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