The Republic of Malta (Repubblika ta’ Malta in Maltese), is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of the Italian island of Sicily across the Malta Channel, 176 miles (284 km) east of Tunisia, and 207 miles (333 km) north of Libya. The country covers just over 122 square miles (316 km²), with a population of just under 450,000, making it one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries. Only the three largest islands — Malta (Malta), Gozo (Għawdex) and Comino (Kemmuna) — are inhabited. The islands of the archipelago lie on the Malta plateau, a shallow shelf formed from the high points of a land bridge between Sicily and North Africa that became isolated as sea levels rose after the last Ice Age. The archipelago is therefore situated in the zone between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates. The capital of Malta is Valletta, which at 0.8 km², is the smallest national capital in the European Union. Malta has one national language, which is Maltese, and English as an official language.
Malta’s location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British, have ruled the islands.
King George VI of the United Kingdom awarded the George Cross to Malta in 1942 for the country’s bravery in the Second World War. The George Cross continues to appear on Malta’s national flag. Under the Malta Independence Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1964, Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom as an independent sovereign Commonwealth realm, officially known from 1964 to 1974 as the State of Malta, with Elizabeth II as its head of state. The country became a republic in 1974, and although no longer a Commonwealth realm, remains a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations. Malta was admitted to the United Nations in 1964 and to the European Union in 2004; in 2008, it became part of the Eurozone.
Malta has a long Christian legacy and its Archdiocese of Malta is claimed to be an apostolic see because, according to Acts of the Apostles, St Paul was shipwrecked on “Melita”, now widely taken to be Malta. Catholicism is the official religion in Malta.
Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, Valletta, and seven Megalithic Temples, which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.
The origin of the term Malta is uncertain, and the modern-day variation derives from the Maltese language. The most common etymology is that the word Malta derives from the Greek word μέλι, meli, “honey”. The ancient Greeks called the island Μελίτη (Melitē) meaning “honey-sweet”, possibly due to Malta’s unique production of honey; an endemic species of bee lives on the island. The Romans went on to call the island Melita, which can be considered either as a latinization of the Greek Μελίτη or the adaptation of the Doric Greek pronunciation of the same word Μελίτα.
Malta stands on an underwater ridge that extends from North Africa to Sicily. At some time in the distant past, Malta was submerged, as shown by marine fossils embedded in rock in the highest points of Malta. As the ridge was pushed up and the Strait of Gibraltar closed through tectonic activity, the sea level was lower, and Malta was on a bridge of dry land that extended between the two continents, surrounded by large lakes. Some caverns in Malta have revealed bones of elephants, hippopotami, and other large animals now found in Africa, while others have revealed animals native to Europe.
People first arrived in Malta around 5200 BC. These first Neolithic people probably arrived from Sicily and established mainly farming and fishing communities. There is also some evidence of hunting activities. They apparently lived in caves and open dwellings. During the centuries that followed there is evidence of further contact with other cultures, which left their influence on the local communities, evidenced by their pottery designs and colors.
One of the most notable periods of Malta’s history is the Temple period, starting around 3600 BC. The Ġgantija Temple in Gozo is one of the oldest free-standing buildings in the world. The name of the complex stems from the Maltese word ġgant, which reflects the magnitude of the temple’s size. Many of the temples are in the form of five semicircular rooms connected at the center. It has been suggested that these might have represented the head, arms and legs of a deity, since one of the commonest kinds of statue found in these temples is a fat woman — a symbol of fertility. The Temple period lasted until about 2500 BC, at which point the civilization that raised these huge monoliths seems to have disappeared. There is much speculation about what might have happened and whether they were completely wiped out or assimilated.
After the Temple period came the Bronze Age. From this period there are remains of a number of settlements and villages, as well as dolmens — altar-like structures made out of very large slabs of stone. They are claimed to belong to a population certainly different from that which built the previous megalithic temples. It is presumed the population arrived from Sicily because of the similarity to the constructions found in the largest island of the Mediterranean Sea. One surviving menhir, which was used to build temples, still stands at Kirkop; it is one of the few still in good condition. Among the most interesting and mysterious remnants of this era are the so-called cart ruts as they can be seen at a place on Malta called Clapham Junction. These are pairs of parallel channels cut into the surface of the rock, and extending for considerable distances, often in an exactly straight line. Their exact use is unknown. One suggestion is that beasts of burden used to pull carts along, and these channels would guide the carts and prevent the animals from straying. The society that built these structures eventually died out or at any rate disappeared.
Phoenicians possibly from Tyre began to colonize the islands in approximately the eighth century BC as an outpost from which they expanded sea explorations and trade in the Mediterranean. Phoenician tombs have been found in Rabat, Malta and the town of the same name on Gozo, which suggest that the main urban centers at the time were present-day Mdina on Malta and the Cittadella on Gozo. The former settlement was known as Maleth meaning safe haven, and the whole island began to be referred to by that name.
The Maltese Islands fell under the hegemony of Carthage in around the sixth century BC, along with most other Phoenician colonies in the western Mediterranean. By the late fourth century BC, Malta had become a trading post linking southern Italy and Sicily to Tripolitania. This resulted in the introduction of Hellenistic features in architecture and pottery, although Malta was never a Greek colony. Hellenistic architectural features can be seen in the Punic temple at Tas-Silġ and a tower in Żurrieq. The Greek language also began to be used in Malta, as evidenced by the bilingual Phoenician and Greek inscriptions found on the Cippi of Melqart. In the eighteenth century, French scholar Jean-Jacques Barthélemy deciphered the extinct Phoenician alphabet using the inscriptions on these cippi.
In 255 BC, the Romans raided Malta during the First Punic War, devastating much of the island.
According to Latin historian Livy, the Maltese Islands passed into the hands of the Romans at the start of the Second Punic War in the 218 BC. As written by Livy, the commander of the Punic garrison on the Island surrendered without resistance to Tiberius Sempronius Longus, one of the two consuls for that year who was on his way to North Africa. The archipelago was part of the province of Sicily, but by the first century AD it had its own senate and people’s assembly. By this time, both Malta and Gozo minted distinctive coins based on Roman weight measurements.
In the Roman period, the Punic city of Maleth became known as Melite, and it became the administrative hub of the Island. Its size grew to its maximum extent, occupying the entire area of present-day Mdina and large parts of Rabat, extending to what is now the church of St Paul. Remains show that the city was surrounded by thick defensive walls and was also protected by a protective ditch that ran along the same line of St Rita Street, which was built directly above it. Remains hint that a religious center with a number of temples was built on the highest part of the promontory. The remains of one impressive residence known as the Domvs Romana have been excavated, revealing well-preserved Pompeian style mosaics. This domus seems to have been the residence of a rich Roman aristocrat, and it is believed to have been built in the first century BC and abandoned in the second century AD.
The islands prospered under Roman rule, and were eventually distinguished as a Municipium and a Foederata Civitas. Many Roman antiquities still exist, testifying to the close link between the Maltese inhabitants and Sicily. Throughout the period of Roman rule, Latin became Malta’s official language, and Roman religion was introduced in the islands. Despite this, the local Punic-Hellenistic culture and language is thought to have survived until at least the first century AD.
