Valletta Tourist Attractions
Valletta (officially ii-Beit Valetta, formerly known as La Valetta), capital of the island Republic of Malta, occupies a fine strategic situation on the Sciberras Peninsula (200ft/ 60 m) on Malta's northeast coast, surrounded by what are surely the mightiest fortifications in the world.
The peninsula, 2mi/3km long and up to 770yd/700 m wide, extends between the country's two largest and economically most important harbors, Marsamxett Harbor and Grand Harbor-long inlets which reach far into the interior of the island and enclose the town on the north, east and south. These are the best and most beautiful natural harbors in Europe.As capital of the Maltese Archipelago, Valletta is the country's administrative center, the seat of its parliament (House of Representatives) and Supreme Court. It is also the cultural center of the Republic, with the see of a bishop, a University (founded 1769), the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology, the Malta Cultural Institute, the Agrarian Society, the Observatory and a number of higher educational establishments. The National Museum of Malta is an institution of recognized status.The urban region of Valletta, with its two harbors, is the economic center of the Maltese islands. The main source of employment is the former British naval dockyard, which was converted to civilian use in 1958 and nationalized in 1968. There are five dry docks in which passenger vessels are built and overhauled and tankers of up to 300,000 tons are repaired and cleaned. The shipyards provide employment for more than 5,000 people. The Grand Harbor, modernized in 1961, handles almost the whole of the country's commercial and passenger traffic. It has a deep-water quay which can take vessels of up to 92,000 GRT, with a large grain elevator (capacity 12,500 tons) and many transit warehouses. The harbor has an annual turnover of more than 400,000 tons of freight.In recent years efforts have been made to restructure the country's economic life, which in the past was exclusively centered on the British naval base, and the phased British withdrawal gave rise to an acute shortage of jobs. Even after their conversion to civilian use the two harbors have retained their dominant place in the economy; but in addition it has been possible to develop other industries, in particular foodstuffs, chemicals, textiles and engineering. Most of the new industrial undertakings have been established in Marsa, at the innermost tip of the Grand Harbor. The former over-concentration of employment in the services sector has been much reduced in the course of time by the promotion of the tourist trade.Valletta was named after a Grand Master de la Vallette and was devised, in the wake of his victory against the Turks in the Great Siege of 1565 with two aims: to be a Christian fortress able to withstand the forces of Islam and to be a congenial home for the Order of the Knights of St John.The parliament, the judiciary and the government are all located within its bastion walls as are most of the main tourist attractions.The city is a historically impressive fortress, with a commercial center that resembles a miniature New York City, mingling Baroque architecture with soaring skyscrapers.
As the regular grid plan of Valletta still indicates, the town was a planned foundation, laid out after the Great Siege of Malta by the Turks in May-September 1565. Although the Knights of St John, who had been granted possession of the Maltese Islands in 1530, successfully beat off the attack by greatly superior Turkish forces, it was recognized that the rebuilding of the existing fortifications which had been destroyed or severely damaged during the siege - Fort St Elmo, at the tip of the then unbuilt-on Sciberras Peninsula; Fort St Angelo, fronting the Knights' Headquarters in Birgu (now Vittoriosa); and Fort St Michael, on the peninsula now occupied by Senglea - would be inadequate to provide protection against a further Turkish attack. Accordingly the then Grand Master of the Order of St John, Jean Parisot de la Valette, founded the town of Valletta which bears his name on March 28, 1566 in order to secure the defense of Grand Harbor. The site on Mount Sciberras, above Fort St Elmo, was selected as the one offering the best strategic qualities. The plans were drawn up by Francesco Laparelli de Cortona, one of the finest military engineers of the time, who had been sent to Malta by Pope Pius IV in recognition of the Knights achievement in defending the Christian cause. Thanks to the contributions which poured in from all over Europe, Laparelli was able to ravert to an earlier plan which had previously been turned down on financial grounds, and within three years the work of building the town was so far advanced that Laparelli left its completion to his assistant Gerolamo