by Elyn Aviva
We were on Malta, a tiny island at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, within sight on a clear day of Sicily and Mount Etna, and we were confused.
Since our first day on the island, Gary (my husband) and I had been experiencing generalized confusion. For example, we had been told that everyone spoke English—after all, Malta had been an English colony for over 150 years—but street signs were unpronounceable, and our taxi driver didn’t seem to understand a word we said. He replied to our frantic queries in something that sounded like a mixture of Arabic and Italian. And it turns out it was. Sort of. Maltese is a Semitic language, brought by Phoenician settlers 3000+ years ago, so it sounds vaguely Arabic. And because Italy has had such a pervasive influence on Malta—in part because of proximity, and in part because for decades the only television channels available were Italian—Italian words and cuisine are prevalent.
But our linguistic confusion was superficial. Much more confusing were the temples, the fat ladies, and the cart ruts. We had come to Malta to see the massive Neolithic stone temples, recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Some of them date back 5,500 years—or maybe 10,000 or 12,000 years, depending on whom you believe. Ggantija, on Malta’s tiny neighbor island Gozo, is thought to be the second oldest temple in the world, after Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. It predates the pyramids by millennia. Some writers believe the Maltese temples are oriented to astrological alignments that existed 12,000 years ago, not 5,500—and might even have been built by extraterrestrials.