In AD 60, the Acts of the Apostles records that Saint Paul was shipwrecked on an island named Melite, which many Bible scholars and Maltese conflate with Malta; there is a tradition that the shipwreck took place on the shores of the aptly named “St. Paul’s Bay”.
Malta remained part of the Roman Empire until the early sixth century AD. The Vandals and later the Ostrogoths might have briefly occupied the islands in the fifth century, but there is no archaeological evidence to support this.
Ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks have also inhabited the Maltese islands.
In 533, Byzantine general Belisarius briefly landed at Malta while on his way from Sicily to North Africa, and by 535, the island was integrated into the Byzantine province of Sicily. During the Byzantine period, the main settlements remained the city of Melite on mainland Malta and the Citadel on Gozo, while Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Marsa and Xlendi are believed to have served as harbors. The relatively high quantity of Byzantine ceramics found in Malta suggests that the island might have had an important strategic role within the empire from the sixth to eighth centuries.
From the late seventh century onwards, the Mediterranean was being threatened by Muslim expansion. At this point, the Byzantines probably improved the defences of Malta, as can be seen by defensive walls built around the monastery at Tas-Silġ around the eighth century. The Byzantines might have also built the retrenchment which reduced Melite to one-third of its original size.
In 870 AD, Malta was occupied by Muslims from North Africa. According to Al-Himyarī, Aghlabids led by Halaf al-Hādim besieged the Byzantine city of Melite, which was ruled by governor Amros (probably Ambrosios). Al-Hādim was killed in the fighting, and Sawāda Ibn Muḥammad was sent from Sicily to continue the siege following his death. The duration of the siege is unknown, but it probably lasted for some weeks or months. After Melite fell to the invaders, the inhabitants were massacred, the city was destroyed and its churches were looted. Marble from Melite’s churches was used to build the castle of Sousse.
According to Al-Himyarī, Malta remained almost uninhabited until it was resettled in around 1048 or 1049 by a Muslim community and their slaves, who rebuilt the city of Melite as Medina, making it “a finer place than it was before.” However, archaeological evidence suggests that Melite/Medina was already a thriving Muslim settlement by the beginning of the eleventh century, so Al-Himyarī’s account might be unreliable.
In 1053–54, the Byzantines besieged Medina but they were repelled by its defenders. Although their rule was relatively short, the Arabs left a significant impact on Malta. In addition to their language, Siculo-Arabic, cotton, oranges and lemons and many new techniques in irrigation were introduced. Some of these, like the noria (waterwheel), are still used, unchanged, today. Many place names in Malta date to this period.
A long historiographic controversy loomed over Medieval Muslim Malta. According to the “Christian continuity thesis”, spearheaded by Gian Francesco Abela and still most present in popular narratives, the Maltese population continuously inhabited the islands from the early Christian Era up to today, and a Christian community persisted even during Muslim times. This was contested in the 1970s by the medieval historian Godfrey Wettinger, who claimed that nothing indicated the continuity of Christianity from the late ninth to the eleventh century on the Maltese Islands — the Maltese must have integrated into the new Arab Islamic society.
The Christian continuity thesis had a revival in 2010 following the publication of Tristia ex Melitogaudo by Stanley Fiorini, Horatio Vella and Joseph Brincat, who challenged Wettinger’s interpretation based on a line of a Byzantine poem (which later appeared to have been mistranslated). Wettinger subsequently reaffirmed his thesis, based on sources from the Arab historians and geographers Al Baqri, Al-Himyarī, Ibn Hauqal, Qazwini, who all seemed to be in agreement that “the island of Malta remained after that a ruin without inhabitants” — thus ruling out any continuity whatsoever between the Maltese prior to 870 and after. This is also consistent with Joseph Brincat’s finding of no further sub-stratas beyond Arabic in the Maltese language, a very rare occurrence which may only be explained by a drastic lapse between one period and the following. To the contrary, the few Byzantine words in Maltese language can be traced to the 400 Rhodians coming with the knights in 1530, as well as to the influx of Greek rite Christians from Sicily.
Malta returned to Christian rule with the Norman conquest. It was, with Noto on the southern tip of Sicily, the last Arab stronghold in the region to be retaken by the resurgent Christians. In 1091, Count Roger I of Sicily, made an initial attempt to establish Norman rule of Malta. In 1127, his son Roger II of Sicily succeeded.
Malta was part of the Kingdom of Sicily for nearly 440 years. During this period, Malta was sold and resold to various feudal lords and barons and was dominated successively by the rulers of Swabia, Anjou, the Crown of Aragon, the Crown of Castile and Spain. Eventually the Crown of Aragon, which then ruled Malta, joined with Castile in 1479, and Malta became part of the Spanish Empire. Meanwhile, Malta’s administration fell in the hands of local nobility who formed a governing body called the Università.
The islands remained largely Muslim-inhabited long after the end of Arab rule. The Arab administration was also kept in place and Muslims were allowed to practice their religion freely until the thirteenth century. The Normans allowed an emir to remain in power with the understanding that he would pay an annual tribute to them in mules, horses, and munitions. As a result of this favorable environment, Muslims continued to demographically and economically dominate Malta for at least another 150 years after the Christian conquest.
In 1122, Malta experienced a Muslim uprising and in 1127 Roger II of Sicily reconquered the islands.
Even in 1175, Burchard, bishop of Strasbourg, an envoy of Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, had the impression, based upon his brief visit to Malta, that it was exclusively or mainly inhabited by Muslims.
In 1191, Tancred of Sicily appointed Margaritus of Brindisi the first Count of Malta. Between 1194 and 1530, the Kingdom of Sicily ruled the Maltese islands and a process of full Latinization started in Malta. The conquest of the Normans would lead to the gradual Romanization and Latinization and subsequent firm establishment of Roman Catholicism in Malta, after previous respective Eastern Orthodox and Islamic domination. Until 1224, however, there remained a strong Muslim segment of society.
In 1224, Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, sent an expedition against Malta to establish royal control and prevent its Muslim population from helping a Muslim rebellion in the Kingdom of Sicily.
After the Norman conquest, the population of the Maltese islands kept growing mainly through immigration from the north (Sicily and Italy), with the exile to Malta of the entire male population of the town of Celano (Italy) in 1223, the stationing of a Norman and Sicilian garrison on Malta in 1240 and the settlement in Malta of noble families from Sicily between 1372 and 1450. As a consequence of this, Capelli et al. found in 2005 that “the contemporary males of Malta most likely originated from Southern Italy, including Sicily and up to Calabria.”
According to a report in 1240 or 1241 by Gililberto Abbate, who was the royal governor of Frederick II of Sicily during the Genoese Period of the County of Malta, in that year the islands of Malta and Gozo had 836 Muslim families, 250 Christian families and 33 Jewish families.