Cassar. Cassar was responsible for the construction of auberges ("inns") in Renaissance style occupied by Knights of different nations (of which only four still survive), the Grand Master's Palace, St Johns Co-Cathedral and the Verdala Palace at Rabat. Most of the older buildings of Valletta, however, were erected in the Early Baroque style, which reached Malta from Italy about 1650 and left its mark on the architecture of the whole of Malta. The best-known architects of this period were Lorenzo Gets (1630-1704), Giovanni Barbara (1660-1730) and Giuseppe Bonnici (1707 about 1780). After 1722 the Iberian style came increasingly to the fore, for from then untiI 1775 the Order of St John was headed by Grand Masters from Spain and Portugal. Under their rule Domenico Cachia (1710-90) rebuilt Cassar's Auberge de Castille, with a sumptuous facade which reflects the prosperity of Valletta and the whole of the Maltese Archipelago in the closing years of the Knights rule. This era, however, came to an end under a Grand Master of German origin. Ferdinand von Hompesch (from 1797) surrendered Valletta without offering any resistance when Napoleon Bonaparte sailed into Grand Harbor with a French fleet in 1798 on his way to Egypt. On June 18 of that year all members of the Order of St John were compelled to leave Malta; but French rule lasted only two years, for in 1800 Valletta was occupied by British forces. Under the Treaty of Paris (1814) Britain was given possession of the whole group of islands, which became a Crown Colony; and until the middle of the 2Oth century Valletta was one of the major British naval bases. During World War II the town suffered heavy damage from air attacks by the Axis Powers. In 1964 it became capital of the independent State of Malta.
National Museum of Archeology has an exceptional prehistoric section, with an extensive collection of artifacts from the Maltese Islands, including all materials from the country's Neolithic temples.
Church of St Paul the Shipwrecked
On the same side of Paul Street as the University of Malta, beyond the Market, is the Church of St Paul Shipwrecked, with a sumptuous interior containing a fine altar-piece depicting the shipwreck by Paladini (1544-1614).Cassar originally built this church but it has been remodeled and redecorated twice since. As befits a building dedicated to one of Malta's patron saints, it is lavish, and it houses some venerated possessions. The plan is a Latin Cross, the dome elliptical and the floor tessellated. The wooden gilded statue of St Paul is by Melchiorre Gafa and is solemnly carried through the streets on February 10 every year, the day St Paul's shipwreck is commemorated.Gafa's brother Lorenzo designed the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in 1680 and de Favray painted the altarpiece. The ceiling frescoes depict St Paul's brief sojourn in Malta and were painted at the turn of the century, while the main altarpiece of St Paul and St Luke is from the late 16th century and by the Florentine, Filippo Paladini.Donated to the church by Pope Pius VII in 1818 and most treasured of all, is part of the block upon which St Paul was said to have been beheaded, as well as what is believed to be part of his wristbone.
Upper Barracca Gardens
From the foot of St Barbara bastion it used to be possible to take an elevator up to the beautiful Upper Barracca Gardens, 200ft/60 m above, laid out on part of the old fortifications. From the gardens, in which there are several statues (including one of Churchill), there are magnificent views of Grand Harbor. Since the elevator is not operating, the best plan is to go to the Victoria Gate and turn left past the Church of St Mary of Jesus into St Ursula Street. The entrance to the Upper Barracca Gardens is at the end of the street, which leads into the spacious Castile Place.
Great Siege Square
Beyond the Church of St Paul Shipwrecked in Valletta, a stepped lane, St Lucia Street, runs up on the right to Great Siege Square, on the line of Republic Street. In the center of the square is the bronze Monument of the Great Siege (by Antonio Sciortino), and on the northwest side are the new Law Courts, built on the ruins of Gerolamo Cassar's Auberge d'Auvergne, which was destroyed during World War II.St John's Co-Cathedral is located in this central square.
From Palace Square the 1,000yd/900m long Republic Street, the Valletta's principal commercial and shopping street (pedestrian precinct), runs in a dead straight line to Fort St Elmo, (380yd/350m away at the tip of the peninsula.This is the main thoroughfare, the island's principal shopping street and the perfect starting spot for a walking tour of the city.Before it became Republic Street in 1974, its different names mirrored the city's history. It was known as Strada San Giorgio, Rue de la Republique, Strada Reale and Kingsway.
