It is a small island, more precise a group of islands, with an overall size of 315km2. In other words, or figures, roughly three times the size of Linz, or 100km2 less than Vienna. It is an highly populated island, having the highest population density within the European Union, and the third highest within Europe, after Monaco, Gibraltar and the Vatican. More than 1300 people live on a single square kilometer, again, in comparison: Austria has an average of 102 people living on a square kilometer, Australia has 2.8. Hence such a concentration of people calls for intensely built up areas; towns and villages blend into each other, municipal boundaries vanish, at least for us, being mere visiting spectators; however very clearly not for the locals, who carefully perceive margins between parishes and municipal zones. The architectural style is highly influenced by traditional Mediterranean architecture, widely dominated by fortifications, the color of limestone, balconies of all sorts and sizes and not to forget the attached tiles, depicting saints and or the blessed virgin Mary beside pretty much every single entry door. Which leads to another sample calculation: 315km2 in size, Malta counts 359 churches (313 in Malta and 46 in Gozo, together with Comino (one church, population 4) the three inhabited islands of the archipelago). Meaning there is more than one church / chapel per square kilometer. Domes and steeples permeate the landscape, can be seen in every second at every single direction you might turn and look (we even found al list of churches online – Wikipedia makes it possible..). But someone can also find agricultural dominated stretches of lands, beaches and shores, natural harbors and cliff coasts.
The reason we had a chance to get a look at Malta has to do with two circumstances, a) Valletta will be the European Capital of Culture in 2018 and b) Malta will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) first six months in 2017. For both cases we have been invited to propose a project-scheme, ideally bridging these two events.
To get first impressions, supporting our proposal, we went there to get some sort of a foundation we can build upon. Taken care of by a well organized and very sympathetic team of Valletta 18 we have met a varying range of locals; artists, scientists, cultural and academic activists and other stakeholders. Some of them have been living in Malta since they have been born, others came back to the island after living abroad for several years or commuting between other places and Malta on a regular basis, as well as some moving to there for a change of life. All of them open-minded, approachable and willingly sharing their opinions and thought with us. Which gave us the great chance, apart from “inhaling” the landscape, to collect a wide range of perspectives, from assessments and anecdotes of the history and the present, via ideas on what could / should change, to expectations and hopes towards a future.
As dense as these few days might have been in terms of the time-budget available, it was fruitful in getting colourful and multifaceted sensations that we will start processing in the very near future. One comment, made by a person we met on the very first evening spent in Malta, referred to Malta (and its population) as an “Island of Extremes.” This note, in addition to another defining Malta as the “Island of Contradictions,” sticks out in our memories and might be a good starting point for our following proposal.