Around 1249, some Maltese Muslims were sent to the Italian colony of Lucera, established for Sicilian Muslims. For some historians, including Godfrey Wettinger, who follow on this Ibn Khaldun, this event marked the end of Islam in Malta. According to Wettinger, “there is no doubt that by the beginning of Angevin times (i.e. shortly after 1249) no professed Muslim Maltese remained either as free persons or even as serfs on the island.” The Maltese language nevertheless survived — an indication that either a large number of Christians already spoke Maltese, or that many Muslims converted and remained behind.
In 1266, Malta was turned over in fiefdom to Charles of Anjou, brother of France’s King Louis IX, who retained it in ownership until 1283. Eventually, during Charles’s rule religious coexistence became precarious in Malta, since he had a genuine intolerance of religions other than Roman Catholicism. However, Malta’s links with Africa would still remain strong until the beginning of Spanish rule in 1283.
In September 1429, Hafsid Saracens attempted to capture Malta but were repelled by the Maltese. The invaders pillaged the countryside and took about 3000 inhabitants as slaves.
By the end of the fifteenth century all Maltese Muslims would be forced to convert to Christianity and had to find ways to disguise their previous identities by Latinizing or adopting new surnames.
Little is known about the origins of mail in Malta, but when the island was part of the Kingdom of Sicily mail was carried privately on ships such as speronaras between Malta and Sicily. From 1530 to 1798, the Maltese islands (along with Tripoli) were administered by the Order of Saint John as a vassal state of the Kingdom of Sicily. The earliest known letter is dated June 14, 1532, which was sent from Grand Master l’Isle Adam to the Bishop of Auxerre in France.
In the early sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire started spreading over the region, reaching South East Europe. The Spanish king Charles V feared that if Rome fell to the Turks, it would be the end of Christian Europe. In 1522, Suleiman I drove the Knights Hospitaller of St. John out of Rhodes. They dispersed to their commanderies in Europe. Wanting to protect Rome from invasion from the south, in 1530, Charles V handed over the island to these knights.
For the next 275 years, these famous “Knights of Malta” made the island their domain and made the Italian language official. They built towns, palaces, churches, gardens and fortifications and embellished the island with numerous works of art and enhanced cultural heritage.
The Order of the Knights of St. John was originally established to set up outposts along the route to the Holy Land, to assist pilgrims going in either direction. Owing to the many confrontations that took place, one of their main tasks was to provide medical assistance, and even today the eight-pointed cross is still in wide use in ambulances and first aid organisations. In return for the many lives they saved, the Order received many newly conquered territories that had to be defended. Together with the need to defend the pilgrims in their care, this gave rise to the strong military wing of the knights. Over time, the Order became strong and rich. From hospitallers first and military second, these priorities reversed. Since much of the territory they covered was around the Mediterranean region, they became notable seamen.
From Malta the knights resumed their seaborne attacks of Ottoman shipping, and before long the Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent ordered a final attack on the Order. By this time the Knights had occupied the city of Birgu, which had excellent harbors to house their fleet. Birgu was one of the two major urban places at that time, the other most urban place being Mdina the old capital city of Malta. The defences around Birgu were enhanced and new fortifications built on the other point where now there is Senglea. A small fort was built at the tip of the peninsula where the city of Valletta now stands and was named Fort Saint Elmo.
On May 18, 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Malta. By the time the Ottoman fleet arrived the Knights were as ready as they could be. First, the Ottomans attacked the newly built fort of St. Elmo and after a whole month of fighting the fort was in rubble and the soldiers kept fighting until the Turks ended their lives. After this they started attacking Birgu and the fortifications at Senglea but to no gain.
After a protracted siege ended on September 8 of the same year, which became known in history as the Great Siege, the Ottoman Empire conceded defeat as the approaching winter storms threatened to prevent them from leaving. The Ottoman Empire had expected an easy victory within weeks. They had 40,000 men arrayed against the Knights’ nine thousand, most of them Maltese soldiers and simple citizens bearing arms. Their loss of thousands of men was very demoralizing. The Ottomans made no further significant military advances in Europe and the Sultan died a few years later.
The year after, the Order started work on a new city with fortifications like no other, on the Sciberras Peninsula which the Ottomans had used as a base during the siege. It was named Valletta after Jean Parisot de Valette, the Grand Master who had seen the Order through its victory. Since the Ottoman Empire never attacked again, the fortifications were never put to the test, and today remain one of the best-preserved fortifications of this period.
Unlike other rulers of the island, the Order of St. John did not have a “home country” outside the island. The island became their home, so they invested in it more heavily than any other power. Besides, its members came from noble families, and had amassed considerable fortune due to their services in the route to the Holy Land. The architectural and artistic remains of this period remain among the greatest of Malta’s history, especially in their “prize jewel” — the city of Valletta.
The first proper postal service was set up by the Order in 1708. The first postal markings on Maltese mail appeared later on in the eighteenth century, sometime between 1755 and 1791. Most of the letters reportedly sent from Malta during the period of the Knights are addressed to France. The postal service under the Knights seem to have been carried out in Piazza Tesoreria in the building serving as La Casa del Commun Tesoro in Valetta’s Republic Street now occupied by the Casino Maltese. The Order’s last Commissario delle Poste in charge of the postal services was Domenico Montanaro. He appears to have retained his position after the French occupation.
As their main raison d’être had ceased to exist, the Order’s glory days were over. In the last three decades of the seventeenth century, the Order experienced a steady decline. This was a result of a number of factors, including the bankruptcy that was a result of some lavish rule of the last Grand Masters, which drained the finances of the Order. Due to this, the Order also became unpopular with the Maltese.
In 1775, a revolt known as the Rising of the Priests occurred. Rebels managed to capture Fort St Elmo and Saint James Cavalier, but the revolt was suppressed and some of the leaders were executed while others were imprisoned or exiled.
Over the years, the power of the knights declined; their reign ended in 1798 when Napoleon Bonaparte’s expeditionary fleet stopped off there en route to his Egyptian expedition. Napoleon asked for safe harbor to resupply his ships, and when they refused to supply him with water, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a division to scale the hills of Valletta. Grand Master Hompesch capitulated on June 11. The following day a treaty was signed by which the order handed over sovereignty of the island of Malta to the French Republic. In return the French Republic agreed to “employ all its credit at the congress of Rastatt to procure a principality for the Grand Master, equivalent to the one he gives up”.
During his very short stay (six days), Napoleon accomplished quite a number of reforms, notably the creation of a new administration with a Government Commission, the creation of twelve municipalities, the setting up of a public finance administration, the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, the abolition of slavery and the granting of freedom to all Turkish slaves (2000 in all). On the judicial level, a family code was framed and twelve judges were nominated. Public education was organised along principles laid down by Bonaparte himself, providing for primary and secondary education. Fifteen primary schools were founded and the university was replaced by an ’Ecole centrale’ in which there were eight chairs, all very scientific in outlook: notably, arithmetic and stereometry, algebra and stereotomy, geometry and astronomy, mechanics and physics, navigation, chemistry, etc.
