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Valletta

[vuh-let-uh]

Valletta (Belt Valletta or Città Umilissima) is the capital city of Malta. It is located in the central-eastern portion of the island of Malta and has a population of 6,315.

Valletta, the Città Umilissima, is essentially Baroque in character, with elements of Mannerist, Neo-Classical and Modern architecture in selected areas. Valletta did not escape World War II unscathed. Although many of its treasures survive, the War left major scars on the city. The City of Valletta was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.

Benjamin Disraeli, one of many notable visitors to the city, summered in Valletta in August 1830 on the recommendation of Lord Byron. He described Valletta as "a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen," and remarked that "Valletta, equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe," and in subsequent letters to friends, that it is "comparable to Venice and Cádiz... full of palaces worthy of Palladio."

Name

The official name the Order of Saint John gave to the city was Humilissima Civitas Valletta — The Most Humble City of Valletta, after Jean Parisot de la Valette, victorious in defending the island. However, with the building of bastions, curtains and ravelins, along with the beauty of the baroque buildings along its streets, it became known as Superbissima — 'Most Proud', amongst the ruling houses of Europe. In Maltese it is colloquially known as Il-Belt, simply meaning "The City".

Government

Dr. Alexiei Dingli is the Mayor of Valletta and has been leading the City Council since 2008 . Dr. Alexiei Dingli was elected on the Nationalist Party Ticket (PN), an affiliate of the European People's Party, which holds the majority of the Council.

History

The foundation stone of Valletta was laid by the Grandmaster of the Order of Saint John, Jean Parisot de la Valette, on 28 March 1566; The Order (which was the long-time ruler of the city and the island) decided to found a new city on the Xiberras peninsula just after the end of the Siege of Malta in 1565, so as to fortify the Order's position in Malta, effectively binding the Knights to the island. The city was designed by Francesco Laparelli, while many of the most important buildings were built by Gerolamo Cassar. Valletta, hence, is an urban area which boasts many buildings from the 16th century and onwards, but most of them were built during the time of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (the Knights Hospitaller, or Knights of Malta).

On 28 March 1566, the building of the city was inaugurated, with La Valette himself placing the first stone, where there is now the Church of Our Lady of Victories. The city's plan was somewhat new to the Maltese Islands, as while other towns and cities had irregular winding streets and alleys, the new city had a rectangular design, without any Collacchio, that is an area restricted for important buildings. The streets were to be wide and straight, with the one in the middle starting from the City Gate and ending up at Fort Saint Elmo on the other end. Some of the bastions were to be tall.

Unfortunately, La Valette never saw the completion of the city, as he died on 21 August 1568, aged 74. He was buried in the church of Our Lady of the Victories, but after the St. John's Co-Cathedral was built, his remains were taken there. His tomb is now surrounded by those of the rest of the Grand Masters.

After the Knights and the brief French interlude, the next building boom in Valletta occurred during the British rule. Gates were widened, buildings demolished and rebuilt, houses widened and civic projects installed; however, the whole city and its infrastructure were damaged by air raids in World War II, notably losing its majestic opera house constructed at the city entrance in the 19th century.

Geography

The Valletta peninsula, which is fed by the two natural harbours of Marsamxett and the Grand Harbour, is Malta's major port, with unloading quays at Marsa; a cruise-liner terminal has been built recently in the Grand Harbour, along the old sea-wall of the duty free stores built by Grandmaster Manuel Pinto de Fonseca.

The city contains several buildings of historic importance, amongst which are St John's Co-Cathedral, formerly the Conventual Church of the Knights of Malta and home to the largest single work by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, his only signed work, and a priceless collection of seventeenth-century Flemish tapestries (alongside Republic Street); the Auberge de Castille et Leon, formerly the official seat of the Knights of Malta of the Langue of Castille, Léon and Portugal, now the office of the Prime Minister of Malta (found on the highest point of the city, above the bastions); the Magisterial Palace, built between 1571 and 1574, formerly the seat of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, now housing the Maltese Parliament and the offices of the President of Malta (opposite Palace Square along Republic Street); the National Museum of Fine Arts, a Rococo palace dating back to the late 1570s, which served as the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet during the British era, from 1789 onwards (in South Street); the National Museum of Archaeology, formerly the Auberge de Provence (Republic Street); the Manoel Theatre (Teatru Manwel), constructed in just ten months in 1731, by order of Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, and one of the oldest working theatres in Europe; the Mediterranean Conference Centre, formerly the Sacra Infermeria, built in 1574, one of Europe's most renowned hospitals during the time of the Knights of Malta; and the fortifications themselves, built by the Knights as a magnificent series of bastions, demi-bastions, ravelins and curtains, approximately high, designed to protect the city from attack.

