Tales, Legends and Folklore of Malta

Ruins of Ggantija, Folklore of Malta

Before I start sharing posts on all the different destinations you can visit on the islands of Malta, I thought I’d first pass on some tales and legends that I came across during my month exploring Malta. Sitting at a crossroads in the Mediterranean, Malta lies both between Italy and Africa, but also the Middle East and the Atlantic. This means, the island has often featured among other cultures’ stories. Aside from that, there’s also plenty of local folklore of Malta regarding its history and people. During my time on Malta, these are just a few of the stories and tales of local folklore that I learned about.

 

Isle of Calypso

Ramla Beach, Folklore of Malta

One of the greater tales of Greek Mythology is Homer’s Odyssey. The story follows the long journey of the hero Odysseus and includes his troubles with the nymph Calypso on her island of Ogygia. Calypso lived in a cave on the island and fell in love with the hero, bewitching him so as to keep him on the island eternally. For seven years Odysseus stayed with Calypso under her enchantment. It wasn’t until the intervention of the gods that Odysseus was released from her spell and allowed to return home to his wife in Ithaca.

What makes this tale relevant to Malta is that it is widely believed that the island of Ogygia and the Maltese island of Gozo are one and the same. Since the 4th century BC, it has been suggested that Gozo is indeed the Isle of Calypso. Further reinforcing the idea is the presence of a cave by Ramla Bay on the island’s north. Since it is believed that this cave is where Calypso is said to have lived, it is now known as Calypso’s Cave. The cave is in fact a series of caverns and according to legend leads right down to the sea. The cave just recently had a small collapse and is not currently visible from its regular viewing platform.

Calypso Cave Landscape, Folklore of Malta

When you visit Gozo, it becomes easy to understand how a legend arose about the island having a magical hold on you. Gozo is full of enchanting places and the vibrant red sand of Ramla Beach by Calypso’s Cave is a wonderful example.

 

The Megalithic Giantess

Ggantija Altar, Folklore of Malta

Scattered throughout the islands of Malta are stone structures that date all the way back to the 3600-2500 BC. These 5000 year old structures are historically known as megalithic, due to the large stones used to construct them. Thanks to their age, these millennia old temples are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and interwoven into the local folklore of Malta.

According to local legend the ruins were remains of temples built by giants who once resided there. One such place with several ruins is the area known as Ggantija or the Giant’s Tower in English, in the heart of Gozo. This large temple complex still stands to this day and are the earliest of all the megalithic temples in Malta.

Megalithic Temple, Folklore of Malta

One legend from Ggantija tells of a giantess who was seen carrying boulders overhead in order to build many of the stone structures found throughout the area. It was said that she only ate broad beans and honey and built the places of worship all the while carrying a child too.

 

Shipwreck of St. Paul

St Paul's Island, Folklore of Malta

The country of Malta has a deep relationship with Christianity, which according to legend had quite the fantastic start. It is said that Christianity came to Malta with the shipwreck of the Apostle Paul on a small island just off its coast in 60 AD. As told in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul was en route to Rome as a political prisoner when the ship he was on got caught in a vicious storm. Its passengers were shipwrecked and washed ashore on an island that’s now known as St Paul’s Island. The island lies just across the bay from the town of Bugibba on the northern coast of Malta.

The tale says that once on Malta, the passengers were met and welcomed by the locals under Roman rule. Invited to a fire, Paul was suddenly bitten by a poisonous snake but miraculously didn’t fall ill. The people saw this as a sign that Paul was indeed an exceptional man. Paul would end up staying on Malta the entire winter and began the spread of Christianity on the island when he healed the Roman Chief’s father from a fever. It is said that very chief named Publius would become the island’s first bishop. Malta would become one of the first Roman colonies to convert, so quite an auspicious start indeed.

 


Which of these stories and folklore of Malta do you find the most interesting? Do you know of any other local Maltese legends? Please share in the comments below.

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At the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, the islands of Malta have featured in many tales and legends. Beyond that, there's plenty of local Maltese folklore too, via @travelsewhere

 


This post is part of The Weekly Postcard over at Caliglobetrotter. Please head on over for more great posts.
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14 Comment

  1. Quite possibly you’re most fascinating read! Loved these myths and legends, especially the one about Calypso! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  2. Wow this is fascinating. Loved the tale of Homer’s Odyssey. #Theweeklypostcard

  3. Garth says:

    Can’t wait to visit Malta, maybe next year, fascinating history! Would like to think the local legends of giants are real! Look forward to more posts! 🙂

  4. Upeksha says:

    I love hearing local legends and folklore from wherever I visit. Thanks for sharing these. Think my favorite is the story about Calypso. #theweeklypostcard

  5. Anisa says:

    I had no idea that Homer’s Odyssey was set in Malta. Another reason why I want to go visit. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. David says:

      Only partly set, but it was news to me too! Thanks as alway Anisa 🙂

  6. I hadn’t realised there were so many Greek and Christian historical associations in Malta. Having spent a bit of time in Sicily recently which also has some Greek mythology I particularly like the story of Calypso!

  7. One of my favourite places to visit in the world – I knew about St Paul but not the other 2 legends/tales. I love Malta and Gozo – we have one eye on retiring there. I don’t often return to places visited but I have been 5 times so will really look forward to reading your future posts!

  8. The Giantess is very cool. All on broad beans and honey too. She was amazing!! 😉

  9. I enjoyed learning about the history and folklore of Malta. Wow, the stone structures have been there for 5000 years. Such an interesting island that I would love to visit. Great photos and thanks for sharing 🙂 #feetdotravel

  10. Love the story of Calypso’s Island, and the cave! I didn’t realize there were monolithic structures on Malta, too. Very cool! History and mythology are two of our favorite subjects – you are really hitting the right buttons to get us to Malta! 😉 Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard, David.

  11. I love folklore and legends! Malta is on my bucket list… I have no idea how long I will have to wait to visit – but visit I will. Interesting post!

  12. PackYourBaguios says:

    I teach ancient civilizations so I love the stories that develop around places, especially myths!

  13. Wow, awesome stuff man. So much more to Malta than Valletta and love some of these stories – definitely bring the places to life. UNESCO sites are always great to visit – everyone has been vaxing lyrical about Malta so maybe it’s time for me to visit!

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