Independence Day in Malta occurs on 21 September, commemorating the day in 1964 when Malta officially gained its full independence from Great Britain.
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Yet, Malta’s march toward independence is a very complex history with multiple steps and stages, which is part of the reason the island-nation has no less than five national days. Nonetheless, “Jum-1-Indipendenza” (21-Independence) is celebrated with great fanfare every year by the Maltese people.
Malta has long been a much-coveted island for international commerce and military purposes, and it has been occupied by a long train of invaders. Malta’s many past rulers include the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, and others. After 275 years of rule by the famed Knights of St. John, French forces led by Napoleon captured the island in 1798.
The French fleet was on its way to invade Egypt and, after being refused permission to harbor at Malta, harboured anyway and seized control of the defiant little nation-state. The French instituted some notable reforms during their short rule, including the elimination of all remnants of feudalism, the founding of numerous schools, and the abolition of slavery. Nonetheless, Malta’s populace resented foreign domination and rebelled in 1799. When they could not retake their capital city of Valletta, they turned to France’s nemesis, Britain, for help.
Britain’s famous admiral, Lord Nelson, accommodated the islanders’ request and blockaded the French in Malta, and the island was taken in 1800. At that point, it became incorporated into the British Empire, and in 1869, it gained prominence as a mid-way stop between the newly opened Suez Canal and British Gibraltar. The British built Malta up into a veritable fortress and made it the home of their Mediterranean fleet.
After stern resistance against the Nazis and Italian fascists during World War II, despite repeated bombings and devastation, the British promised to reward the Maltese people with independence. A degree of local rule was given in 1947, but it was not until September 21st, 1964, that full independence came. Later, in 1974, Malta became a republic, and only in 1979 did British forces leave Malta after the defence treaty was allowed to expire.
Should you visit Malta for Jum-1-Indipendenza, some activities to enjoy include:
- See the numerous parades, festivals, musical performances, and cultural events all over the main island of Malta and the lesser island of Gozo. There are far too many events to name, and some of them change year to year, but there will be no shortage of festivities no matter where you turn.
- Be sure to stay for a Sunday, for on almost every Sunday from March to December, you can see the “In Guardia Parades.” These are historical re-enactments of battles of the past in Malta by seasoned reenactors in full dress. The Knights of St. John are very commonly impersonated, and there are events on both Malta and Gozo. Just report to Fort Saint Elmo in Valletta around 11am on Sunday, and you can expect to be entertained for three-quarters of an hour.
- If you can wait in Malta just a few extra days past the 21st, don’t miss the Malta International Airshow, which usually falls on the 24th or so of September. It is a top tourist attraction held annually at the Malta International Airport, and you won’t be disappointed.
Malta has so many national holidays that one can visit nearly any time of year and find festive events going on, but Maltese Independence Day is one of the most jubilantly celebrated of them all.