Vibrant Valletta


Last Monday, September 14th, we had one of our many trips into the city of Valletta. I had intended to do this post whilst we were still in Malta but, unfortunately, time did not allow.  So here it is now . . .

Built on the Sciberras peninsula in the central-eastern part of the island,Valletta is the capital city of Malta. With a population of only 6,400 (in 2014) it is Europe’s smallest capital. It was described by Sir Walter Scott – who came to the island on doctor’s orders in 1831 – as ‘a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen’ and ‘that splendid town quite like a dream’. The colloquial name for Valletta is simply, ‘il-Belt’ (The City). Valletta is a city rich in sites to see, with historical buildings and wonderful statues, fountains and coats of arms at every turn.  In 1980, it was officially recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and in 2012 it was named as European Capital of Culture for 2018.

These maps give an idea of Valletta’s location and the two harburs it dominates:

Map of Malta and Gozo. Creative Commons License, Attribution- ShareAlike30
Satellite view of Valletta. Author: NASA Astronaughts. Uploaded by Aresceo. Public Domain.

The foundation of Valletta dates back to 1566 when Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette (statue of him, above) laid the first stone. Following the attacks by the Ottoman Turks in the ‘Great Siege’ of the previous year, Valette knew that the island’s defences greatly needed improving. He decided to build a new, well-fortified capital next to the already established watchtower at Saint Elmo Point on the tip of the Sciberras Peninsula. The city was originally planned as one of winding streets and alleys but, in order to speed things up, a grid design was adopted – which is still seen today.

The many narrow side streets are full of quaint old shops and cafes, and on the main street, Rebulic Street, larger shops sit side by side with the older buildings. Here are a few of the photos we took along Republic Street:

And here are a few of the little side streets:

One of the main buildings along Republic Street is St. John’s Co Cathedral, described by Sir Walter Scott in 1831 as a ‘magnificent church, the most striking interior I have ever seen’. We didn’t take a good photo of the exterior, so here’s one from Wikimedia Commons, by Radoneme . . .


. . . and one we took of people queuing to get inside:


The interior is stunning, but I won’t go into that now, except to say that it was decorated by Mattia Preti, and some of his great pieces of art are also displayed there. But perhaps the most famous piece of art on display is by Caravaggio – whose own life story is fascinating, tempestuous – and very controversial.

Beheading of John the Baptist by Michelangelo Caravaggio. 1608 Public Domain
Beheading of John the Baptist by Michelangelo Caravaggio. 1608 Public Domain

This is the only one of his paintings that Caravaggio signed:

Signature in blood beneath St. John’s head. Public Domain

The title of European Capital of Culture is given to cities which, according to the Minister for Culture, Mario de Marco, are ‘rich in heritage but would also have a great potential for cultural and socio-economic regeneration’. The ‘City Gate’ project involves the reorganisation of the main entrance into Valletta and the site immediately outside the city walls. The new Parliament building (shown top of the first set of photos), the landscaping of the ‘ditch’ and rebuilding of the old Opera House from ruins are also included in the project. This is a photo of the new gate, with photos of the 16th century bastions and ditch below it:


The Great Ditch that surrounds Valletta on the landward side was dug and the excavated stone used to build the bastions on that side and also for buildings.

Valletta is well worth visiting. Every time we go we find something we hadn’t seen before. There are many museums, and the lovely gardens Barrakka Gardens . . .


. . . and much to see of the defences along the harbour – which I can’t include in this post.

To finish with, here’s a photo of one of the sun shades for horses that pull the carriages for transporting tourists around. The sun shades are relatively new, and I believe they’re a result of complaints from people regarding leaving horses standing in the sun for hours – as happened in Mijas in Andalucia, with the donkeys. I wrote about that in May [here]. The carriages get a lot of use, particularly by people who visit the fort and coastal defences and find the trek back up the hill to the main city area difficult.


54 thoughts on “Vibrant Valletta

      1. It’s difficult when some of us are in bed while others are at work, and so on. We just have to catch up on each other’s comments when we can. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Rhys. I bet you have some amazing photos, with your photography skills! We’ve been to Malta five times now (we bought time share back in 2001, and have only been using it in the last few years. Idiotic waste of money, I know!) Still, It is a lovely island, and so is Gozo.Valletta is very special and so cosmopolitan. We could hardly move along Republic Street this year. I’ve never seen it so busy. I’m glad my post brought back some nice memories for you. 🙂

  1. Having made extensive calculations, I have determined that the violet-tinted bottle with your message ended up at Saint Elmo Point. Any chance of you going back there?

    Yes, I know about Caravaggio’s fascinating life–all the more reason for you to return to Malta.