St Paul's Anglican Cathedral
Passing the Church of Our Lady of Carmel, beyond Old Mint Street, and turning right into West Street, we come to the Anglican St Paul's Cathedral, in Independence Square, with a tower which is one of Valletta's landmarks. It was built in 1844 on the site of the old Auberge d'Allemagne, which had been pulled down in 1839 to make way for it.The Auberge d'Allemagne was demolished to provide space for this cathedral, the only major non-military edifice erected by the British during their occupation, paid for by Queen Adelaide (Queen Victoria's Aunt and King William IV's widow) while she was convalescing in Malta. From out at sea, it's 63-meter tall spire blends in with the Carmelite's dome.The monument in the front is to Dun Michael Xerri, who was executed along with 33 others by the French.
From the National Museum of Fine Arts, it is well worth taking a stroll through the nearby Hastings Gardens, named after a former Governor General, the Marquess of Hastings (1824-26).The public space around the Neo-Classical monument dedicated to General Marquis of Hastings has slowly involved into Hastings Gardens. This is a nice place to walk and admire Valletta's fortifications.
Valletta's Jesuit church was built in 1592 and now houses a foundation for international studies. Work continued on the structure throughout the 17th century, and the two-story early Baroque facade still appears incomplete.The three-aisled interior with its dome, contains a disproportionately large number of spiral columns; at the main altar they surround Mattia Preti's "Liberation of St Peter".
Public Records Office
The Municipal Palace or Banca Giuratale (1720) are grand names for what was and still is the Public Records Office. The building gave many style hints for the splendid Auberge de Castile et Leon put up 10 years later. It is a handsome squared-off building of accessible proportions, with a leaden cornice lightened by a Baroque centerpiece which overflows like a fountain.
St James' Church
St James' Church in Valletta was originally built in 1612 to serve the knights of Castile et Leon and rebuilt by Giovanni Barbara in 1710. The oval plan, rich detail on its narrow facade and ornate carvings above the central window are redolent of Roman Baroque. In 1663 it was the focus of a religious scandal involving dark implications of satanic rituals.
The Malta Experience in Valletta is an audio visual presentation on the history of Malta and Valletta. The film covers some 7000 years of history and is offered in various different languages. The attraction has been open since the 1980s but is updated regularly to stay current.
Address: St Elmo Bastions, Mediterranean Street, Malta
Opening hours: 11am-4pm; Sun: 11am-2pm; Sat: 11am-2pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Good Friday - Christian, Easter - Christian
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €9.50, Students €6.50, Child 14 & under €4.50
Useful tips: Shows begin on the hour.
Facilities: Gift shop
The present church with its landmark dome dominates Valletta's skyline. It bears no resemblance to Cassar's original work, which suffered irreparable bomb damage during World War II.
Malta Crafts Center
The Malta Crafts Center, on St John's Square, Valetta, is the only crafts center in the capital. There you can watch local craftsmen working on their skills and purchase souvenirs.
From Victory Square the narrow South Street runs northwest to Marsamxett Harbor.It is Valletta's second natural harbor and is lined by a string of little towns. Malta's busiest road is the one running around the harbor to Sliema.
Old Opera House
The Palazzo Ferreria, opposite the remains of the Old Opera House, was built in the late 19th century on the site of the Order of St John's arsenal or ferreria, as the private residence for a wealthy wheat importer.
The Opera House was designed by E.M. Barry, architect of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, and completed in 1866. The design was intended to reflect the imperial bearing of the British Empire. It was gutted by fire in 1873 and reopened four years later. The Luftwaffe finally destroyed the structure in 1942.
St Mary of Jesus
From the main entrance of the Cathedral, St John Street goes down toward the Grand Harbor. Going down a flight of steps at the end of the street you pass the Renaissance Church of St Mary of Jesus (16th C.), designed by Gerolamo Cassar.
The Valletta Carnival, held over three days every February, hails the end of winter and the coming of summer. Adults and children run amok in fancy dress among carnival floats.
This cultural center includes a library. It also hosts numerous cultural events throughout the year.
This carnival-type event takes place during the second weekend in May.
Freedom Square & Triton Fountain
To the southeast of Hastings Gardens is the City Gate of Valletta, in front of which is Freedom Square, at the end of Republic Street. Outside the gate is a large square, in the center of which is the Triton Fountain. Here, too, is the City Gate Bus Terminus, starting-point of all Malta's bus routes.The Great Ditch, part of the old fortifications, leads via a new gate built in 1968 to Freedom Square.The Triton Fountain is a contemporary Maltese work from the 1950s.