He then sailed for Egypt leaving a substantial garrison in Malta. Since the Order had also been growing unpopular with the local Maltese, the latter initially viewed the French with optimism. This illusion did not last long. Within months the French were closing convents and seizing church treasures, most notably the sword of Jean de Valette which is to date still exhibited in the Louvre, in Paris. The Maltese people rebelled, and the French garrison of General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois retreated into Valletta. After several failed attempts by the locals to retake Valletta, the British were asked for their assistance. Rear Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson decided on a total blockade in 1799. The French garrison surrendered in 1800.
On June 18, 1798, Napoleon set up a rudimentary postal system using an ink stamp simply marked Malte. Very few letters are recorded as emerging from French occupied Malta. However, internal letters between Maltese outside the French occupied areas are much more common. These letters do not bear any postal markings but rather parallel pen marks indicating a road, or dashes meaning that the letter in question was to be dispatched by a mounted courier.
On October 7, 1799, the British Civil Commissioner Alexander Ball set up Malta’s first regular mail delivery service and a few rooms in San Anton Palace began to be used as a post office.
In 1800, Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire as a protectorate.
Domenico Montanaro was back at his job as Scrivano della Posta in June 1801. On September 1, 1802, Antonio Micallef was appointed Commissario della Posta, an office he held until April 12, 1804, when he resigned. Soon afterwards, Domenico Montanaro was appointed Direttore della Posta.
Under the terms of the 1802 Treaty of Amiens, Britain was supposed to evacuate the island, but failed to keep this obligation — one of several mutual cases of non-adherence to the treaty, which eventually led to its collapse and the resumption of war between Britain and France.
A Packet Service was established on July 3, 1806, to carry mail from England to Gibraltar and Malta. It was operational by August 20 of that year. Privately-owned vessels, on contract to the Post Office, were to sail from Falmouth on the first Wednesday of each month. The first packet Agent in Malta was James Chabot. During the first half of the nineteenth Century both the British Packet Office and the Island Post Office were situated in rooms on the ground floor of the Casa del Comun Tesoro. Handstamps were introduced by the British Packet Agent in Malta from February 1807.
In 1813, Malta was granted the Bathurst Constitution; in 1814, it was declared free of the plague, while the 1815 Congress of Vienna reaffirmed the British rule under the 1814 Treaty of Paris. In 1819, the local Italian-speaking Università was dissolved.
Postage due markings were introduced in 1819, and they were denominated in the Maltese scudo. From 1825 onwards, they were denominated in pence and shillings.
The year 1828 saw the revocation of the right of sanctuary, following the Vatican Church-State proclamation. Three years later, the See of Malta was made independent of the See of Palermo. In 1839, press censorship was abolished, and the construction of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral began.
In 1841 the Packet Office was transferred to 197 Strada Mercanti, the ancient Banca Giuratale. The Island Post Office remained at 247 Strada Reale for several more years. On April 1, 1849, the Packet Office and the Island Post Office started functioning as one department with Richard James Bourchier as Postmaster.
Following the 1846 Carnival riots, in 1849 a Council of Government with elected members under British rule was set up.
On June 8, 1853, a post office notice signed by R.J. Bourchier, Superintendent of Posts, heralded an experimental free daily post:
“As from 10 June, letters and newspapers may be forwarded between Valletta, Cospicua, Vittoriosa, Senglea, the Casals and the Island of Gozo by Daily Post (Sundays and holidays excepted). At present no postage will be charged for the same. The letters and newspapers for delivery will be exhibited in a glazed frame, in Valletta, at the Post Office and at other places, in the respective Chief Police Stations, where, on application, they will be delivered. The boxes for reception of letters and newspapers will be underneath the glazed frames.”
In 1855, a wavy lines grid cancellation was sent to Malta to cancel stamps on mail coming from soldiers in the Crimean War or from seamen serving on British ships in Malta.
The British set up an overseas post office in Malta in the mid-nineteenth century. A supply of current British Stamps was sent to Malta in August 1857 but was not made available to the public before the first few days of September 1857. Prepayment of postage on letters was made compulsory on March 1, 1858, by order of the Postmaster General John S. Coxon. These British stamps were cancelled with M or later A25 postmarks. The A25 postmark was also used to cancel other countries’ stamps on maritime mail, and it is known on French, Tunisian, Italian, Egyptian and Indian stamps.
On December 1, 1860, Malta issued its first stamp. This stamp was a halfpenny yellow and was re-printed 29 times in different perforations and shades until 1885, when Malta’s first individual set was released. This stamp was legal for Maltese inland postage only and the standard rate for island mail under one ounce until 1943. Overseas mail had to use British stamps until 1885. The stamps could be purchased at the Post Office, police stations and at principal stationers. Malta joined the Universal Postal Union in 1875, the first British colony to do so.
Although initially the island was not given much importance, its excellent harbors became a prized asset for the British, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The island became a military and naval fortress, the headquarters of the British Mediterranean fleet.
Home rule was refused to the Maltese until 1921 although a partly elected legislative council was created as early as 1849 (the first Council of Government under British rule had been held in 1835), and the locals sometimes suffered considerable poverty. This was due to the island being overpopulated and largely dependent on British military expenditure which varied with the demands of war. Throughout the nineteenth century, the British administration instituted several liberal constitutional reforms which were generally resisted by the Church and the Maltese elite who preferred to cling to their feudal privileges. Political organisations, like the Nationalist Party, were created or had as one of their aims, the protection of the Italian language in Malta.
In 1870 a referendum was held on ecclesiastics serving on Council of Government, and in 1881 an Executive Council under British rule was created; in 1887, the Council of Government was entrusted with “dual control” under British rule. A backlash came in 1903, with the Return to the 1849 form of Council of Government under British rule.
The Superintendence of the Island Post Office passed to Roger Duke who on November 1, 1880, was given the title of Imperial Postmaster. In 1883, the Imperial Government consented to the transfer of the Post Office to the control of the Local Government. On January 1, 1885, the Malta Post Office was separated from the British Post Office and the use of British postage stamps in Malta discontinued. According to the General Post Office Notice, signed by H.M. Postmaster Roger Duke, Great Britain stamps became useless for prepayment postage on correspondence posted in Malta and Gozo.
The first definitives were issued on January 1, 1885, in denominations up to 1 shilling. They were made available from December 27, 1884. The colors reflected Malta joining the Universal Postal Union and the halfpenny was the same as the 1860 stamp except it was green. The stamps were designs of Queen Victoria like most British colonies, but also used the Maltese cross as a heraldic device. British stamps were no longer valid from this date except for mail from British military zones, where British stamps were used until 1979. A large format 5-shilling value complemented the set in 1886 and this was used until 1911.
Steamship communications between Malta and Gozo was inaugurated by the SS Gleneagles on June 13, 1885. Sub post offices were also established at Rabato and Migiarro Gozo.
On January 1, 1886, Ferdinando Vincenzo Inglott succeeded Roger Duke as Postmaster of the newly established General Post Office. Soon afterwards, he and a representative from the Public Works Department viewed Palazzo Parisio in Strada Mercanti as an adequate replacement for the Banca Giuratale. A two year lease was entered into with the owners and after carrying out the most urgent repairs, the painting and decorating of its halls, Inglott had the new premises ready to open its doors to the public.
