Malta is one of the few Eurovision participants that have not missed a single contest since 1991. But despite such dedication, the country has always preferred finishing in the top 10 without winning — probably a way to make the most of the glory without the burden of organizing the party the following year. Classic.
Malta will be represented this year by Amber, a 23-year-old singer from the Mediterranean island. She has also proved to be extremely perseverant when it comes to Eurovision: She’s tried every year since 2011 to represent her country at the contest, winning this year for the first time, although she was also a background singer in 2012.
Amber will perform “Warrior”, a song about “overcoming difficulties by finding an inner strength,” she explains. In the video, she sings in an empty house while people in dark hoodies play musical instruments around her.
Does it make you want to visit that country? 4/10
Was there enough glitter? 4/10
Ok to quit your day job? 1.25/10
OVERALL AVERAGE: 3.08/10
On this southern European island, some of the hundreds of corpses have arrived from the latest migrant tragedy. They will be processed and buried without knowing their identity. It is not the first time.
VALLETTA — They're stacked in silver tubes. One on top of another. They are sealed in black plastic bags with marker-scribbled signs hung at their feet: Unknown Number 7, Unknown Number 10. Here, we can count 24 nameless corpses, all unknown and unidentified.
"They are all adult males, except one teenager," says Dr. David Grima.
They were on deck and died at sea, in the open wind, unlike those who were trapped below deck. We don't know their names, but in reality we know them very well. We have already seen them, followed them, listened to them, admired them for a strength that we don't have.
And we know how this would-be passage to Europe ends, here on the continent's extreme southern stretch, at the Mater Dei hospital's morgue on the island nation of Malta. Authorities now say as many as 800 people were killed in the sinking of the boat over the weekend, the worst maritime disaster in Europe since World War II.
Mater Dei (Mother of God) is the main hospital on the island, a modern building tucked among a tangle of streets. The mortuary's refrigerator has capacity for 65 bodies at any one time. Today a retiree suffered a fatal heart attack and three chronically ill patients from a ward died, joining the 23 men and teenagers who were fished out of the Mediterranean Sea.
"Sub-Saharan," says Dr. Grima. "Eritreans and Somalis, probably." The doctor, who wears an ID card around his neck and a blue shirt, is head of the morgue. He is the guardian of the dead who have no names.
"Today we took their DNA and in two days we will perform autopsies," he says. "Over the weekend we will give them an inter-religious burial, like we did last time."
Though the world is now finally paying attention, everything seen here has already happened before. The 24 bodies will go to the Addolorata cemetery where they will be interred next to the 21 who died in the Oct. 11 2013 sinking, and an Eritrean who tried to escape from Malta's reception center on a small boat, but returned lifeless because of the strong currents.
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Malta's Addolorata cemetery — Photo: Ori~
"There is a specific part of the cemetery reserved for migrants," says Grima. That is where they bury these victims without names, and without religion to avoid mistakes.
The day after the wreck in 2013, we came to this hospital for the first time and the atmosphere was very different — in addition to the dead, there were survivors. Everyone was grabbing arms, pleading to make a phone call. They were shouting the names of their relatives in the hopes that answers would come. "Where is my mother?" "My son, my son … please tell me that he was brought to Lampedusa."
Where is Europe?
There was a Syrian boy who was frothing with rage, standing at the door, wearing a baseball cap turned backwards. His name was Molhake Al Roasrn and he made his sea journey from the Libyan port city of Zuwarah. "The Libyans began firing, wounding three people. Because of the panic, everyone came above deck and the ship overturned …"
Perhaps he lost some relatives in the wreck but that was not the reason for his anger. "This is not Europe," he kept repeating. "Yes, yes, you're in Europe now," we tried to console him. "It's not true. I wanted to go to Italy, then to Sweden. That is Europe."
A European Union nation, Malta is a quiet island with a mild climate. There are retired Italians who read newspapers in the sun, groups of English tourists, colonial-style hotels and school classes on field trips. For the immigrants who arrive here, it's a curse. "I didn't undertake that journey to end up here," said Molhake.
Yesterday morning at 9 a.m., the Italian Coast Guard's Gregoretti ship docked at Valletta's port, not far from one particularly large and luxurious yacht with a helicopter on board. Sitting on the main deck of the Italian military ship were survivors, wearing colorful jackets and lucky tracksuits. They watched the corpses being brought ashore, one by one, towards a black van with a cross on its side. "After the initial euphoria at being saved, the ship fell silent," said Captain Gianluigi Bove. "It was when they realized we would be carrying the dead too."
Everybody knows the end of this story too well: the perpetual condemnation to oblivion, an eternal distance from loved ones, the desire not be recognized anymore. In the face of the sheer scale of the latest tragedy, Mater Dei hospital chief Ivan Falzon posted a message on Facebook. "No one even knows who died. Nobody will bring flowers. So let us, as their friends and relatives would. We can try to at least make their deaths gentle."
