We are in Malta now and it has been amazing seeing some history of the Knights of Malta, you know the guys in all the knight garb you see in all the movies. Think of the Three Musketeers. These guys were from all over Europe and typically were from privileged or royal families, and usually not first born sons. They were not in line for the throne in their home countries, so they spent time conquering, building, and basically pillaging. The entire Mediterranean region was being slowly taken over by the Moors from Africa, and I think the idea of the Knights was to protect people from Europe wanting to make pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The order was originally the Knights of St. John. Their first "capital" was the island of Rhodes in Greece, which we were able to see while we were there a few months ago. The were overrun there and for several years were looking for a place to call home in the Med. We also saw a lot of construction in smaller islands in Kos and Turkey, all from the same era.
Then the king of Sicily believed in the cause and offered the Knights the island of Malta for the price of a Maltese falcon (basically a 'token' price as the birds were everywhere, like we "sell" something we want to give to someone for $1.00) The knights agreed and at least they had a home, although they thought it was not a great gift, as the island was pretty much abandoned, some villagers and not much produce or natural beauty. So, they set up shop here and began building on the best harbor of the island, what is now Grand Harbor. They were attacked by the Moors and Turks in an epic battle in 1575. The Turks came with 30,000 troops and the Knights and locals were only 5,000. The war lasted for 2 long years and the Knights were victorious. After having fought for the island, they felt more attached and protective of it, and began to fortify and develop it in earnest. That is when the major project of development took place in Valetta, now the capital and a stunning peninsula city VERY well protected with walls and lookouts and forts all over it.
In their spare time, the Knights were terrorizing the seas around from the fledgling faith of Islam, thinking that raiding and pillaging their ships was 'stealing from the devil.'
All in all, it's a very fascinating piece of history that we are very glad we made the effort to sail down and see. As with a lot of other sites we've seen, it is way more interesting to see it than to have read it in books. Our only hope is that our boat-schooled teenagers see it that way as well!