The General Post Office started functioning from its new home on Monday, May 17 1886. The room on the right was reserved for the sale of stamps and registration of letters. By the end of 1892 the whole of Palazzo Parisio had become a Government property.
Bollo personale, or postmen’s personal handstamps, were used to indicate which postman delivered a particular letter. The earliest recorded use is August 16, 1888, while the latest is September 29, 1949.
On August 1, 1890, the first branch post office was opened at Cospicua to serve the Cottonera District. The Postmaster was Edgar L Bonavia, assisted by Giuseppe Mallia as Messenger. The Third Postal District was established with the opening of a branch post office on May 1, 1895, to serve Sliema, St Julian’s and St George’s Bay. The Postmaster was Gaspard Grech, assisted by postman Enrico Mallia and temporary postman John Fletcher. On November 15, 1897, the Fourth Postal District was established at Notabile with R.E. Peralta as Postmaster.
The Fifth Postal District of Birchircara opened on March 1, 1898. The Postmaster was Giuseppe Gauci. Unfortunately, this office closed down the following year on April 30, 1899, because of lack of business. Another short lived postal district was that of Mellieha where a branch post office was opened on the March 29, 1902. Like that of Birchircara, it only lasted just over a year closing its doors on May 10, 1903.
On February 4, 1899, Malta’s first two pictorial stamps were issued — a 4½-pence picturing a Gozo fighing boat and a 5-pence stamp portraying an ancient Maltese galley (Scott #15-16). Two additional pictorials were released later in the year — 2 shillings, 6 pcnce Melita and 10 shillings Saint Paul after his shipwreck (Scott #17-18). Village postmarks were introduced in 1900.
Up until the end of December 1900, newspapers had continued to pass free through the post within the limits of the Islands. However, Ordinance No XVI of 1900 instigated the charge of one farthing postage for each newspaper from January 1901. As a consequence, January 4, 1901, saw the release of a new stamp with the value of one farthing added to the pictorials (Scott #19). This stamp showed a view of the Grand Harbour.
The overseas empire rate dropped to 1 penny in 1902 and the 2½-pence stamps of 1885 were overprinted with the words One Penny. Each sheet had one error stamp with the words One Pnney on them and as it was a sheet of 120 stamps, these values attract a premium. It is thought that this was a deliberate error.
In 1903, new low-value definitives to 1 shilling featuring Edward VII were issued (Scott #21-27). The design was still based on the 1860 halfpenny yellow, but with the portrait of the new monarch and a royal crown on top. Like the previous Queen Victoria issues, these still featured Maltese crosses. Meanwhile, the 1886 5 shilling and the 1899–1901 pictorials remained in use. A new watermark was introduced in October 1904, and all subsequent reprints of the 1899–1901 pictorials and 1903–04 definitives were with this new watermark. From 1907 to 1911, there were some color changes, and some bicolored stamps were reissued in one color. A 5-shilling value was issued in March 1911 replacing the 1886 Queen Victoria issue.
The first George V stamps were issued in 1914, and they consisted of eight values: ¼ penny, ½ penny, 1 penny, 2 pence, 2½ pence, 6 pence, 1 shilling and a large format 2 shilling in the colonial keyplate design (Scott #49-60). A pictorial 4 pence black was added a year later (Scott #63), while a 3 pence (Scott #54) and a large format 5 shilling (Scott #61) were added in 1917. In 1919, pictorial 2 shilling 6 pence and 10 shilling values were issued (Scott #64-65). This 10 shilling value is Malta’s most valuable postage stamp since only 1530 copies were printed and they sold out soon after issue.
Between 1915 and 1918, during World War I, Malta became known as the Nurse of the Mediterranean due to the large number of wounded soldiers who were accommodated in Malta.
In 1919, the Sette Giugno (June 7) riots in Valletta over the excessive price of bread, which led to Malta being given a new constitution in 1921 and self-government was granted under British rule. Malta obtained a bicameral parliament with a Senate (later abolished in 1949) and an elected Legislative Assembly. Joseph Howard was named Prime Minister. To commemorate this, various definitive stamps issued between 1899 and 1922 were overprinted SELF-GOVERNMENT.
Towards the latter part of 1921, the Post Office was reorganized. As a result all village handstamps were withdrawn. The Maltese Islands were now served by the General Post Office in Valletta and by branches in Cospicua, Notabile, Sliema, Victoria and Migiarro.
On August 1, 1922, a new set of stamps designed by Maltese artists Edward Caruana Dingli and Gianni Vella was issued (Scott #98-114). The stamps featured an allegorical depiction of Melita on the pound and pence values and a depiction of Melita leaning on Britannia on the shilling values.
Locally printed postage due stamps were issued on April 16, 1925, replacing handstruck markings that had been in use for over a century (Scott #J1-J10). A new design of professionally printed stamps was issued on July 21 of that year showing a Maltese cross and British and Maltese coats of arms (Scott #J11-J20).
In 1926, it was decided that separate revenue stamps should be issued and the set was defaced with the word POSTAGE on all values up to 10 shillings (Scott #116-129). To make it more complicated a new set of definitives appeared later in 1926, this time a very beautiful set showing George V and a shield on the values to 6 pence and a series of engraved scenes on the higher values to 10 shilling (Scott #131-147). But again the set was reissued with an overprint POSTAGE AND REVENUE in 1928, when it was decided that revenue stamps were no longer needed (Scott #148-166).
A 6 pence stamp from this set was overprinted AIR MAIL in 1928 and was Malta’s first airmail stamp, being in addition to the sea postage rate (Scott #C1). On October 20, 1930, the beautiful set was once again reissued inscribed with POSTAGE AND REVENUE in the legend. Therefore, Malta had a total of seven sets of definitives between 1920 and 1930.
The 1930s saw a period of instability in the relations between the Maltese political elite, the Maltese Catholic church, and the British rulers; the 1921 Constitution was suspended twice. First in 1930–32, following a clash between the governing Constitutional Party Church and the latter’s subsequent imposition of mortal sin on voters of the party and its allies, thus making a free and fair election impossible. Again, in 1933 the Constitution was withdrawn over the Government’s budgetary vote for the teaching of Italian in elementary schools, after just 13 months of a Nationalist administration. Malta thus reverted to the Crown Colony status it held in 1813.
Direct flights from Malta became possible in 1931 which made the airmail service more popular. Zeppelin flights carried some mail from Malta from May 1933 to July 1935.
Before the arrival of the British, the official language since 1530 (and the one of the handful of educated elite) had been Italian, but this was downgraded by the increased use of English. In 1934, Maltese was declared an official language, which brought the number up to three. Two years later, the Letters Patent of the 1936 constitution declared that Maltese and English were the only official languages, thereby legally settling the long-standing ‘language question’ that had dominated Maltese politics for over half a century. In 1934, only about 15% of the population could speak Italian fluently. This meant that out of 58,000 males qualified by age to be jurors, only 767 could qualify by language, as only Italian had until then been used in the courts.
In 1935, Malta issued the Silver Jubilee Crown Agents omnibus set (Scott #184-187), and this was followed by the 1937 Coronation omnibus set of three (Scott #188-190).
