valletta’s St John’s Co-Cathedral has the same exterior appearance as its surrounding buildings, but the interior is a feast for the eyes. Having been brought up in Rome, I was spoilt with the beauties of Cathedrals and Churches. However, walking into St John’s Co-Cathedral literally made my jaw drop. It is Baroque architecture at its finest. Barrelled painted ceilings, marble floors covered in the Knights of Malta’s tombstones and intricately carved sculptures are just a few of the gems found there. The sharp contrast with the orange and red marble lies with the extravagant black statues that watch over the knights’ and grand masters’ tombs.

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St John’s Co-Cathedral – The entire floor was covered in marble tombstones
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St John’s Co-Cathedral – baroque sculpture
St John’s Co-Cathedral – Chapel of the Italian Langue

The Cathedral even boasts two Caravaggio paintings. The darkness contrasted by strong highlights that battles across his masterpieces fit in perfectly with the dramatic surroundings of Valletta’s monument that rivals the Cathedrals of Rome.

Caravaggio – The beheading of St John the Baptist

 

Caravaggio – St Jerome writing

In the streets, balconies reach out across to each other in bright reds, blues and greens creating an archway of sorts. These colours only emphasise the summer vibe.

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Verging on surreal, the British influence did not leave any aesthetic architectural footprints that I was aware of, but red British telephone boxes, post boxes and english plug sockets are only a few of the strange sites seen in Malta. It is almost as if a slice of the UK was placed on a Mediterranean island many years ago and left to evolve into Malta.

Ta Da! A British phone box
Ta-da! A British phone box

Even though we were soaked to the bone and glimmers of snow were spotted over the country while we persistently marched on with our site seeing, the colours of the sea and the buildings made my numb feet feel toasty enough to enjoy this beautiful island that is Malta.

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Mdina

 

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