Valletta, Malta’s capital and a World Heritage site, is nothing short of an open-air museum. It is a living experience of Baroque architecture, throughout the years, Valletta has welcomed emperors, heads of state, artists and poets and is now the permanent seat of the Maltese government. The name "Valletta" is traditionally reserved for the historic walled citadel that serves as Malta's principal administrative district. However, Valletta, like many historical city centres, forms part of a larger continuous urban agglomeration; this is often referred to as
Valletta, the smallest capital of the European Union, is now the island’s major commercial and financial centre and is visited daily by throngs of tourists eager to experience the city’s rich history. Dotted with quaint cafés and wine bars, the city is today one of Malta’s main tourist attractions, hosting among others, the majestic St John’s Co- Cathedral, the imposing bastions and a treasure of priceless paintings. It also provides a stunning snapshot of Malta’s Grand Harbour, often described as the most beautiful in the Mediterranean.
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Valletta owes its existence to the Knights of St John, who planned the city as a refuge to care for injured soldiers and pilgrims during the Crusades in the 16th century. Until the arrival of the Knights, Mount Sceberras, on which Valletta stands, lying between two natural harbours, was an arid tongue of land.
No building stood on its bare rocks except for a small watch tower, called St Elmo, to be found at its extreme end. Grand Master La Valette, the gallant hero of the Great Siege of 1565, soon realised that if the Order was to maintain its hold on Malta, it had to provide adequate defences. Therefore, he drew up a plan for a new fortified city on the Sceberras peninsula.
By the 16th century, Valletta had grown into a sizeable city. People from all parts of the island flocked to live within its safe fortifications especially as Mdina, until then Malta's capital, lost much of its lure. The new city, with its strong bastions and deep moats, became a bulwark of great strategic importance. Valletta’s street plan is unique and planned with its defence in mind. Based on a more or less uniform grid, some of the streets fall steeply as you get closer to the tip of the peninsula. The stairs in some of the streets do not conform to normal dimensions since they were constructed in a way so as to allow knights in heavy armour to be able to climb the steps.
Fast forward a few centuries and the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen came under another siege; this time in the shape of World War II which brought havoc to Malta. Valletta was badly battered by the bombing, but the city withstood the terrible blow and, within a few years, it rose again. The scars of the war are still visible till this day at the site previously occupied by the former Royal Opera House in the heart of the city, a wound that has left Malta’s MPs divided these past 60 years over what should replace it.
During the post-war years, Valletta lost many of its citizens who moved out to more modern houses in other localities and its population dwindled to 9,000 inhabitants. However, in the last few years many individuals with a flair for unique architecture are trickling back into the city and investing in old properties.
Valletta's main street Triq Ir-Repubblika diagonally divides the city in half. It is one of Malta's busiest shopping and business districts, and also home to some of Valletta's most famous sights. Valletta has retained much of its original ambience and refined elegance making it a great place for a few days meandering. Come with time to reflect on its historic atmosphere and appreciate the peace; nightlife is not Valletta's strong point. After the shops have shut, the stalls closed and the tours departed, Valletta winds down. Good restaurants are plentiful, theatres and bars popular, but the capital is too small and quaint for any more nighttime action than that.The city’s unique setting nowadays plays host to a series of cultural events, from theatre in English, to concerts by leading opera singers.
|St Johns Co-Cathedral|
- The Magisterial Palace of the Grandmaster currently houses the House of Representatives of Malta and the office of the President of Malta. The palace is built around two courtyards, one of which is dominated by a statue of Neptune. There are two entrances in the front and one entrance from Piazza Regina just west of the National Library. The Armoury, housing one of the finest collections of Medieval and Renaissance weapons in all of Europe, runs the width of the back of the palace. The palace also features Gobelin tapestries and frescos by Matteo Perez d'Aleccio (a student of Michelangelo) amongst other treasures.
- St. Johns Co-Cathedral. Built by the Knights of Malta between 1573 and 1578, having been commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière as the conventual church of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John, known as the Knights of Malta. The Church was designed by the Maltese military architect Glormu Cassar who designed several of the more prominent buildings in Valletta.
- The Grand Harbour Used as a harbour since at least Phoenician times. The natural harbour has been greatly improved with extensive docks and wharves, and has been massively fortified. The main waterway of Grand Harbour continues inland almost to Marsa. With its partner harbour of Marsamxett, Grand Harbour lies at the centre of gently rising ground. Development has grown up all around the twin harbours and up the slopes so that the whole bowl is effectively one large conurbation. Much of Malta's population lives within a three kilometer radius of Floriana. This is now one of the most densely populated areas in Europe. The harbours and docks are still active but with the departure of the British Military the harbour lost much of its military significance. A considerable part of Malta's commercial shipping is now handled by the new free port at Kalafrana, so the harbour is much quieter than it was in the first half of the 20th century.
- The National Museum of Fine Arts is home to works of art that were originally displayed in buildings of the Order, such as the Grand Master's palaces and churches, as well as paintings by Mattia Preti and J. M. W. Turner. Prior to its conversion into a museum, it was a residence. The Order acquired the building in the mid-18th century and transformed it into a Rococo palace. After the departure of the Order from Malta in 1798, the State took over the administration of the building and its contents. Paintings and sculptures were brought together in the early years of the 20th century and formed the core of the Fine Arts Collection within the National Museum by 1922. Subsequently, individuals and organisations made important donations and bequests to the collection, in addition to acquisitions made throughout the years. The highlight of the 19th century collection is a watercolour by J. M. W. Turner of the Grand Harbour.
- Fort Saint Elmo Stands on the seaward shore of the Sciberras Peninsula that divides Marsamxett Harbour from Grand Harbour, and commands the entrances to both. Prior to the arrival of the Knights of Malta in 1530, a watchtower existed on this point. Reinforcement of this strategic site commenced in 1533. After the Dragut Raid of 1551, during which the Turks sail unopposed into Marsamxett Harbour, work commenced on a major expansion, and by the time of the Ottoman Siege of Malta in 1565, this fortification had been reinforced and extended into a modest star fort.