An area for people who could not afford their own residence is located within Valletta's own walls: In the original plans, the Order wanted a man-made creek to house the navy, however this could not be completed, and so the area, known as Manderaggio (il-Mandraġġ), was taken over by the homeless, so resulting in a jumble of buildings with dark alleyways in despicable sanitary conditions. The Manderaggio was partially demolished in the 1950s so as to build a housing estate within Valletta.

Demographics

The population of Valletta has steadily decreased over the years, and is now reduced to about a third of its peak. This process was heavily accelerated after World War II as new development in outlying suburbs marked a shift of the population away from the capital city. However, it remains at the center of Maltese commercial and administrative activity.

Cityscape

The streets and piazzas of Valletta are enlivened by architecture ranging from the early 16th century to Modernist in design. It serves as the island's principal cultural centre and its unique collection of churches, palaces and museums attract visitors from all over the Earth.

Churches

Our Lady of Victories Church was the first building completed in Valletta. The body of Jean Parisot de la Valette was entombed in the church until St. John's Co-Cathedral was constructed. The Co-Cathedral was built by the Knights of Malta between 1573 and 1578, having been commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière as the conventual church of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John, known as the Knights of Malta. The Church was designed by the Maltese military architect Gerolamo Cassar who designed several of the more prominent buildings in the City.

St Paul's Anglican Cathedral is a Pro-Cathedral commissioned by Queen Adelaide during a visit to Malta in the 19th Century, when she found out that there was no place of Anglican worship on the island. St. Andrew's Scots Church is a joint congregation (a "Local Ecumenical Partnership") of the Church of Scotland and the Methodist Church of Great Britain. For Church of Scotland purposes it is part of the Presbytery of Europe. It is the only Reformed Church in Malta.

St Francis of Assisi Church dedicated to St Francis of Assisi (San Franġisk t'Assisi) was built in 1598 and was completed by 1607. After a few decades, however, the church developed structural defects and in 1681 it was built anew through the "munificence" of Grand Master Gregorio Carafa, whose coat of arms adorns the façade. The Parish Church of St Augustine (il-Knisja ta' Santu Wistin) is one of the churches built during the creation of Valletta. The foundation stone was laid in 1571 according to the plan and guidance of Geralomo Cassar, architect of the Knights of St John. The church was rebuilt in 1765 according to a plan of Giuseppe Bonnici. It was elevated to a parish church in 1968.

In 1692, Fr Andrea, a Maltese Jesuit from Valletta opened a conservatory for girls. Fr Andrea received charitable collections from the Knights of Malta as well as from wealthy Maltese: Christ the Redeemer Church (Kristu Redentur), commonly known as Sagaramentini Church for the Perpetual Adoration, is part of this same building. The Church of the Jesuits (il-Knisja tal-Ġiswiti) is one of the oldest churches in the City and one of the largest in the diocese. The site, comprising a college and a church is bounded by four streets occupying the whole area. St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus in 1534, had considered founding a college in Malta as early as 1553. Through a letter dated 1592-03-28, Pope Clement XIII solicited the setting up of the Jesuit College and its church.

The Collegiate Parish Church of St Paul's Shipwreck (San Pawl tal-Ħġejjeġ) contains the wooden statue of St Paul the Apostle carved in 1657 by Melchiorre Gafà, the brother of Lorenzo Gafà who remodelled the church in 1680. The statue is paraded through the streets of Valletta on the feast day of St Paul's Shipwreck, February 10 generally under heavy rainfall.