    1. Oh, I do hope no-one throws that lovely bottle away, Prospero. I doubt it would be lefr floating about until next year. You must be a wonderful mathematician to make such calculations. 🙂 Caravaggio was what we’d call around here ‘a bit of a rum’un. ‘Rum’ is a colloquial word for ‘a bit of a lad’ – someone who likes to enjoy himself a bit too much and may not always behave as well as he should. Caravaggio certainly got himself into a few ‘situations’! I’m intrigued as to how he actually died. It’s all so mysterious- and points to him being murdered. But we’ll never know for sure. We’ll be in Malta the first week of October next year – hopefully when it’s not too hot! 🙂

      1. A mathematician is nothing more than a magician toying with numbers, henceforth calculating the vectors of blue and green currents traversing the world’s oceans is well within my purview. Incidentally, the bottle will still be there next October, unless a toothless dwarf sees its iridescent sheen and pockets the keepsake for good.

        Incidentally, toothless dwarves in Malta are the official keepers of the secret of Caravaggio’s death. You learn this when you take a kaleidoscopic tour of Valletta in a barely functioning Melita bus–the tour guides really open up during those long, excruciatingly hot hours spent waiting for a correspondingly blue flatbed tow truck to arrive and restore normalcy the lives of her Majesty’s subjects.

      2. Well Prospero, that was certainly an entertaing comment to read. I agree with your view on mathematicians – and I love the idea of ‘calculating the vectors of the blue and green currents traversing the world’soceans’. As for a toothless dwarves keeping the sectret of Caravaggios’s death, I’ll make a point of seeking out their hiding place next year. I really want to know what happened to Caravaggio’s body. But I bet even the most talkative of tour guides don’t know where those elusive dwarves hang out. Thank you for this ‘inside’ information. I’ll have a heard start on things next year.

  2. The entire tour was so vividly described along with your wonderful pics. I can imagine how amazing it was to visit this beautiful place. The old shops, buildings and cafes looked like a dream to me. What a memorable trip it was! Brilliant post sweetie! 😉

    1. Valletta is our favourite place to visit on Malta, Khloe. There are so many places to visit, including wonderful museums and that awesome cathedral where Preti and Caravaggio painted. Valletta is so atmospheric. It was just so busy this year. We’ve never seen so many people along Republic Street. September is a very busy time, apparently, so we’re going in October next year. 🙂

      1. After reading what you replied here, I really have put Malta especially Valletta on my bucket list😁. I would never September is a busy month since summer is basically over. Well, maybe you should start planning ahead for another trip to Malta😁

      2. We have a time share in Bugibba, Khloe, so we go every year, in whichever month we choose. So October sounds good for next year. If we decide we can’t make it then someone in the family will be sure to take the opportunity! 😀

      3. This is so cool!!!! How long it takes from England to Bugibba? I’m sure you know when is the best time to visit😁👍🏻. I can’t wait till you share your trip to Bugibba!!!😆

      4. From London, Gatwick to the airport on Malta takes about two and three- quarter hours.It isn’t a long flight at all. Then we get a taxi to Bugibba, which takes about forty minutes. We stayed in Bugibba, but spent most of our time in different places around the island. I’ve still got a few posts to do. Have you finished your ‘Portugal’ posts now, or have we got more to look forward to? 😀

      5. Wow Malta is pretty close to London! The way you planned your trip is really cool!!!😎 It is how you can really enjoy Malta😁😃. That’s good! I will get to see Malta again from your posts.😉 Not yet, but I might get back to it later as I feel like switch things up. Haha you might have to wait for my Portugal posts😆

      6. I’d love to hear more about Portugal. 😀 We went to Portugal in 1998 – but not the area you went to Khloe. We went to the Algarve, in the very south of the country. It was a fantastic coastline but the Atlantic winds could be a bit strong at times. 🙂

      7. I wanted to visit Algarve when I was in Porto but haven’t got enough to visit the place. Yes, I heard how beautiful the coastline is 😉 I’ll have to visit there one day for sure. Glad you like hearing more about Portugal. I’ll post more late Millie 😉

  3. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen photos from Valletta before! I think this was probably the first time 🙂 I can definitely see the honey-colored stone setting the tone for the whole town – that color seems to appear in every scene. It’s a very nice color!

    1. It is a gorgeous rock and is a type of limestone they call ‘globergerina’ in Malta. I didn’t have my hand lens with me, but it looks like the rock we call oolitic limestone in Britain – made of little round ‘ooliths’. The beginning of globergerina would suggest round particles, too (like globules). I’ll look it up when I find the time! But yes, It’s used for buildings all over the island. It looks so warm and really goes with the climate in Malta.

