Valletta – Malta’s Capital City


La ValetteNamed after its founder, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valletta, Valletta was built by the Knights of St John after the victory of the Knights and the Maltese over the Ottoman Turks in 1565. The building of this renaissance city marked the beginning of a golden era in culture, architecture and the arts. Valletta was one of the earliest examples of a planned city built on the grid system. The Knights of St John coming as they did from the richest families in Europe, could afford to hire the best talent available and the buildings of Valletta, its fortifications and the art treasures in its museums and churches are the work of the best European engineers and artists of the time. It was the magnificence of its palaces and other treasures that led Sir Walter Scott to describe Valletta as “the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”.

Just outside the ‘City Gate’ to Valletta is the famous Triton Fountain designed by the famous Maltese sculpture Vincent Apap in 1959. This is the main bus terminus. The fountain is surrounded by local Maltese buses, which will take you to all the different parts of the island. As well as buses, ‘City Gate’ has plenty of stalls and street vendors selling soft drinks and all sorts of traditional fresh Maltese bread and sweets. As you go through the gate to Freedom Square you will see a very extraordinary capital packed with buildings of fine architecture of different tastes and styles ranging from the Mannerism of the 1500s to Baroque, to Rococo, to Neoclassicism. The Maltese architect Girolmu Cassar designed many of the first buildings. Valletta is a fascinating city just perfect for wandering around looking at what use to be the Knight’s very own cathedrals and Auberges. The city’s backbone is Republic Street, which runs straight through the city center to Fort St. Elmo. Valletta has several narrow, steep side streets decorated with the traditionally Maltese pastel colored balconies and a statue on almost every street corner. Amongst these magnificent buildings you will find there are plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants to choose from.

The Auberges

Auberges were built for the different nationalities that made up the Order of St. John. They were built to the plans of the Maltese architect Girolmu Cassar during the construction of the capital in the 16th century. Although there were eight different languages of the Order only seven auberges were built. Auberges were used for the Knights for their individual festivities and meetings. Out of the seven auberges that were originally built four are still standing today including Auberge de Castille et Leon, Auberge d’Italie, Auberge de Provence and Auberge d’Aragon. Changes have been made since the original plans from the 16th century when renovations took place during the 17th and 18th century.

The National Library – Bibliotheca

Completed in 1796 and built by the design of Stefano Ittar the National Library was finally open to the public in 1812. Inside the Library there are a number of priceless collections including books and newspapers dating back to 1830. You can also see archives that used to belong to the Order of St. John’s “Universita” (local governing council) and documents that were those of the Knights dating back to the 11th century showing their nobility which was needed before their acceptance as a member of the Order.

Palazzo Parisio

On Merchants street at the back of Auberge de Castille is the Palazzo Parisio. Built during the 18th century this palace was also used as Napoleon’s headquarters during his occupation from 12-18 June 1798. Today it houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Manoel Theatre

Manoel Theatre was built in Valletta in 1731 as a Court Theatre. Opening a year later it was named after its financier Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena. Extensively refurbished and redecorated in 1960 and again in 1985, and with the acquisition of the Bonnici Palace next door – which has created a new foyer area and exhibition space for the theatre – the Manoel Theatre is now Malta’s National Theatre. The building is listed for conservation and historical purposes and is considered to be one of the oldest theatres in Europe still in use today.

The Manoel Theatre has a very rich and varied programme running from September to June showing performances of Opera, dance, drama and musical concerts in both English and Maltese.

The booking office is open Monday to Friday in the mornings from 10.00am to 12.00pm and in the evenings from 5.00pm to 7.00pm and on Saturdays 10.00am to 12.00pm only. There are also guided tours available in Italian, English and French in the mornings only.

The President’s Palace & The Armoury

In the centre of Malta’s capital in Palace Square proudly stands the Presidents’ Palace also known as the Palace of the Grand Masters. It was built in 1571 by the plans of Maltese architect Girolmu Cassar and completed in 1580. The Grand Masters of the Order of St. John used it as their main seat of office until their departure in 1798. In 1814 it was used by the British Governors and later up to this day holds the island’s Parliament and the President’s Offices.

The Palace has two courtyards. The larger of the two is Neptune Court through which you pass to reach the Armoury, which is open to the public. Inside is a superb collection of weapons and armour, which were used during the 16th and 18th centuries. These include gold plated suits of armour worn by the French Grand Master Aloph de Wignacourt, Jean Jacques de Verdelin, Grand Master la Valette and Grand Master Martino Garzes dating back to 1615. The Armoury also has an extraordinary display of guns, swords, daggers and other weapons. As well as the Armoury, the public are invited to see the rooms and corridors also once used by the Knights.

