It is not surprising that Valletta is the European capital of culture, 2018.
Valletta, a fortress and world heritage city is the capital of Malta, and it is packed full of cultural sights. To spend only one day there, as I did, is certainly not sufficient time to do justice to its immense wealth of Archaeology, Art, Design and History.
Nevertheless, if you aim to set off early in the morning there is a lot you can see and do in one day. And even if History is not quite your thing, the sceneries alone are awe-inspiring. Whatsmore, it’s even possible to swim in the sea near the Grand Harbour – if you know where to go!
Valletta, is a medieval city featuring ornate, baroque style architecture for the most part, though there are also a few neo-classical buildings too. Valletta is so called after Jean Parisot de Valette, the Grand Master who led the knights of St John to victory over Ottoman rule in 1565.
The knights stayed on Malta for 268 years and transformed Valletta from what they called merely a rock of soft sandstone into a flourishing island with mighty defences that stand as one of the great powers of Europe.
The island’s origins are multifarious. A succession of powers have ruled including: the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Order of St. John, the French and the British. You could spend a whole life time Malta’s complex and special history yet still have more to learn.
I cannot help thinking that Malta’s history is governed by its geographical location. It is just 60 miles away from Sicily, 115 away from Italy and 210 miles from Tunisia in Africa. This confluence of cultures and powers that have ruled there are what make this interesting cultural blend of flavours. Further information about Malta’s complex history can be found here. http://www.visitmalta.com/en/early-inhabitants
Later during the Great siege of Malta the defeat of the Turks brought a lot of good things to Malta and its people, though it must be said, not all good – amongst its glories are ignomnies, such as the taking hostage of the Jewish community so that the Order of the knights could secure large sums in ransom money.
Malta’s great siege of 1575, is well documented in the National War Museum. The museum is a hive of information dating back to 2500 BC.
The knights leave behind a legacy that can be experienced today in the St John’s Ambulance service, the area in London known as St John’s Wood – which they once owned, amongst other services for the benefit of all of the communities of the world.
Note Secret Swimming Spot.
Once you arrive at the War museum if you continue forward a little further, there is a set of steps leading down to the water. Once down – there are about thirty steps – you will arrive at rocks with manmade safe climbing ladders leading down into the sea. It is a refreshing place to have a swim before continuing on your journey.
Walking around Valletta I gain an immediate sense of the influence that the different cultures have impressed here.
But the first place I encounter when arriving at Valletta is the walkway leading into the palatial Freedom Square. The erection of the new parliament building has been a contentious issue in recent years as the new parliament building invited questions, and disapproval about the difference in style and proximity to other historic buildings, in particular the Our Lady of Victories church (the first church built in Valletta).
Picture source: Wikipedia.
Further information on the six year building plan can be found here: http://rpbw.com/project/86/valletta-city-gate/
Nevertheless the square itself is remarkable – the floor is hewn from large slabs of polished Gozitan limestone resembling marble, and the sweeping open space is jaw dropping and gives a sense of coolness and calm.
It’s not easy to get lost in Valletta, though I did find myself going in a circle just once, but the street systems are fairly grid -like, being as they emanate north-eastward of the spectacular Grand Harbour.
As I continue exploring Valletta, I encounter the most beautiful Maltese balconies, both well-kept and some ruined vestiges. I can’t refrain from photographing them, I love their ornate curlicue designs. Some are open balconies, some closed and there are even corner ones. It’s not clear whether they are originally Turkish, Arabic, or Spanish, but either way these Maltese balconies are beautiful.
Inside the must-see spectacle of St John’s Co-cathedral – http://stjohnscocathedral.com/ are two Caravaggio oil paintings, the famous Beheading of St John the Baptist, as well as the lesser known, but no less beautiful, St Jerome writing
Moving away from the city of Valletta, yet only a short five minute ferry ride across the water, I soon arrive at the Three Cities.
It’s eye opening to see the wonderful layout of the three spits of land reaching in to the water stretching across the water to Valletta. Vittoriosa (Birgu) in particular has its many churches splendidly lit up at night in stark contrast to its neighbour Senglea which is accessible directly from Vittoriosa by a small foot bridge.
Further information can be found here: http://birgu.gov.mt/ it’s a good place to start to plan how and what you will visit in Birgu.
Walking up a steep hill I cannot peel my eyes away from the flags hanging high above my head. The colours remind me of the saffron colours of monks’ robes and I am compelled to follow the road right up to the top.
Once I reach the top I gasp at the sight before my eyes. There is a large open square festooned with flags. I have no idea what it is for, until I take a drink at the café bar and am told that it is the feast day for Saint Dominic. I am in Birgu square.
I decide to sit and watch the activity that is ensuing across the square.
Local workmen are taking note of something. There’s something wrong with the décor.
Right above my head. It seems. It doesn’t take me long to relocate.
It’s a good job too. Further work is evidently needed.
In come the Lighting crew. . .
They soon fix the stray garland.
I am told that there is fierce competition in the villages for which village will have the best decorations. Tonight St Julians is also having its feast. But I cannot be in two places at once. Besides, by the time the decorations are complete I am certain there will be no better celebration than this!
The community effort is what makes the Holy Feast of St Dominc a success.
The priests have arrived.
There is to be a procession starting in just two hours. There are to be players of the Cor Anglais, clarinets, cymbals, drums, trombones, trumpets.
They are almost ready, the orchestra takes up its position and begins its parade across the square.
Feasts and the church – that is: the idea and practise of community spirit – are integral to life in Malta and Gozo, Malta’s sister island.
I sit back to take in the sights strike up conversation with the locals. The sound is glorious!
© JulieADexter, 2016