With its valleys that praise all shades of green, tall cliffs, and neighboring cobalt coves, Malta resembles a natural film plateau with the ever-present sun as its source of light. The décor is completed with vanilla-tinted historical houses with colorful bay windows.
Here I am in Malta, which has been attracting tourists and the movie industry, especially Hollywood, with its historic and natural beauties. This beautiful island has been home to many movies and TV productions such as The Count of Monte Cristo, Gladiator, Troy, The Da Vinci Code, and Game of Thrones. I want to plan this trip as a director plans a movie, turning it into a festival film in which dreams intertwine with reality. In fact, Malta is one of those countries that pay great attention to celebrating religious and traditional festivals. And for the male lead, I choose the knight Jean De La Valette, who lent his name to the capital of Malta.
Our movie begins with my tour of Valetta on my knight’s horse. When Malta was given to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John in the 16th century, the city was scattered with walls, gardens, and cathedrals, all according to military architectural planning. Today, Valetta carries the traces of those days along the Republic Street, the most vibrant location in town lined with ice cream vendors, shops, cafés, and souvenir stalls, and the square which hosts a statue of Queen Victoria. We pass by the Grandmaster’s Palace, which was once the residency of the Knights of Saint John and is currently open to visit, and stop in front of an ordinary-looking building. I decide not to be too hasty to dismiss it judging by the queue upfront. This is St. John's Co-Cathedral, built by the knights for themselves and completed in 1578. The interior is spectacular. A unique example of Baroque architecture, the cathedral’s floor attracts me more than the walls and the ceiling because it features marble tombstones of knights made with stones in more than 400 colors including lapis lazuli. They feature inscriptions about the virtues of the knights in addition to figures such as angels playing trumpets, crowns, sickles, hourglasses, and skeletons. I also ex- amine the extraordinary paintings in the hall painted by Caravaggio, who stayed in Malta for a while and painted parts of the cathedral. This is an emotional moment in the film because this is also where Jean De La Valette is buried.
Upon leaving the cathedral, we gallop down the street towards the sea. Representing Malta’s modern side, Sliema stands before us with its white and luxurious apartment buildings with wide balconies. Boats and cruisers sway on the water like seagulls with sails for wings. This is a sophisticated district with summerhouses for those who wish to take a break from Valletta’s heat and crowds. We tie our horse to a tree and go on a stroll from Sliema to St. Julians along the promenade surrounded by people walking their dogs, pushing their babies in strollers, walking hand in hand, and joking around. I observe a young population and a widespread use of native English, which is the second official language after Maltese -a fact that attracts young people from all across the world to the language schools here.
In the next scene, we hop on our horse and visit Mdina, known as the "silent city," which was the island’s capital in the 1500s. It’s like an open-air museum or a labyrinth into which you walk willingly. Its narrow streets are home to the National Museum of Natural History, dungeons, a mansion once inhabited by aristocrats, chapels, and small design stores. The mysterious silence is occasionally interrupted with the trotting sound of horse carriages that carry the tourists around town. The small movie theaters nearby screen short films such as The Knights of Malta and The Mdina Experience -I opt for the latter. Thus begins a movie in a movie!
Now, it’s time to visit a real film’s set! The village built for the movie Popeye (1980), which brought Robin Williams international fame, is also an amusement park. In my imaginary movie, we gallop towards the village, crossing through beaches -some pebbled, some with fine sand. My favorite among them is Mellieha Beach with its shallow waters, sand, and umbrellas in orange and green. When we arrive at Popeye’s village, we take pictures with Olive Oyl and Bluto, guest characters in my imaginary movie. Popeye’s shabby and disorganized house, the village grocery, post office, and comedy museum rival each other in beauty. It’s so easy to have fun here with animation shows, a short documentary of the film, and a 15-minute boat tour.
My imaginary movie’s most charming and colorful scenes are from the fishing town of Marsaxlokk, which welcomes us with boats called luzzu, painted in blue, yellow, white, and red. On both sides of the boats’ bows is the magic eye of Osiris for good fortune. As a land of seafood, Malta is frequented with people who are trying to find a table at local restaurants to try specialties made with fish such as tuna, grouper, and sea bream. The week-long district market sells elegant handmade laceworks and hand-painted ceramic plates. I opt for the captain's hat with Malta’s name on it and suddenly become a center of attention. People around me call out by saying, “Hi, captain!”, “Where are you headed, captain?”
An impressive sunset scene suits every movie. Jean De La Valette and I lean over the wrought-iron bars of the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which serves as Valletta’s terrace decorated with statues and flowers. The Three Cities, the first settlement of the knights, and the Fort St. Angelo extend before us. There’s also the harbor frequented by giant cruise ships. Further ahead, we can see the flags hung in a district for a festival. Momentarily, the sun sets, and this lyrical scene comes to an end.
For the dinner scenes of my imaginary movie, we visit the restaurant Aaron’s Kitchen. The table is filled with a selection of Maltese cuisine including stuffat tal-fenek (rabbit stew), bragioli (veal wrapped with eggs and greens), and the crusty bread known as hobza. We end this scene here because the audience might feel famished.
Next day, the movie continues at Malta’s Gozo and Comino Islands. We hop on the ferry which takes us to Mgarr, Gozo's harbor. Since we’re no longer riding a horse, our best option is to use the red open-air double decker Hop On/Hop Off buses. It takes us three or four hours to visit the entirety of this miniature island and its narrow streets. I am most impressed by the vibrant main street of the capital Victoria, and the ancient Ggantija Temples believed to have been built by giants, followed by Calypso Cave, Xagħra, and Ta’ Pinu Basilica.
For the end of the movie, we set sail towards Comino from Gozo on a small boat. All you can do on this island, whose uniform is a swimsuit and flip flops, is to swim, sunbathe, do water sports, and enjoy the snacks sold by street vendors. At the magical cove named “Blue Lagoon,” there’s one thing left to say for the magnificent turquoise sea accompanied by the light and the sand. This is the last line in my movie, “Malta, you paint my heart blue.”