Casa Rocca Piccola

Casa Rocca Piccola in Republic Street was originally built for the Italian langue of the Knights in around 1580. In 1784 it was bought by a Maltese noble family and is one of a very few historic houses open to the public. On display are costumes and collections of the de Piro family that normally are not available for public viewing. Ballgowns, uniforms, wedding dresses, court dress, spectacles, walking sticks, pipes, medals and silverware. Inside the Casa Rocca Piccola you can see some of the finest Maltese furniture and surgical instruments which were once used by the Knights during the 16th century. Guided tours take place during the week except Sundays and public holidays.

Visual Shows

The Great Seige of Malta & The Knights of St John is the most spectacular walk-through historical, cultural attractions in Europe. A unique and stunning 45 minute audio-visual experience held at the Cafe Premier Complex, Republic Street, Valletta.
Times: Open everyday from 9.00am – 4.00pm.

The Malta Experience is an audio-visual spectacular showing 7000 years of turbulant change and drama into an forgetable 40 mins. The air-conditioned auditorium offers a choice of 13 languages for you to choose from.
Times: During the summer shows start Monday to Friday from 11.00am every hour on the hour with the last showing at 4.00pm. During the winter and on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays the first showing is again at 11.00am with the last showing at 2.00pm. The Malta Experience is held at St. Elmo Bastion, Mediterranean Street, Valletta.

Wartime Experience is a 45 minute show in the Civil Service Sports Club on Palace Square in Valletta.
There are hourly shows on weekdays and Saturday mornings.

Sacred Island is a multi-media, multi-lingual show taking you back through the manner in which the inhabitants of Malta lived their faith from the times of the prehistoric temples to the present day. Sacred Island is held at the Upper Barrakka Hall, Dar l-Emigrant, Valletta.
Mon to Fri: 10.00 11.30 13.00 14.30 16.00
Saturdays: 10.00 11.30 13.00
Sundays & Public Holidays: 10.00 11.30

Mediterranean Conference Centre

Also known as the “Sacra Infermeria” meaning Holy Infirmary this building was first built in Valletta by the Knights in 1574. The construction continued until this great hospital of the Order became one of the world’s largest hospitals of its time with its main ward having a length of 161 metres. Each patient was given his own bed, which was quite rare in those days, and everyone was treated in the same way regardless of his or her class in society. Sadly during the Second World War the building was badly damaged and in need of restoration work. In 1978 the building was finally restored and received an award for having regained its full glory. Now, the Mediterranean Conference and Exhibition Centre holds up to around 1,400 people.

Upper Barrakka Gardens

Situated on the Bastion of St. Peter and St. Paul in Castille Square, Valletta are these superb gardens which have the most magnificent views of the Grand Harbour and two of the ‘Three Cities’ Senglea and Vittoriosa. You can also see from here the grand fortifications that were built and used by the Knights dating back to the 16th century.

These gardens now have statues of various important personalities. The most popular being Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Strickland one of the Prime Ministers of Malta, Sir Thomas Maitland the first British Governor of Malta and Giuseppe Cali one of the most renowned Maltese painters from the 19th and early 20th century. There is also a wonderful sculpture by the famous Maltese sculptor Antonio Sciortino called ‘Les Gavroches’.

Lower Barrakka Gardens

Situated on the edge of St. Christopher’s Bastion are the Lower Barrakka Gardens. As well as fantastic views there is a small temple which was dedicated to Sir Alexander Ball, the first British Government representative in Malta.

Hasting’s Gardens

Hasting’s gardens are situated on St. John’s Bastion just a short distance away from the main City Gate of Valletta. From these small gardens you can see the most wonderful views of Marsamxett Harbour. The Gardens were named after one of the former British Governors of Malta, the Marquis of Hastings.

Museum of Archaeology

Situated in Republic Street, Valletta this Auberge de Provence was designed by the Maltese Architect Girolmu Cassar in 1575. It is now known as the Museum of Archaeology where you can see priceless collections of artefacts saved from the numerous pre-historic temples discovered throughout the Maltese islands. The pre-historic temples are truly fascinating and a must to see. Just a few of them can be seen in model form at the museum including Ggantija, Mnajdra, Hagar Qim and the Tarxien Temples.

National Museum of Fine Arts

This eighteenth century palace in South Street, Valletta was once the home of the Royal Navy’s commander in chief and known as Admiralty House. In World War II it was the residence of Lord Mountbatten of Burma, the commander of the British Mediterranean fleet.

Now a museum, it holds a wonderful collection of paintings including the work by Mattia Preti whose Maltese masterpiece was the ceiling of St John’s Co-Cathedral. Other artists include Perugino, Carpaccio, Domenico di Michelino, Antoine Le Valentin, Guido Reni, and Antoine de Favray.