In 1936, the Constitution was revised to provide for the nomination of members to Executive Council under British rule (similar to the 1835 constitution) and in 1939 to provide again for a partly elected Council of Government under British rule.
In 1938, a new set of pictorial definitives came out with a portrait of George VI inside a cartouche with local scenery around him. The farthing value was reissued like the 1901 version except with a modernized view of the harbor and the monogram GRI appearing on the stamp instead of a portrait. The set went up to 10 shillings and some of the top values reused scenes from the 1926 set, except larger and brighter (Scott #191-205).
Before World War II, Valletta was the location of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet’s headquarters. However, despite Winston Churchill’s objections, the command was moved to Alexandria, Egypt, in April 1937 fearing it was too susceptible to air attacks from Europe. At the time of the Italian declaration of war on June 10, 1940, Malta had a garrison of less than four thousand soldiers and about five weeks of food supplies for the population of about three hundred thousand. In addition, Malta’s air defenses consisted of about forty-two anti-aircraft guns (thirty-four “heavy” and eight “light”) and four Gloster Gladiators, for which three pilots were available.
Being a British colony, situated close to Sicily and the Axis shipping lanes, Malta was bombarded by the Italian and German air forces. Malta was used by the British to launch attacks on the Italian navy and had a submarine base. It was also used as a listening post, reading German radio messages including Enigma traffic.
The first air raids against Malta occurred on June 11, 1940; there were six attacks that day. The island’s biplanes were unable to defend due to the Luqa Airfield being unfinished; however, the airfield was ready by the seventh attack. Initially, the Italians would fly at about 5,500 meters, then they dropped down to three thousand meters in order to improve the accuracy of their bombs.
By the end of August, the Gladiators were reinforced by twelve Hawker Hurricanes which had arrived via HMS Argus. During the first five months of combat, the island’s aircraft destroyed or damaged about thirty-seven Italian aircraft, while suffering even greater losses than the Italians. Italian fighter pilot Francisco Cavalera observed, “Malta was really a big problem for us — very well-defended.”. Nevertheless, the Italian bombing campaign was causing serious damage to the island’s infrastructure and the ability of the British Navy to operate effectively in the Mediterranean.
On Malta, 330 people had been killed and 297 were seriously wounded from the war’s inception until December 1941. In January 1941, the German X. Fliegerkorps arrived in Sicily as the Afrika Korps arrived in Libya. Over the next four months 820 people were killed and 915 seriously wounded.
On April 15, 1942, King George VI awarded the George Cross (the highest civilian award for gallantry) “to the island fortress of Malta — its people and defenders.” Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived on December 8, 1943, and presented a United States Presidential Citation to the people of Malta on behalf of the people of United States. He presented the scroll on December 8 but dated it December 7 for symbolic reasons. In part it read: “Under repeated fire from the skies, Malta stood alone and unafraid in the center of the sea, one tiny bright flame in the darkness — a beacon of hope for the clearer days which have come.” The complete citation now stands on a plaque on the wall of the Grand Master’s Palace on Republic Street in the town square of Valletta.
In 1942, a convoy code-named Operation Pedestal was sent to relieve Malta. Five ships, including the tanker SS Ohio, managed to arrive in the Grand Harbour, with enough supplies for Malta to survive. In the following year, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill visited Malta. George VI also arrived in Grand Harbour for a visit.
In 1942, Palazzo Parisio was hit by aerial bombardment so the General Post Office moved to Ħamrun Primary School. In 1943, postage rates increased and six low values from the 1938 were reissued in new colors to show rate changes.
In 1943, the Allies launched the invasion of Sicily from Malta. The invasion was coordinated from the Lascaris War Rooms in Valletta. Following the Armistice of Cassibile later in 1943, a large part of the Italian Navy surrendered to the British in Malta.
The Malta Conference was held in 1945, in which Churchill and Roosevelt met prior to the Yalta Conference with Joseph Stalin.
The 1946 National Assembly resulted in a new constitution in 1947. This restored Malta’s self-government, with Paul Boffa as Prime Minister. On September 5, 1947, universal suffrage for women in Malta was granted. That year, Agatha Barbara was the first woman elected as a Maltese Member of Parliament.
After the Second World War, the islands achieved self-rule, with the Malta Labour Party (MLP) of Dom Mintoff seeking either full integration with the United Kingdom or else “self-determination” (independence) and the Partit Nazzjonalista (PN) of George Borg Olivier favoring independence, with the same “dominion status” that Canada, Australia and New Zealand enjoyed.
Malta’s contribution to the Peace Issue omnibus was released on December 3, 1946 (Scott #206-207). Late 1948 saw the 1938–43 pictorials reissued with a SELF-GOVERNMENT 1947 overprint, after Malta was granted self-government for a second time; the 1921 constitution had been revoked back in 1933 (Scott #208-222). A further reissue of these stamps occurred in 1953 when standard postage rose to 1½ penny and six values were again reissued in new colors, still overprinted (Scott #235-250).
Various omnibus issues were issued from 1949 to 1953 for the anniversaries of the Silver Wedding (Scott #223-224) and the Universal Postal Union (Scott #225-228), and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (Scott #241). From 1950 to 1954 various commemorative stamps were issued, commemorating various Catholic anniversaries and royal visits. Most notably was Princess Elizabeth’s stay in Malta of 1948, when she moved to the island to live with the Duke of Edinburgh at the naval base, and a set was issued in 1950 commemorating her visit (Scott #229-231).
The 1953 Coronation incident where, initially, no invitation was sent for a Maltese delegation to attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, temporarily united Maltese politicians.
After MLP’s electoral victory in 1955, in December Round Table Talks were held in London, on the future of Malta, namely the Integration proposal put forward by Mintoff. It was attended by the new Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, Borg Olivier and other Maltese politicians, along with the British Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd. The British government agreed to offer the islands their own representation in British Parliament, with three seats in the House of Commons, with the Home Office taking over responsibility for Maltese affairs from the Colonial Office.
Under the proposals, the Maltese Parliament would retain authority over all affairs except defense, foreign policy, and taxation. The Maltese were also to have social and economic parity with the UK, to be guaranteed by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) the islands’ main source of employment.
Between January 1956 and 1957, a new definitive set was issued featuring the Queen Elizabeth II. This set featured beautifully engraved designs up to £1. The set showed various local buildings, monuments and views, or important documents relating to Malta’s role in the Second World War (Scott #246-262).
A UK integration referendum was held on February 11-12, 1956, in which 77.02% of voters were in favor of the proposal, but owing to a boycott by the Nationalist Party and the Church, only 59.1% of the electorate voted, thereby rendering the result inconclusive. There were also concerns expressed by British MPs that the representation of Malta at Westminster would set a precedent for other colonies, and influence the outcome of general elections.
From 1957 onwards, various stamps designed by Emvin Cremona were issued, most notably those to commemorate the anniversaries of the award of the George Cross to Malta. He used an abstract post cubist style that would later dominate most stamps of the 1960s and 1970s including two definitive sets.