The Franciscan Church of St Mary of Jesus, dedicated to St Mary of Jesus, came to be popularly known as Ta' Ġieżu by the Maltese. In 1571 the Friars Minor were granted a piece of land on which to build a church. Work began shortly afterwards, following the design of Gerolamo Cassar. The facade was replaced in 1680 by Mederico Blondel. Numerous grandmasters contributed lavishly towards the embellishment of the church which now hosts various works of art.

Other Roman Catholic churches within Valletta include Our Lady of Pilar Church, the Carmelite Church, Our Lady of Liesse Church, St. James Church, St. Barbara Church (offers services in French and German), Our Lady of Damascus (offers services in Greek), St. Lucy Church, St. Roch Church, St. Catherine of Italy Church (offering services in Italian), St. Nicholas Church (known as 'Church of All Souls'), St. Catherine of Alexandria Church and the Parish Church of Saint Mary of Porto Salvo and Saint Dominic, accredited the first basilica in Malta in the Bolla Pont by Pope Pius V.

Palaces

Valletta contains a great number of palaces, as befits its Renaissance nickname, Superbissima (Most Proud). Many of these palaces served as the auberge for a particular langue of Knights, although some knights also had their own private residences. Other palaces were built by members of the Maltese nobility or foreign aristocracy.

The Magisterial Palace of the Grandmaster currently houses the House of Representatives of Malta and the office of the President of Malta. The palace is built around two courtyards, one of which is predominated by a statue of Neptune. There are two entrances in the front and one entrance from Piazza Regina just west of the Bibliotecha. The Armoury, housing one of the finest collections of Medieval and Renaissance weapons in all of Europe, runs the width of the back of the palace. The palace also features Gobelin tapestries and frescos by Matteo Perez d'Aleccio (a student of Michelangelo) amongst other treasures.

The Auberge de Castille was the official seat of the knights of the Langue of Castille, Léon and Portugal – one of the most powerful of the Order, its Head being the Grand Chancellor. The Knights of this Langue were responsible for the defence of part of the fortifications of Valletta known as the St Barbara Bastion. The original Auberge was built by the renowned Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar in 1574. It was extensively re-modelled and virtually rebuilt in 1741, the present plan of the imposing structure attributed to Andrea Belli.

The Auberge d'Aragon is a palace also designed by Girolamo Cassar, in 1571 five years after the establishment of the city. The residents of the palace were initially knights of Aragon, Navarre, and Catalonia. The Auberge de Provence is another of Cassar's masterpieces of Renaissance architecture, built between 1571-75. The Auberge was the residence of the Langue de Provence, its Head, the “Gran Commandeur” being the Treasurer of the Order. From 1824 to 1954 the building housed the British officers’ Union Club, and is now the National Museum of Archeology.

Construction for the Auberge d’Italie was begun in 1574. The building was constructed around an arcaded courtyard and received considerable alteration in the 17th century. Situated in the upper part of Merchants street and in front of another notable building, Palazzo Parisio, it has a fine facade designed by Romano Carapecchia. It now houses the Malta Tourism Authority.

Opposite the Jews' Sally Port (Il-Fossa) in Valletta is the Auberge de Bavière built in 1696). Originally intended as a private palace, from 1784 on it was used to accommodate Bavarian and English knights. It now houses Malta's Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs.

Casa Rocca Grande was built by Fra Pietro La Rocca, Prior of Santo Stefano, towards the end of the 16th century and formed part of a magnificent palace with double entrances in the style of the Grandmaster's Palace. It was later divided into two palaces, Palazzo Marina and Messina Palace. For a short time the palace used by the Maltese Government as the Department of Education and later as the Ministry of Education. Messina Palace was leased to the German-Maltese Circle in 1975 until it was purchased by the Circle with the financial assistance of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1989.

Casa Rocca Piccola is one of the last remaining unconverted palaces in Malta that is still lived in by Maltese nobility, the family de Piro. It is open to the viewing public and is the only lived-in aristocratic residence in Valletta so distinguished.

Opposite the ruins of the Royal Opera House stands Palazzo Ferreria. Its façade resembles that of a Venetian palace. Popularly known as Palazzo Francia, surname of the family that built and owned it, it originally housed the Knights' foundry - hence the name Ferreria. It today houses a number of offices and retail outlets.