This is why people are coming to the front of the morgue. People like Gloria Bugeja, who works with stray dogs. "It hurts to think that nobody is mourning these people," she says. "What do their parents know?" She lays a camellia beside the wreath that the Minister for Justice placed down. By 6 p.m. on Monday, eighteen bouquets of flowers had been placed, and at least one note: "For the unidentified dead in Mater Dei, hoping for an eternal paradise. Rest in peace."
The English have long occupied Malta, hence the driving on the left with steering wheel on the right-hand side. But they haven't managed to import the Anglican religion: Catholicism is still deeply rooted in the island, as evidenced by the religious icons and Latin formula Verbum Dei caro factum est ("The Word of God was made flesh") in this old Bedford bus.
VALETTA – It is an inhospitable rock floating in the Mediterranean Sea. A piece of coralline limestone blown by the winds and burned by the sun with a layer of earth so thin that nothing much can grow on it.
Welcome to Malta, a simple and unpretentious place. Yet, this archipelago comprising eight islands – only two of which are populated – was disputed by every great civilization surrounding it for over 5,000 years. The firsts to lay foot on it were from nearby Sicilia. Then came the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines but also the Arabs and the Normans. They all came to get a piece of this poor land, whose strategic geographical position made it a crucial gateway in the Mediterranean.
The ones who truly left their mark on Malta were the Knights of St. John, from Jerusalem, who ruled the islands from 1530 to 1798. The Knight’s reign ended when Napoleon Bonaparte captured Malta on his way to Egypt. And of course wherever there is Bonaparte, there are angry Britons nearby. The island became a British Dominion in 1800 and continued its tumultuous history under the domination of its Most Gracious Majesty for almost 200 years.
To understand why Malta was so coveted, all you need to do is lay eyes on the smallest country of European Union, whose architectural riches take your breath away. Its capital, Valetta, bears witness to its turbulent history. Its vast fortifications were built to resist yet another invasion, that of the troops of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, which the Knights stopped the invasion during the 1965 Great Siege of Malta. The impressive fortified-city built by the Knights is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The St. John’s Co-Cathedral is the masterpiece of this smallest capital of Europe. A Baroque jewel whose centerpiece is a painting that Caravaggio painted during his stay on the island in 1608 – The Beheading of Saint John The Baptist. The floor of the cathedral consists of 400 marble tombs housing Knights and officer of the order, decorated with fascinating skeletons and skulls.
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St John's Co-Cathedral - Photo: Tony Hisgett
But the open-air museum that is Valetta has also decided to live in the present. Renzo Piano, one of the most daring architects of our time, has been commissioned to rebuild Valetta’s City Gate, destroyed in WWII. The Italian architect will also be building a new Parliament building and converting the old opera house site into an open-air theater. In a few months, the heart of Valetta will be writing a new page of its history.
The three cities
Until then, you can enjoy the view from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which tower over Europe’s biggest natural port, where once upon a time, galleys, caravels and English destroyers found safe harbor. Now you are more likely to see cruise ships. From the top of the fortifications, we can see the “three cities” that have provided a home all who settled on the island: Senglea, Cospicua, Vittoriosa (also known as Birgu). These cities offer an authentic slice of Maltese history. In Vittoriosa, there are guesthouses for those who want to avoid the big coastal resort towns of Sliema and St. Julian's.
The main island (also called Malta) is only 246 square kilometers but is home to almost all of the 400,000 residents of the Maltese Republic, which makes Malta one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
To escape the crowds, do as the Maltese do and take the ferry to the nearby island of Gozo. On the second island of the archipelago (67 square kilometers and 30,000 inhabitants), people seem to know how to take the time to enjoy life.
Do not miss the Azure Window on the west coast of the island. A very photogenic stone arch formed millions ago, which can be explored by boat. Nearby, the most beautiful bay of the island, Xlendi Bay, is definitely worth stopping for.
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The Azure window-Photo by : Berthold Werner
But if you come to Gozo, it is first and foremost to visit the ruins of Ggantija temple complex, the earliest Neolithic temple in the world still standing. The construction of this cloverleaf-shaped complex dates to 3,600 BC. Ggantija has often been compared to Stonehenge in England, but it is at least 700 years older.
Ggantija was the site of a fertility cult and its inhabitants carried out animal sacrifices, presumably to beg the gods and heavens to bring some fresh water to this arid land.
Today, if water is still scarce in Malta, alcohol flows in the Paceville district, west of St. Julian’s, where bars attract thousands of young Europeans who have come to the language of Shakespeare under the Mediterranean sun. Malta’s language schools are a huge industry. The English presence can be seen everywhere from the old red phone booths to the character of the Maltese people: a mix of British composure and Mediterranean feistiness. This unusual mix is what makes the charm of this atypical people speaking a language that is close to Arabic but written in the Latin alphabet!
Malta is unique because it has been the cradle of different civilizations, which were able to develop on a sterile land. That in itself is reason enough to visit the archipelago.