The decreasing strategic importance of Malta to the Royal Navy meant that the British government was increasingly reluctant to maintain the naval dockyards. Following a decision by the Admiralty to dismiss 40 workers at the dockyard, Mintoff declared that “representatives of the Maltese people in Parliament declare that they are no longer bound by agreements and obligations toward the British government…” (the 1958 Caravaggio incident) In response, the Colonial Secretary sent a cable to Mintoff, stating that he had “recklessly hazarded” the whole integration plan.
Under protest, Dom Mintoff resigned as Prime Minister along with all the MLP deputies on April 21, 1958. Georgio Borg Olivier was offered to form an alternative government by Governor Laycock but refused. This led to the Governor declaring a state of emergency thus suspending the constitution and Malta was placed under direct colonial administration from London. The MLP had now fully abandoned support for integration and now advocated full independence from the British Crown. In 1959, an Interim Constitution provided for an Executive Council under British rule.
While France had implemented a similar policy in its colonies, some of which became overseas departments, the status offered to Malta from Britain constituted a unique exception. Malta was the only British colony where integration with the UK was seriously considered, and subsequent British governments have ruled out integration for remaining overseas territories, such as Gibraltar.
The first postage meter was installed in Malta in 1961. Also that year, the Blood Commission provided for a new constitution allowing for a measure of self-government and recognizing the “State” of Malta. Giorgio Borg Olivier became Prime Minister the following year, when the Stolper report was delivered.
Malta issued various other commemorative stamp sets in the early 1960s, and the last set prior to independence was a set of three commemorating the European Congress of Catholic Doctors. This was issued on 5 September 1964, just two weeks before independence (Scott #300-302).
Following the passage of the Malta Independence Act 1964 by the British Parliament and the approval of a new Maltese constitution by 54.5% of voters in a referendum, the State of Malta (Stat ta’ Malta) was formed on September 21, 1964, as an independent constitutional monarchy, with Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta and Head of State. This is celebrated as Independence Day or Jum l-Indipendenza in Maltese. On December 1, 1964, Malta was admitted to the United Nations.
In the first two post-independence electoral rounds, in 1962 and 1966 the Nationalist Party emerged as the largest party, gaining a majority of the Parliamentary seats.
In 1965, Malta joined the Council of Europe, and in 1970, Malta signed an Association Treaty with the European Economic Community.
Initially, the main language used on stamps was English even after independence. From 1968 onwards, the Maltese language became predominant on stamps. This remained the case for many years.
Malta joined CEPT in 1971 and has issued Europa stamps annually since then.
The elections of 1971 saw the Labour Party (MLP) under Dom Mintoff win by just over 4,000 votes.
The Labour government immediately set out to re-negotiate the post-Independence military and financial agreements with the United Kingdom. The government also undertook nationalization programs and the expansion of the public sector and the welfare state. Employment laws were updated with gender equality being introduced in salary pay. The use of English on stamps was also stopped at this time. Concerning civil law, civil marriage was introduced and homosexuality and adultery were decriminalized (1973); capital punishment for murder was abolished in 1971. The following year, Malta entered into a Military Base Agreement with the United Kingdom and other NATO countries.
Under Mintoff’s premiership, Malta began establishing close cultural and economic ties with Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, as well as diplomatic and military ties with North Korea.
In 1972 Malta abandoned the sterling system and adopted the Maltese pound, where 10 mils = 1 cent and 100 cents = 1 pound. An stamp issue showing the new coins was issued (Scott #439-446), and this was followed by three overprints on the 1965 definitive (Scott #447-449). A new definitive issue showing various local scenes was issued on March 31, 1973, and an airmail set commemorating the setting up of Air Malta was issued a year later. All these were designed by Emvin Cremona, who had by now become a Knight of Malta, but by now his designs were looking dated and tired.
Palazzo Parisio had been the seat of the General Post Office for 87 years when on July 4, 1973, the GPO was transferred to the building on the opposite side of the street — the Auberge d’Italie. The Central Mail Room, the Registered Letter Branch and the Poste Restante moved to the Upper Baracca Hall in Castille Place. The Parcel Post Office had been operating in the new building in Victory Square Valletta since November 18, 1963.
Through a package of constitutional reforms agreed to with the Nationalist opposition, Malta became a republic on December 13, 1974, with the last Governor-General, Sir Anthony Mamo, as its first President. The Ġieħ ir-Repubblika Act, promulgated the following year, abolished all titles of nobility in Malta and mandated that they cease to be recognized.
The Party was confirmed in office in the 1976 elections. Between 1976 and 1981 Malta went through difficult times and the Labour government demanded that the Maltese were to tighten their belts in order to overcome the difficulties Malta was facing. There were shortages of essential items; the water and electricity supplies were systematically suspended for two or three days a week. Political tensions increased, notably on Black Monday when following an attempted assassination of the Prime Minister, the premises of the Times of Malta were burned and the house of the Leader of Opposition was attacked.
On April 1, 1979, the last British forces left the island after the end of the economic pact to stabilise the Maltese economy. This is celebrated as Freedom Day (Jum Il-Ħelsien) on March 31. Celebrations start with a ceremony in Floriana near the War Memorial. A popular event on this memorable day is the traditional regatta. The regatta is held at the Grand Harbour and the teams taking part in it give it their best shot to win the much coveted aggregate Regatta Shield.
The 1981 general elections saw the Nationalist Party (NP) gaining an absolute majority of votes, yet the Labour winning the majority of Parliamentary seats under the Single Transferable Vote and Mintoff remained Prime Minister, leading to a political crisis. The Nationalists, now led by Eddie Fenech Adami, refused to accept the electoral result and also refused to take their seats in parliament for the first years of the legislature, mounting a campaign demanding that Parliament should reflect the democratic will of the people. Despite this, the Labour government remained in power for the full five-year term. Mintoff resigned as Prime Minister and Party leader and appointed Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici as his successor in 1984.
The Mifsud Bonnici years were characterized by political tensions and violence. After a five-year debate, Fenech Adami, through the intervention of Dom Mintoff, reached an agreement with Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici to improve the constitution. Constitutional amendments were made voted and made effective in January 1987 which guaranteed that the party with an absolute majority of votes would be given a majority of parliamentary seats in order to govern. This paved the way for the return of the Nationalist Party to government later that year.
The general elections that followed in 1987 saw the Nationalist Party achieve such a majority of votes. The new Nationalist administration of Edward Fenech Adami sought to improve Malta’s ties with Western Europe and the United States. The Nationalist Party advocated Malta’s membership in the European Union presenting an application on July 16, 1990. This became a divisive issue, with Labour opposing membership.
A wide-ranging programme of liberalization and public investments meant the confirmation in office of the Nationalists with a larger majority in the 1992 elections. In 1993, local councils were re-established in Malta.
The British Postal Consultancy Service made a Report in 1994 recommending that the Post Office should run commercially instead of by the government. Therefore, on October 1, 1995, Posta Limited came into being and took over the General Post Office in Valletta, the Parcel Post, its branch offices and its sub post offices in Malta and Gozo. Postal codes were introduced and it was planned to centralize the administration of both the Central Office and the Parcel Post in a new building at Marsa. The first stamps under the new company were issued on October 5, 1995, when a set showing antique clocks was issued (Scott $870-873).