The City Gate is in front of Freedom Square, at the end of Republic Street.Known originally as the Gate of St George, this was the main entrance through the bastions into the city. It later became Porta Reale and then King's Gate. The present gate was erected to provide a wider passage in 1964.
St John's Cavalier (Embassy of the Sovereign Order of St John)
This 1582 structure was built either side of what was St George's Gate, now City Gate, inside the main enceinte of the fortifications, set above the bastions and counterguards in order to fire deeper into the enemy lines.The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta has maintained its embassy here since 1968.
Ste Lucia Square
Beyond the Church of St Paul Shipwrecked a stepped lane, St Lucia Street, runs up on the right to Great Siege Square, on the line of Republic Street. In the center of the square is the bronze Monument of the Great Siege (by Antonio Sciortino), and on the northwest side are the new Law Courts.
On the northwest side of Ste Lucia Square are the new Law Courts, built on the ruins of Gerolamo Cassar's Auberge d'Auvergne, which was destroyed during the World War II.The bronze Great Siege monument facing the building is by the Maltese artist Antonio Sciortino.
Old Theater Street
Diagonally opposite the Library is the end of Old Theater Street, which runs between Queen's Square and Palace Square. On the right-hand side, between Old Bakery Street and Old Mint Street, is the Manoel Theater.
Diagonally opposite the Library in Queen's Square in Valletta is the end of Old Theater Street, which runs between Queen's Square and Palace Square. On the right-hand side, between Old Bakery Street and Old Mint Street, is the Manoel Theater, named after Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, who built it in 1731. It has a sumptuous interior, with gilded boxes and seats upholstered in green velvet.Manoel Theater is said to be the third-oldest European theater still in use. Before its restoration it served as a doss house, a dance hall and a cinema.The 650-seat auditorium is oval in shape with a tiny stage and orchestra pit. The stalls seat only 272, but above them, and beneath the gilded ceiling and chandelier, are three full tiers of boxes, including one very discreet grand master's box. All the delicate frescoes are of Mediterranean scenes and in 22-carrot gold leaf.
Immediately northeast of Ste Lucia Square is Queen's Square, bounded on the south side by the National Library of Malta, in the last building erected by the Knights (1796).
National Library of Malta
Queen's Square is bounded on the south side by the National Library of Malta, housed in the last building erected by the Knights (1796). The Library was founded by the Knights in 1650, and soon developed into one of the largest public libraries in the world.In addition to 30,000 modern books and portraits of benefactors of the library, it contains valuable collections of old manuscripts and documents relating to the Order of St John, including a Bull by Pope Paschal II establishing the Order and the Act of Donation by which the Emperor Charles V granted possession of Malta to the Order.The National Library of Malta houses a plethora of source material including the archives of the Order of St John. The Italian Stefano Ittar designed the library. In 1612 a law was enacted which forbade a knight's own volumes from being disposed of after his death and the library steadily grew from these and other bequests.Today the Bibliothecca houses all the written records of the Order from 1107 to 1798 including the Procession Nobilari, a knight's proof of his maternal and paternal lines of nobility, which were required to ensure his acceptance into the Order.Also stored here are documents of Baldwin I of Jerusalem, the papal bull of Paschal II sanctioning the Order in 1113 and Charles V's 1530 donation of the islands to the Order.
Going along Mint Street, a picturesque little lane, you have a magnificent view of Manoel Island and Fort Manoel in Marsamxett Harbor.
Going along Mint Street, a picturesque little lane, you have a magnificent view of Manoel Island and Fort Manoel in Marsamxett Harbor, and its continuation St Charles Street, we come to the section of wall known as the English Curtain, above the southwest side of St Elmo Bay.Opposite the Jews' Sally Port is the Auberge de Bavière (1696), originally built as a private palace, which from 1784 was used for the accommodation of Bavarian and English Knights.From here the English Curtain can be followed east to St Nicholas Street, which runs into Republic Street. Turning right along this, we return by way of Palace Square and Queen's Square to Great Siege Square.
Cafes have expanded into the square and it's an excellent place to pause for refreshments.
More Valletta Pictures
Map of Valletta Attractions