We went on holiday to Malta for a couple of weeks about twelve years ago and whilst we were there we visited Valletta a couple of times. We always said we'd go back but never had until the cruise.
I've written some brief information about Valletta, apologies if I've made mistakes, maybe Loree will correct them. She knows much more about it than I do naturally as it's her homeland! Take a look at her website Snapshots of Malta. She has some lovely photographs.
The city has many titles, The Fortress City, City Umilissima, “a city built by gentleman for gentlemen”, and apparently it's known colloquially as Il-Belt, The City. All these titles recall its great historical past.
The city was built by The Knights of St John and was named after its founder The Grand Master of The Order of St John, Jean Parisot de Valette. However the city really owes its birth to his arch enemy, Grand Turk, Suleiman the Magnificent. The Knights had been driven out of Rhodes and they were given the island of Malta by Charles V to help protect Rome from invasion. Serious assaults occurred between 1551 and 1664, the most famous, The Great Siege took place in 1565. A Turkish force of about 30,000 men was repelled by 600 knights and 6,000 soldiers and volunteers. Only about 15,000 attackers survived and very few of the defenders went uninjured.
For the next 275 years these “Knights of Malta” made the island their domain. They built towns, palaces, churches, gardens and fortifications as well as embellishing the island with works of art and enhanced cultural heritage. Valletta with its impressive bastions, forts and cathedral was completed in 15 years. By the turn of the 16 Century it was a sizeable city and people from across the islands came to live within the safety of its bastions.
The Knights' reign ended when Napoleon Bonaparte's fleet arrived in 1798. Within months the French were closing convents and seizing church treasures. The Maltese people rebelled, and the French garrison of General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois retreated into Valletta. After several failed attempts by the local people to retake Valletta, they asked the British for assistance. Rear Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson decided on a total blockade, and in 1800 the French garrison surrendered. British rule began in 1800.
The Royal Opera House constructed at the city entrance in the 19 th Century, was one of the buildings lost to the raids. Here you can see what it looked like before the War.
The site has never been cleared or rebuilt. Maybe it's a permanent memorial of the damage caused by war. Here's how it looks today with people walking over and around it. It certainly does make you think.
President Franklin Roosevelt, describing the wartime period, called Malta "one tiny bright flame in the darkness." There is another plaque commemorating this alongside the previous one. Unfortunately the Roosevelt one was covered by scaffolding when we were there.
After World War 11, the islands achieved self-rule and on 21 September 1964, Malta became an independent state and a republic on 13 December 1974. Malta joined the EU in May 2004.
Despite so much bombing, the handsome limestone buildings and fortifications that the wealthy knights left behind are still all around the city and the islands. Many of these, in particular the Forts, were used by British Forces before, during and after World War 11.
My Dad was in the Royal Navy during the war and I know he was in Valletta. He didn't talk about the War and I'm ashamed to admit I didn't ask him about it. Now it's too late. I know he loved Malta as he revisited it in the 'seventies with my step mother, she has told me a little about their visit and how much he enjoyed it.
I read somewhere that sailing into Malta Grand Harbour would be like sailing into a film set and it's true, the architecture is wonderful. It's really like sailing back in time. It's not the only harbour in Valletta however, there's also Marsamxett Harbour.
Here you can see the Saint Lazarus Bastion and the Great Siege Bell.
We found it very safe and quite easy to walk about the city although there are a few streets which are a bit steep. It’s a bit cooler and quieter in the early evening if you just want to explore the city streets. We visited in September and a huge MSC cruise ship docked just after us and seemed to swamp the city with tours of Italians everywhere we went during the day. I think these ships carry about 3,000 people. I wonder what the people of Valletta think about their lovely city being swamped with tourists.
There’s been a long connection between the British and Malta and World War 11 certainly cemented that connection. The people of Malta certainly showed great courage during that terrible time.
Malta is a very popular tourist destination for British people, they still have a great admiration and affection for it. Now it’s also a popular cruise port. There are lots of things that remind you of home in Britain. Look familiar?
There’s a number of gardens in Valletta worth visiting. The Lower and Upper Barrakka Gardens have wonderful views of the Grand Harbour.
However my favourite place to visit in Valletta is the
There are some lovely coffee shops in
My shopping habits don’t change much even on holiday. I was having a quick browse in a book shop and I came across a book which was number 1 in the Malta book sales charts called The Information Officer. Now I was drawn to the book title because that was my job title when I worked in the Careers Service. The book was by Mark Mills and needless to say it had nothing to do with the Careers Service! It was set in
For the people of
, suffering daily bombing raids, the British are the last line of defence against the Nazis. And it is Max Chadwick's job as the information officer to ensure the news the islanders receive maintains morale. So when Max is given proof suggesting a British officer is murdering local women, he knows the consequences of discovery are dire. With the violence on the war-ravaged island escalating daily, he embarks on a private investigation, hidden from the eyes of superiors, friends and the woman he loves. But Max finds himself torn between patriotic duty and personal honour in his efforts to track down the killer! An elusive figure always one step ahead of his hunter. Malta
I’ve checked on it in our local library. It’s out on loan at the moment but I've ordered it! If it's any good I'll do a post on it.
Back to the present, we saw a huge amount of renovation and new building work going on in the area around Valletta. There’s no doubt Valetta will benefit greatly from it. One thing that impressed me is that many of the new buildings we saw are totally in keeping with the traditional architectural style and materials of Valletta.
New Buildings Around Valletta
I mentioned earlier there was more than one harbour, here's a view looking over Marsamxett Harbour, you can see the difference between Valletta and the tourist resort of Sliema opposite Valletta. I've never been to that part and have to say I've no fancy for it. Give me the traditional buildings any day.
Now I just have to try and book a holiday in Malta, I really need to see more of lovely Valletta and this beautiful island.Post 124