      1. No, I can’t ramble about ‘everything’ …just things I like! 😀 My degree is in geology. Yes I’m a rock and fossil lover! I particularly like oolitic limestone. Lincoln Cathedral was built from it. The Lincolshire Ridge is a long ridege of ‘oolite’ as it’s sometimes called, so that’s where the rock came from. 🙂

      2. If (when) you go to Argentina, there are lots of fossils there! Actual ongoing dinosaur excavations, etc. Geology is a very interesting subject, though my knowledge is very, very limited!

      3. My eldest daughter is an archaeologist, although she specialises in early hominids. But she would be fascinated in dinosaur excavations, too. I think we need a family holiday in Argentina. 🙂

      4. Well that sounds like the most interesting job ever – a female Indiana Jones! 🙂 I’m really interested in the origin and development of humans. I wish I’d made a smart study choice like that when I went to uni! There really would be so much for you to see in Argentina. There are excavations in many places there, e.g. in Patagonia, near Puerto Madryn. We didn’t go, because you’d need to book in advance (you can go to the actual sites) and because you need to rent a car. I don’t have a driver’s license so that’s always a problem…

      5. The trouble with archaeological digs for us, is Nick. He’s partially disabled, after a car accident 25 years ago. He wouldn’t manage the constant bending and so on. If it involves just viewing the work in progress, that would be OK. We don’t know what else we’re doing next year other than a week in Italy in May. How about you? Are you going on another of your long trips again?

      6. No, no money for that right now, we’ve been investing in furniture for a change! 😉 Which is nice, too! I’m doing a short weekend trip to Paris in a couple of months, then a couple of months after that a weekend trip to Brussels. Both visits are to see friends there and are way overdue! 🙂 Might also go to Tallinn, Estonia for a weekend in December, it’s sort of a tradition. Where are you going in Italy?

      7. I’d like to do short trips to all three places you just named. As I said in a previous chat, we haven’t been to many places close to home other than Denmark and the French Alps. We’re planning to do a trip that includes both Rome and Venice next year. We’e done the Sorento area, and Sicily – but never Rome. I also want to do France sometime soon – to see the castles in the Loire Valley. 🙂 I’m just reading one of your Uruguay posts, so I’ll hop back to it. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Tony. The shops and cafes do give the city that carefree holiday feel. In Britain we’re lucky if we can sit outside for long between rain showers. It’s no wonder we Brits all head down to the Med for some sunshine. There are also a lot of Germans, Eastern Europeans and a few Scandinavians with the same idea.I imagine most people in the northern states of the U.S. mostly
      head down to the Caribbean or Mexico. Valletta is so steeped in history, it’s a paradise for me. 🙂

  4. I’m so thrilled I can visit these most interesting historical places through your delightful post, Millie. How exciting for you to see the only painting Caravaggio signed. Was it really signed in blood?

    1. Thank you, Irina. My first thought was that the signature actually written in blood, but it’s just in the red paint that Caraveggio used. His life story really is fascinating. He was a bit of a rum lad, to say the least. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment. 🙂 There are many doorways like that in Valletta. All the important government buildings are along Republic Street, so it’s a very intersting place to visit. 🙂
      There are lots of very ornate doors all round the Meditearranean. We’ve seen wonderful doors in Tunisia and all the Greek Islands. In the old days, people really took pride in the frontage of their houses – it almost became a competition to see whose looked the best along the street. 🙂

  5. Wow! I passed by to see if you’d posted anything for Friday Fictioneers and there was this exquisite post! That crochet lace and embroidery is beautiful. And the shopping stalls and that painting of St. John.

    I really enjoyed this post, Millie. Are you still on your holiday?


    1. Hi Ellespeth. We got back home late Saturday night after a really great week. It was very hot and busy (still ‘high season’ in Malta until the end of September) but we did what we went there to do. We visited umpteen sites and I’ve come back armed with info. for lots of posts. I did the first two while I was still there, and about Valletta once we got back. The rest will keep me going for a while. I’ve not done Friday Fictioneers or Monday’s Finish the Story for ages and the PJ challenge will have to stop for a while now. I’m desperate to get on with Book 3. I’ll keep my WOW and history and travel posts going, but I can’t justify spending time writing stories – much as I love doing them. 😦 I really miss the Fictioneers!
      The Maltese lace is beautiful, as it is everywhere round the Mediterranean. It’s an old, traditional craft of women, and lace is still made in many villages today (by hand, I mean). The inside of Cathedral of St. John is totally stunning. It was the original home of the Knight’s of St. John and the decor is all about them. Caravaggio was part of the Order of St. John, so that’s why some of his painting are in there. (The place is worth a post on its own!) Sorry for rambling. I get carried away at times… 😀

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