General elections were held in Malta on October 26, 1996; although the Labour received the most votes, the Nationalists won the most seats. The 1987 constitutional amendments had to be used for the second time, and the Labour Party was awarded an additional four seats to ensure they had a majority in Parliament. Malta’s EU application was subsequently frozen. A split in the Labour Party in 1998, between the PM Sant and the former PM Mintoff (died in 2012) resulted in the government losing the majority. Notwithstanding the President of the Republic’s preference for a negotiated solution, all attempts proved futile, and he had no other option but to accept Sant and his government’s resignation and a call for early elections.
Late in October 1997, the Parcel Post Office, the Central Mail Room, the Philatelic Bureau and the Postal Administration were transferred to 305 Qormi Road in Marsa. The Valletta Counter Services started to operate from Dar Annona in Castille Place; the Valletta Postmen Section was transferred to the ex-Valletta Branch Post Office in Old Bakery Street and the post office boxes moved to the Auberge D’Aragon Annexe in West Street. In August 2003, the post office boxes were relocated to the new and more convenient premises at the Valletta Market Complex in Merchants Street. All postal operations are now centralized under one roof at Marsa.
On May 1, 1998, the postal services in the Maltese islands were taken over from Posta Limited by a new Company, Maltapost plc. This publicly listed company was owned by the Government of Malta (40% of the shareholding), Mid-Med Finance Ltd (30%), Mid-Med Life Assurance Co Ltd (15%) and Maltacom plc (15%).
On being returned to office in the 1998 elections with a wide 13,000 vote margin, the Nationalist Party reactivated the EU membership application. Malta was formally accepted as a candidate country at the Helsinki European Council of December 1999. In 2000, capital punishment was abolished also from the military code of Malta.
On January 31, 2002, Maltapost plc was partially privatized with the Maltese Government selling 35% to Transcend Worlwide Ltd.
EU accession negotiations were concluded late in 2002 and a referendum on membership in 2003 saw 90.86% casting a valid vote of which 53.65% were “yes” votes. Labour stated that it would not be bound by this result were it returned to power in the following general election that year. In the circumstances, elections were called and the Nationalist Party won another mandate, electing as PM Lawrence Gonzi. The accession treaty was signed and ratified and Malta joined the EU on May 1, 2004. A consensus on membership was subsequently achieved with Labour saying it would respect this result. Joe Borg was appointed as first Maltese European commissioner in the first Barroso Commission.
In the context of EU membership, Malta joined the eurozone on January 1, 2008. Stamp issues from December 2006 to June 2008 were denominated in dual currency. The 2008 election confirmed Gonzi in the premiership, while in 2009 George Abela became President of Malta.
On May 28, 2011, Maltese voted ‘yes’ in the consultative divorce referendum. At that time, Malta was one of only three countries in the world, along with the Philippines and the Vatican City, in which divorce was not permitted. As a consequence of the referendum outcome, a law allowing divorce under certain conditions was enacted in the same year. Following a corruption scandal John Dalli had to resign and was replaced by Tonio Borg as Maltese commissioner in 2012. A snap election was called for March 2013 after the Gonzi government lost the Parliamentary majority.
Recently the number of stamp sets issued by Malta each year has increased and there is more use of photography on stamps. Nearly all of the stamps are based on local topics and therefore Malta has upheld a reputation of being conservative in its issuing policy. Postage rates on the island have also remained cheap, and English has taken over from Maltese as the predominant language on stamps. The only complaint is that since 2003 there have many sets with high values when the standard local postage is €0.26. Although such issues are mainly intended for collectors, higher values are still used on parcels or registered letters since postage labels are rarely used in Malta compared to other countries.
Overall, Malta issued about 1,880 stamps and miniature sheets (as of 2014) and also takes part in various programs including Europa (since 1971), World Wildlife Fund (since 1991) and SEPAC (since 2007). Since 2006, the Europa stamps have also been issued in booklets. Malta has also issued various joint issues with other countries starting in 2004. On June 17, 2016, MaltaPost opened the Malta Postal Museum in a restored twentieth-century townhouse in the center of Valletta, close to the Grandmaster’s Palace and the Church of Our Lady of Damascus.
Scott #19 was released on January 4, 1901, denominated one farthing to pay for the newly-established newspaper postage. Previously, newspapers had been allowed to pass free through the post within the Maltese islands. The red brown stamp was printed using typography by Thomas de la Rue & Co. Ltd. of London, perforated 14 with a sideways Crown CA watermark. As seen from the back of the stamp, the normal watermark shows the crown to the right of CA. The stamp pictures Valletta which, geographically, is located in the central-eastern portion of the main island of Malta having its western coast with access to the Marsamxett Harbour and its eastern coast in the Grand Harbour. The historical city has a population of 6,444 (as of March 2014), while the metropolitan area around it has a population of 393,938. Valletta is the southernmost capital of Europe and the second southernmost capital of the European Union after Nicosia.
The official name given by the Order of Saint John was Humilissima Civitas Valletta — The Most Humble City of Valletta, or Città Umilissima in Italian. The city’s fortifications, consisting of bastions, curtains and cavaliers, along with the beauty of its Baroque palaces, gardens and churches, led the ruling houses of Europe to give the city its nickname Superbissima — Most Proud.
The architecture of Valletta’s streets and piazzas ranges from mid-sixteenth century Baroque to Modernism. The city is the island’s principal cultural center and has a unique collection of churches, palaces and museums and act as one of the city’s main visitor attractions. When Benjamin Disraeli, future British Prime Minister, visited the city in 1830, he described it as “a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen,” and remarked that “Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe,” and in other letters called it “comparable to Venice and Cádiz” and “full of palaces worthy of Palladio.”
Buildings of historic importance include St John’s Co-Cathedral, formerly the Conventual Church of the Knights of Malta. It has the only signed work and largest painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. The Auberge de Castille et Leon, formerly the official seat of the Knights of Malta of the Langue of Castille, Léon and Portugal, is now the office of the Prime Minister of Malta. The Magisterial Palace, built between 1571 and 1574 and formerly the seat of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, used to house the Maltese Parliament, now situated in a purpose built structure at the entrance to the city. The Magisterial Palace still houses the offices of the President of Malta.
The National Museum of Fine Arts is a Rococo palace dating back to the late 1570s, which served as the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet during the British era from the 1820s onwards. The Manoel Theatre (Teatru Manoel) was constructed in just ten months in 1731, by order of Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena, and is one of the oldest working theaters in Europe. The Mediterranean Conference Centre was formerly the Sacra Infermeria. Built in 1574, it was one of Europe’s most renowned hospitals during the Renaissance. The fortifications of the port, built by the Knights as a magnificent series of bastions, demi-bastions, cavaliers and curtains, approximately 330 feet (100 meters) high, all contribute to the unique architectural quality of the city.
The City of Valletta was officially recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.