Palazzo Parisio, Valletta was built in the early 18th century by Bishop Sceberras on the site of two former houses in Merchants' Street, then known as Strada San Giacomo. Palazzo Parisio consists of three elements, each two storeys high in a Neo-Classical style, enclosing a central courtyard.

Napoleon Bonaparte stayed there briefly after taking Valletta on June 11, 1798. He made it his headquarters for five days during his brief plundering stay en route to the Egyptian campaign. Left dilapidated by the late 19th century, it was sold to the Government and fully restored and refurbished. Palazzo Parisio formally opened its doors to the public under the British on the 8th of May 1886, as Malta’s General Post Office. Today it holds the Ministry of Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs. This palace is not to be confused with Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar, a private property owned by the Barony of Tabria.

Palazzo Castellania is also located along Merchants' Street and was begun to the designs of Maltese architect Francesco Zerafa in 1748. It replaced an earlier building and housed the Civil and Criminal Courts. Zerafa died in 1758 and Giusseppe Bonici was called in to complete the building, which he did by 1760. The building's centerpiece shows stone figures of Justice and Truth. It is now the Ministry of Social Policy.

The National Museum of Fine Arts is housed within an elegant palace in South Street. It was known as Admiralty House when it became the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Mediterranean fleet. The building dates back to the late 1570s. The palace was the private residence of a succession of knights of the Order of St John. It was opened as a museum in 1974, as a repository of Malta's permanent national art collection.

Museums

Many of Valletta's museums are former palaces that have been put to public use. Particularly notable are the Armoury Museum, which contains a unique collection of Renaissance weapons and armour, and the Malta War Museum, explaining the dual strains of suffering and heroism that characterised Malta during World War II. The Manoel Theatre Museum presents the history of Valletta's first playhouse, one of the oldest in Europe. The National Museum of Fine Arts displays a collection including paintings by Mattia Preti and J. M. W. Turner. The National Museum of Archeology traces Malta's Neolithic culture, displaying artifacts from the first free-standing structures built on Earth, 5,500 years ago.

The National Museum of Archaeology is housed in the Auberge De Provence. This palace once served knights from the langue of Provence. Among the more captivating features of the Auberge is the large top floor salon with its richly painted walls and wooden beamed ceiling. The National Museum of Archaeology displays an exceptional array of artifacts from Malta’s unique prehistoric periods starting with the first arrival of man in the Ghar Dalam phase (5200 BC) and running up to the Tarxien phase (2500 BC). The collection includes obsidian cores and the Red Skorba figurines, which are predecessors of temple period objects and statuary as well as pottery, worked flint, beads and other ornaments.

The museum's main hall is devoted to temple carvings, in particular the giant statue and altar blocks from the Neolithic Tarxien Temples. The collection continues with representations of animals, temple models and remarkable human figures. Of particular note are the exquisite statuettes of the "Sleeping Lady" (Mara Rieqda) found in the Hypogeum, and the "Venus" (Venere) of Hagar Qim. The building was inaugurated as the National Museum in 1958.

The nearby Manoel Theatre Museum traces the history of theatre on the Maltese Islands, displaying various items of memorabilia. The artifacts on display have been assembled from a wide range of sources, both public and private, while a number of exhibits have been donated by generous private collectors. Works in the Maltese language are also displayed.

The Grandmaster's Palace Armoury Museum exhibits a unique collection of full suits of armor, arms and guns dating back to the 15th century. During the 1850s, the British Government intended to remove the collection to London. However due to local disapproval, this was never fully undertaken (although the Armory remains depleted as a result) and in 1860 the Armory was officially opened as Malta’s first public museum. It contains abundant material of Italian, German, French and Spanish origin from principal arms production centers. Various important suits of armor have survived, the most notable being those of grandmasters Fra Martin Garzes and Fra Alof de Wignacourt. Outstanding examples of parade armor by expert armorers are included as the collection's masterpieces. The museum also displays a number of highly ornate bronze cannons.

