In 1530, many hundreds of years after the eolithic period, the Knights of the Order of St. John brought about another epoch of great cultural significance to the island. This is not to say that between the sudden disappearance of the Neolithic culture and the arrival of the Knights nothing happened. Quite the contrary. Many relics and remains bear witness to important historical events in this period. However, no unique or individual culture had originated from the many peoples - the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Castilians - who colonized the island during this prolonged interval.
The history of the Knights of St. John begins in the middle of the 11th century in the Holy Land. The Order's original duties were to care for the sick and wounded Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and to help the poor. But soon after, their duties expanded. The fight against the "infidels" became of equal or even greater importance. The Knights also became "Soldiers of Christ". They acquired and maintained huge states and castles in the Holy Land and eventually owned a large fleet.
With the loss of Acre to the Moslems in 1291, however, the fate of the Knights was sealed. They withdrew to Rhodes and acted as a shield against the Turks for two centuries until 1522 when Suleiman the Magnificent ousted the Knights from Rhodes. They needed a new homeland and, in 1530, moved to Malta to where they were given tenure by Emperor Charles V.
The Knights quickly improved trade and commerce on the islands, built new hospitals and, most importantly, erected new strong fortifications. But Ottomans wanted to destroy the Order completely and use Malta as a base from which to attack Southern Europe. In 1565 he set out with a strong fleet to drive the Knights out of Malta.
The siege which his navy laid on Malta, referred to by the Maltese as the "Great Siege of 1565", lasted four months with fighting of almost unimaginable ferocity. Although heavily outnumbered, the Knights stood firm and finally won, assisted by the Maltese people and by last minute reinforcements from Sicily. The Ottomans had no alternative but to beat a hasty retreat, leaving behind them an impressive number of dead among whom was the feared corsair Dragut.
The Knights of St. John had successfully protected Malta, Southern Europe and Christendom.
After their victory against the Ottomans, the Knights turned enthusiastically to the further development of Malta and Gozo. A golden era in culture, architecture and the arts followed. Many of Malta's most attractive buildings were built during this period. A new fortress city, Valletta, was built and named in honor of the Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette under whose inspired guidance the Knights and the Maltese had defied the Ottoman onslaught. Valletta is one of the earliest examples of a planned city built on the grid system. The Knights of St. John, coming as they did from the richest families in Europe, couId afford to hire the best taIent available and the buildings of Valletta, its fortifications and the art treasures in its museums and churches, are the work of the best European engineers and artists of the time. It was the magnificence of its palaces and other treasures that led Sir Walter Scott to describe Valletta as "The city built by gentlemen for gentlemen".
The fall of the Ottoman Empire marked the beginning of the end of the military vocation of the Order. However, the absence of a serious military threat to the Order's existence, and their increasing wealth, arrogance, lack of discipline and debauchery ate into the moral fabric of the Order.
Thus, in 1798, when Napoleon, on his way to Egypt, dropped anchor outside Grand Harbor on the pretext that his expedition needed fresh water supplies, he found an Order which had lost its way. Not surprisingly, the French Navy did not have to fire a single shot to secure Malta's surrender. On June 12th, Napoleon entered Valletta bringing to an end 268 years of rule by the Knights of St. John. Napoleon spent six eventful days in Malta during which, through numerous edicts, he tried to transform the island into a typical "Department" of France.
French rule in Malta, however, was short-lived. By 1800 the Maltese, with the help of Nelson, drove the French garrison out of Malta and sought the protection of the British throne.During World War II, Malta was one of the staging areas for the U.S. Armed Forces invasion of Sicily. Both General Dwight D. Eisenhower and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were visitors to the island and FDR paid tribute to the Maltese people for their valorous service to the war effort by presenting a plaque on December 8th, 1943. Malta became independent in 1964 and adopted a Republican Constitution in 1974.