Malta is a small and densely populated state in the Mediterranean. It consists of eight isles, the largest ones being Malta, Gozo and Comino. Its total surface is 316 km², approx. 1/10 of Belgium and 3/4 of its population (approx. 300.000) lives in Valetta and its surroundings.
Malta’s history has been very turbulent because various peoples sought a foothold on the strategic isles: Phoenician merchants, Romans, Arabs, Vikings, Habsburgs, the Knights Hospitaller of St-John, Napoleon, British. In 1802 Malta became part of the British Empire. It finally achieved independence within the Commonwealth on 21 Sept. 1964 and became a republic in 1974.
Traces of this remarkable history can be found on the euro coins. Contrary to other countries of the Eurosystem where the design was chosen by specialists, Malta was the first country to offer its inhabitants a say. Several designs were put to vote: the winning design was for the 1 and 2 euro, the runner-up for the coins of 10, 20 and 50 cents and the thrid design for the small denominations.
Coins of 1, 2 and 5 cent refer to the oldest history of the country. The prehistoric temple complex of Mnajdra dates back to approx. 3600 BC. It is the oldest example of large temples which were built during the late Stone Age in Malta and on the surrounding isles. These standing stones capped by horizontal stones in a post-and-lintel arrangement are the first stonebuilt religious constructions in history. The temple of Mnajdra is about half a millennium older than Stonehenge, the other well-known megalithic monument.
From the past to the present with the design of the 10, 20 and 50-cent coins. The Maltese republic is represented on these coins by the Emblem of Malta. The shield displays a heraldic representation of the national flag and is topped off with a mural crown that represents the fortifications of Malta and denotes a city state. The shield is bounded on the left by an olive branch and on the right by a palm branch, symbols of peace traditionally associated with Malta. Fortified Valetta has been constructed in the 16th century by the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St-John (also the Order of Malta) and served as a bastion for the christian West in the Mediterranean. This historic part of the city has been very well preserved and is actually listed as UNESCO World Heritage.
The design the Maltese population loved most was the eight-pointed cross. It is the emblem of the Order of Malta. During its rule over Malta, between 1530 and 1798, the eight-pointed cross became associated with the island and is now often referred to as the Maltese Cross. The eight points of the cross refer to the eight Beatitudes mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
With an area of 9,251 km² Cyprus is the third largest island of the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily and Sardinia). Although it is much larger than Malta, it is with 790.000 inhabitants far less densely populated. Not the whole of Cyprus however has made the changeover to the euro. This has been reserved to the southern Greek-speaking part of the island.
The strategic position of the island and its wealth of ore played an important role in the history of Cyprus. The first human settlement was in the Neolithic period, at a date now calculated as well before 6000 BC. Greek settlers followed from about 1200 BC and since then Cyprus has come under the influence or control of the various peoples that have exercised power in the eastern Mediterranean, from Phoenecians and Assyrians to British. And if you ever wondered where the name copper comes from: Cyprus – cuprum – copper.
History as well as nature inspired the designers of the Cypriot euro coins. On the 1, 2 and 5-cent coins Cypriot mouflons look us in the eye. The mouflon is a small wild sheep that bears large, curving horns with the tips turned backwards. Introduced to Cyprus by prehistoric humans in the Neolithic, the mouflon soon colonised the island. Nowadays it is the only surviving large wild animal on the island. It is considered an important part of the natural heritage of Cyprus and everything is done to protect it from extinction.
On the 10, 20 and 50-cent coins the “Ship of Kyrenia” is represented. The ship is named after Kyrenia, a city in the Turkish Cypriot-administered area, where the remains of a ship dating to about 300 BC were recovered in 1969 approx. 0.8 km offshore. This particularly well conserved wreck of a Greek trading vessel is also the only ship of Greek Antiquity (750-146 BC) that has been dredged up. It symbolises Cyprus’ seafaring history and its importance as a centre of trade.
The cruciform statue which is represented on the 1 and 2- euro coins dates back to the Chalcolithicperiod (3000 BC). It is known as the “Idol of Pomos”, the village where it has been found.
The size of similar statues or idols could vary enormously: from a few centimeters to statues of 1.5 m. Small examples were sometimes worn as charms. The outstretched form of the arms of the “Idol of Pomos” probably refers to its function as a fertility symbol. This characteristic example of the island’s prehistoric art reflects Cyprus’s place at the heart of civilisation and Antiquity.
With the entry of Cyprus and Malta into the euro area collectors and daily users of euro coins will become acquainted with the history and features of the two most southern member states of the European Union.