St James Cavalier Centre

Only a few months after the Great Siege of 1565 the Knights were fearing another attack by the Turks. Amongst the many that offered their help was Pope Pius V who besides offering financial assistance, also sent over Francesco Laparelli da Cortona, a military engineer of considerable fame. Laparelli prepared a masterplan for Valletta as we know it today and St. James was one of the two cavaliers built out of a projected nine designed by Laparelli himself who left Malta in 1569 entrusting the continuation of the work to the Maltese architect Gerolomo Cassar.

In practical terms, the original function of the St. James Cavalier was that of a raised platform on which guns were placed to defend against enemy attacks from the landward (later Floriana) side of the new city.

During the British period St. James Cavalier was first converted into an officer’s mess. They then realized they could exploit its position and height to solve a problem very common to Maltese islands. Valletta was in need of a water supply system. The British dug two wells in the top part of St. James to be used as a store for water pumped into them via the Wignacourt aqueducts. From these cisterns the water could then flow freely to the rest of Valletta.

This change in use brought with it structural changes to increase the number of rooms. Finally, during, the latter part of their rule, the British turned St. James into a food store.

Today, St. James Cavalier has been transformed once more to become a Centre for Creativity. The restoration of St. James, already being hailed as a masterpiece, is only first phase of a much larger project that will radically change the entrance to Valletta.

Free Daily Guided Tours at 10.30hrs inclusive of Weekends and Public Holidays

For Events at St. James Cavalier visit the following Link:

War Museum

The War Museum is situated at the end of Republic Street at Fort St. Elmo, now also the Malta Police Academy. Here you can see pictures showing the extent of the destruction of Malta and it’s long term suffering. The museums main exhibit is the George Cross, which was awarded to Malta by King Charles VI in World War II. Other exhibits include a section of a wrecked aircraft and a collection of torpedoes and anti-tank guns.

St John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral is situated inside the capital city centre of St. Johns Square, Valletta. It was built in the 1573 by the Maltese Architect Girolmu Cassar. When the Church was completed in 1577 it was used by the Knights of the Order of St. John as their conventual church. It is one of the greatest and most important monuments in Malta. One of the towers has a three faced clock, one showing the hour of the day, another the day of the week and the other the date of the month. The interior was re-designed a century later by the Italian artist Mattia Preti.

On the ceiling of this fabulous cathedral is the oil painting by Mattia Preti. Preti’s masterpiece depicts 18 episodes in the life of St. John the Baptist. The flooring is of coloured marble slabs beneath which lie the Grand Masters of the European families who served with the Order of St. John. The church also houses two canvases by the famous Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and the famous beheading of St. John the Baptist.

St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum

Situated in St. John’s Square, Valletta you can see this magnificent building designed by Girolmu Cassar in 1573. The museum of St. John’s houses one of the most important pieces of art recognized by critics all over the world as the painting of the 17th century, the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The famous masterpiece by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio can be seen in the Oratory adjoining the cathedral. A set of 28 Flemish tapestries based on designs by Peter Paul Rubens and Nicolas Poussin can also be seen here in the museum. The tapestries depicting scenes from the life of Christ were woven between 1697 and 1700 in the weaving mills of the French King Louis XIV.

St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral

At the end of Archbishop Street in Valletta is St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. It was built between 1839 and 1844 and funded by the Dowager Queen Adelaide widow of King William IV. During her visit in 1838-39 she discovered that there was not an Anglican church in Malta and ordered one to be built. The cathedral was finally built on the site where in 1574 the German auberge, Auberge d’allemagne use to stand but was knocked down to make way for the new cathedral.

The cathedral was dedicated to St. Paul and has a huge steeple of 65m (210ft) which stands out marking the capital’s skyline. Next to the cathedral is the Carmelite Dome in which the original had to be replaced in 1958 when the dome was bombed during World War II.

Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck

One of the most important churches of Valletta in St. Paul’s Street is of course the Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck. Girolmu Cassar originally designed the church in the 16th century. It was later altered in 1629 by Lorenzo Gafa and dedicated to the shipwreck of St. Paul in Malta in AD60.

Inside is the wooden statue of St. Paul, which was designed by the Maltese sculptor Melchiorre Gafa. Every year on the 10 February St. Pauls’s feast day, this wonderful statue is carried out onto streets of Valletta. St. Paul’s church also contains a piece of the Apostle’s arm bone and part of the beam from which he was beheaded in Rome.

Church of Our Lady of Victories

Just inside of the City Gate of Valletta in Victory Square is the capitals oldest building. Straight ahead are the ruins from the old Opera House which was sadly destroyed by the bombs in World War II. Next to the old Opera House is the chapel which was built by Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette in 1567. After the Great Seige in 1565 when the Knights fought against the Turks, Our Lady of Victories chapel was built to commemorate the Knights triumph. During the 17th century the chapel was given a much more baroque appearance which you can see now.


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