The Malta War Museum, housed at Fort Saint Elmo, highlights Malta’s important military role in the post-1800 period under British rule, especially during the Second World War. Fort St Elmo, renowned for its role against incredible odds during the Great Siege, was again the scene of heroic action by Maltese defenders against relentless enemy action. The museum was set up by the National War Museum Association and opened to the public in 1975. The museum building was originally a powder magazine and served during the Second World War training anti-aircraft gun crews.

A key feature of the museum is the numerous photographic panels depicting the harsh conditions prevailing in Malta during the crucial War years 1940-1943. These clearly show the hardships endured by the civilian population, the massive extent of war damage, the unhealthy living conditions within underground shelters and above all, the heroic gallantry of a people who withstood the prolonged siege and the suffering it brought. Several principal exhibits are displayed in the museum's main hall. Among other War relics are the Italian E-Boat, a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, the Willis Jeep ‘Husky’, and the Gloucester Gladiator ‘Faith’. Also on display are the George Cross, awarded to Malta by King George VI, the Book of Remembrance of civilians and servicemen killed during the years 1940-43 and the illuminated Scroll presented to the “People and Defenders of Malta”, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943. Also on display are the awards and decorations received by Maltese servicemen and civilians during the War, for acts of bravery and sacrifice far beyond the call of duty.

The Domus Pauli Museum is located within an extension of the Chapter Hall of the Collegiate Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck. The museum, in St Paul’s Street, exhibits antique and precious items from St Paul's Shipwreck Church.

St John's Co-Cathedral Museum adjoins the Co-Cathedral and contains Medieval and Renaissance art objects together with ecclesiastical artifacts. Amongst the contents of the museum are the tapestries of Grandmaster Fra Ramon Perellos de Roccaful, portraits of Grandmasters Fra Jean de la Cassiere, Fra Nicolas Cotoner and Fra Manuel Pinto da Fonseca and paintings that were once kept in the Co-Cathedral's many side chapels such as "St George killing the Dragon" by Francesco Potenzano. Other works of art that were originally displayed in buildings of the Order, such as the Grand Master's palaces and churches, are now stored in the National Museum of Fine Arts.Prior to its conversion into a museum, the stately house had always served as a residence. It passed into the ownership of the Order in the mid-18th century, when it was radically transformed into an exuberant Rococo palace. The building and its contents were administered by the State following the departure of the Order from Malta in 1798.

Paintings and sculptures were brought together in the early years of the 20th century, forming the core of the Fine Arts Collection within the National Museum by 1922. Subsequently, public-spirited individuals and organisations made important donations and bequests to the collection, in addition to significant acquisitions made throughout the years. The highlight of the 19th century collection is a watercolour by J. M. W. Turner of the Grand Harbour, the only Maltese landscape known to be by his hand. A number of Old Master works, such as drawings by Pietro Perugino (1450-1523), Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526) and Mattia Preti (1613-1699), may be viewed under controlled lighting.

The museum displays a number of bronze and plaster sculptures by the Maltese artist Antonio Sciortino (1879-1947) and paintings by Edward Caruana Dingli (1876-1950). Part of the display is also dedicated to Maltese silverware in the national collection, including liturgical artefacts from churches that formerly belonged to the Order, as well as a collection of silver snuffboxes and other silverware alongisde other displays and exhibits.

Valletta is home to a Toy Museum. Showcased on three floors are Maltese and international toys from the 1950s onward: of particular interest is a substantial collection of Corgi, Dinky and Matchbox cars.

Theatres

Manoel Theatre (Teatru Manwel) is Europe's third-oldest working theatre. Located on Old Theatre Street, it is now Malta's National Theatre and home to the National Orchestra of Malta. The Manoel is a small, six-hundred and twenty-three seat venue with a lavish, oval-shaped auditorium, three tiers of boxes constructed entirely of wood and decorated with 22-carat gold leaf and a pale blue, trompe-l'oeil ceiling that resembles a rounded cupola.

Countless celebrities have graced its stage, including Boris Christoff, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, John Neville, Magda Olivero, Michael Ponti, Mstislav Rostropovich, Dame Margaret Rutherford, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Sir Donald Wolfit. Visiting companies have included Nottingham Playhouse, the Comédie-Française and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

The Royal Opera House was an opera house and performing arts venue designed by English architect Edward Middleton Barry, erected in 1866. The theatre was bombed to the ground during World War II in 1942. The space is still used for present day performances and plans to re-build or somehow renovate the area are at a stalemate.

