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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Valletta

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VALLETTA

Città Umilissima

 

Valletta, the Capital of Malta was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. It measures a mere 900 by 630 metres yet it is steeped in history and culture. Il-Belt, as it is affectionately known by the locals, was conceived by Grand Master Jean Parisot de Vallette after whom it is named – as a fortified city impenetrable to would-be invaders.

 

Valletta has it all: bastions and fortifications; belvederes; open squares; palaces; baroque cathedrals; museums and the third oldest theatre in Europe that is still in use. It is also a prime location for shopping: Valletta's main street - Republic Street is lined with outlets that stock all sorts of wares from clothing to photographic equipment; from books to alcoholic beverages. Major international brands such as Marks and Spencer have made their way into Valletta.

The City itself is very much an open air museum. A visit to Valletta takes you back to the days of the Knights of St. John and reminders of their rich legacy are to be found on every street and around every corner. But there is more to Valletta than history, culture and shopping. Valletta boasts several fine eateries and cafeterias. Here one may unwind and enjoy a well deserved snack after a strenuous day of exploring the many sights and wonders that make Valletta truly worthy of its status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Brief History

In September 1565 Malta was reeling from the devastating attack by Dragut's fleet. Malta's defence capacity had been breached and overwhelmed and the island was rendered vulnerable to

subsequent attacks. Clearly Malta's defences needed to be strengthened. La Vallette decided that Malta needed a new city – a fortified city that would be impregnable to invaders. The location of choice for this new city was Mount Sciberras. This was strategic as it overlooked the Grand Harbour. Financial assistance for the construction of Valletta poured in from all over Europe. Pope Pius V was perturbed when the Order considered shifting its operations to Sicily and urged King Felipe II of Spain to provide the Knights with much needed assistance.

Francesco Laparelli of Cortona was entrusted with the task of designing the new capital and its fortifications. Laparelli first design was rejected. A second design comprising all-round bastions and winding streets was also subjected to further modification, perhaps on the insistence of his colleague Serbelloni who had been sent by Felipe II to evaluate his plans. In this modified version, the plan of the city took on the grid-like appearance that we know today. Serbelloni endorsed Laparelli's decision to fortify St. Angelo, St. Elmo and Mdina as this would provide adequate storage facilities for ammunition and other provisions. Likewise, Laparelli also ensured that the new city would be equipped with appropriate storage facilities for weaponry and subsistence that would be vital in the eventuality of an enemy attack. Laparelli envisaged that with the mobilisation of 4000 workers, the construction of Valletta would be complete within a year. The foundation stone was laid on March 28th, 1568 by the Grand Master himself. The land on which Valletta was to be built was blessed by Fra Jean Pierre Mosquet.

By 1568, the year of La Vallette's death, the Our Lady of Victories Chapel was the only building worthy of note. His successor, Del Monte issued a decree that the members of the Order were to leave Birgu and take up residence in Valletta.During the reign of Grand Master Del Monte, several bastions were still in an incomplete state due to the unavailability of basic construction materials. In the year 1569, Laparelli left Malta to engage in warfare in Candia and his assistant, Girolamo Cassar took over as the Order's chief architect and henceforth was responsible for the design of many of Valletta's most magnificent buildings. Two Cavaliers, St. James and St. John were erected on namesake bastions, between which Porta Reale (City Gate) was constructed.

Valletta would be ravaged in the areal attacks of World War II during which it was incessantly bombarded by the Axis forces. Many architectural treasures were either damaged or forever lost. Notably, the German Luftwaffe converted the Royal Opera House into a pile of rubble on April 7th 1942.