Malta to VeniceMonday, 21 December 2015
◄ My recent Komodo Islands boat trip wasn’t the only travel by sea in 2015, Maureen and I also made an opera cruise on the three-masted barque Sea Cloud II. Here it is under full sail. In fact we didn’t travel very much by windpower, although definitely rather more than on the Katharina around the Komodo Islands. ‘Opera tour’ means we had opera singers from Opera Australia performing on board the boat and assorted music and opera performances when we were ashore. All organised by Renaissance Tours if you’re thinking you’d like to do something similar.
It was my second visit to Malta in the last few years and, just like last time, the capital Valletta impressed me as somewhere that’s had a lot of money and a lot of history. ▼
◄ Malta has a number of significant ancient sites and we visited the two adjacent 3600 year old archaeological sites, Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. I was impressed how well the protective tents over the sites worked. When I visited the even older Gobekli Tepe site in eastern Turkey, wearing my Global Heritage Fund hat, I was concerned that the somewhat similar protective tent they were planning wasn’t going to work so it was encouraging seeing these examples.
There are assorted trails heading off along the coast from the prehistoric sites and I made a quick sortie to the memorial to Sir Walter Congreve (British governor buried at sea between the coast and Filfa Island offshore), and a lookout tower, intended to keep watch for invading Turks. Malta and for that matter quite a few other places around the Mediterranean, had quite a lot of trouble with invading Turks.
▲ From Malta we sailed south of Sicily and then around the southern end of the Italian boot, stopping at Otranto on the heel. Otranto Cathedral has a wonderful tree of life floor mosaic done in the 1100s by a monk named Pantaleone, with all sorts of naïve life including two elephants although he ‘had obviously never seen an elephant’). Plus an artistically organised display of skulls from the 800 ‘martyrs’ following the 1480 Turkish siege when all the surviving residents were beheaded.
▲ We made a brief foray from Otranto to Lecce, a town with an amazing collection of churches featuring totally over-the-top sculpture and bas reliefs courtesy of the easily carved local sandstone and some exuberant artists. The Basilica of Santa Croce is the high point of this artistic extravagance, done by ‘a lunatic having a nightmare’ according to one critic. Plus there are Roman reminders including a theatre and an amphitheatre.