The History of Valletta
The Maltese capital of Valletta owes its existence to the Knights of Malta. The site of Mount Sceberras where Valletta is built was once an arid stretch of land lying between the two harbours with only the small lonely watchtower of St.Elmo’s. After the Great Siege of 1565, the Grandmaster of the Order Jean La Valette realised that adequate defenses needed to be built to protect the island from future would be invaders.
Pope Pius V showed great interest in La Valette’s idea for a new city and sent one of his most trusted military engineers Francesco Laparelli to put together the plans for what was to become the magnificent fortified city of Valletta. Construction of this new city began in 1566, working from the outside bastions inwards to the streets and surrounding buildings. It was agreed that the city would be called Valletta in honour of the Grand-master himself Jean Le Valette. Sadly the Grandmaster did not live to see the completion of his new city and died in 1568.
Upon his death a new successor Pietro Del Monte continued with the work on the new city. The original architect Francesco Laparelli left Malta in 1570 and was replaced by his assistant Gerolamo Cassar. Cassar set about designing most of the early buildings in Valletta including the seven residences of the Knights known as Auberges and St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Construction continued and Valletta took shape with its fortified bastions and lavish palaces and churches. In fact Valletta today contains over 24 churches within its walls. During World War II, Valletta came under constant bombardment which almost devastated the city, but it survived, a true testament to its creators.
It is truly a fascinating city set amidst century’s old architecture and history. Valletta’s size is another wonder, as it is one of the smallest capital cities in Europe at only just over 1km by 630 metres. This alone makes visiting Valletta an experience. Its vitality; charm and character are ever present throughout the city. Any journey into Valletta begins at Triton's Fountain just outside the main city gates. This fountain was designed by Maltese sculptor Vincent Apap in 1959 and stands as one of Malta's most recognised landmarks. Passing through the main city gates you enter Freedom Square which leads directly into Valletta's main pedestrianised street, Republic Street. Republic Street runs right through the heart of Valletta for about 1km to Fort St. Elmo at the tip of the Sceberras peninsula.
Walking along Republic Street brings you through a number of squares, one of which is Republic Square. A perfect place for the weary traveller to relax, enjoy some refreshments and unwind. The square is host to one of Malta's well known cafes, the Cafe Cordina, which serves many fine examples of maltese food such as Pastizzi and Quassatta. If you’ve happened to watch the movie Munich you may recognise some of the scenes that were shot here at the café. Of note too is a statue of Queen Victoria sculpted by the Sicilian sculptor Giuseppe Valenti which can be found outside the National Library of Malta which was built in the late 17th century.
Running parallel to Republic Street is Merchants Street which is home to the main market in Valletta. A bustling place with everything the discerning traveller could possibly need. This is a great place to do some shopping and soak up the Maltese market atmosphere. Just beyond Republic Square you will find the Palace State Rooms and Palace Armoury. Both of these are well worth visiting with fascinating displays of arms and armour used by the Knights of St. John during their reign to the splendour of the Palace State Rooms.
Valletta's side streets lead to the two main harbours that surround the city, Marsamxett Harbour and the magnificent Grand Harbour. One of the best views of the Grand Harbour can be experienced from the Upper Barrakka Gardens. These gardens also house a Doric style temple dedicated to Sir Alexander Ball who was the first English governor of Malta. Another of the most popular attractions at the gardens is the Saluting Battery. The daily noon-day gun re-enactment takes place here with the firing of the cannon at noon and 4pm which acts as a public time marker for the island.
Valletta hosts many attractions from St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Manoel Theatre, and a variety of Museums and Churches. Walking along the fortifications which surround the city gives visitors a unique historical Malta’s past and also some spectacular views of the harbours. Valletta is a city of history, culture, architecture, politics and beauty, a place not to be missed during your visit to Malta.