St James Cavalier also serves as a theatrical space and is a popular venue for local performances. The Old University Theatre is sometimes used by Maltese troupes or drama institutions.

Gardens

The Upper Barrakka Gardens (Il-Barrakka ta' Fuq) offer a panoramic view of the Grand Harbour. They were first constructed in 1661 for the private use of knights from the Italian langue. It was not before 1824 that the gardens were opened to the public. The garden suffered extensive damage throughout the Second World War.

The garden paths are lined with busts, statues and plaques illustrating various personalities and significant events from Maltese history. Of special interest are the bronze group by Maltese sculptor Antonio Sciortino, entitled Les Gavroches (the Street Urchins). Its depiction of three running children reflects those extreme hardships faced by the people of Malta at the turn of the 20th century.

Also overlooking the Grand Harbour and Breakwater, the Lower Barrakka Gardens (Il-Barrakka t'Isfel) offer views of Fort Ricasoli, Bighi Palace, Fort St Angelo and the creeks of Vittoriosa and Kalkara. The gardens contain two major monuments, one dedicated to Sir Alexander Ball and another in remembrance of the Great Siege of Malta. Sir Alexander Ball led Maltese insurgents against the French in the 1798 uprising, and went on to become the first British Governor of Malta.

Located on top of the bastions on the west side of City Gate, Hastings Gardens (Ġnien Hastings) affords clear views of Sliema, Manoel Island and Marsamxett Harbour. The garden houses a monument built by the Hastings family dedicated to Francis, Marquis of Hastings, also Governor of Malta. He died in 1827 en route to Naples and his body was returned for burial in this garden.

Forts

Fort Saint Elmo (Forti Sant’Iermu) stands on the seaward shore of the Sciberras Peninsula, dividing Marsamxett Harbour from the Grand Harbour. Since the mid-20th century, Fort Saint Elmo has housed Malta's police academy. The War Museum also occupies part of the Fort. It commands the entrances to both harbours and prior to the arrival of the Knights of Malta in 1530, a watchtower existed on this point. Reinforcement of this strategic site commenced in 1533.

By the time of the Ottoman Siege of Malta in 1565, this fortification had been reinforced and extended into a modest star fort. Fort Saint Elmo was the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the siege, and withstood massive bombardment from Turkish cannon deployed from batteries on the north arm of Marsamextt Harbour, present site of Fort Tigne.

During the bombardment of the fort, a cannon shot from Fort St Angelo across the Grand Harbour struck the ground close to the Turkish battery. Debris from the impact mortally injured the corsair and Admiral Turgut Reis (Dragut), an Ottoman hero. Though the fort was reduced to rubble during the bombardments, when the Ottomans abandoned the siege the fort was rebuilt and reinforced, becoming partially incorporated into the seaward bastion of the fortress city of Valletta.

Faced with the continuing threat of Turkish attack and the weaknesses caused by the Great Siege of Malta (1565), the Knights of Malta were made to decide whether to abandon the island or attempt its restoration. Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette preferred to stay and ask for aid, which promptly arrived from several quarters, most notably Pope Pius V, who sent not only financial assistance but also the famed military engineer Francesco Laparelli de Cortona. It is Laparelli, succeeded by Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar, who masterminded the plan of Valletta as we see it today.

Saint James Cavalier (Il-Kavallier ta' San Ġakbu) was designed by Laparelli and Cassar, as a raised platform on which guns were placed to defend the city against attacks from the land (Floriana) side. As well as prohibiting entry, St James could threaten those who had already breached the city's defences. Under the British, St. James was converted into an officers' mess. During the latter part of British rule, St. James was turned into a food store, known as the NAAFI.

St James is now a "Centre for Creativity", hosting various theatrical and musical performances, also providing installation and gallery space. Its interior was extensively renovated by Maltese architect Richard England alongside Michael Ellul. The design received a mixed reception from the Maltese public. The national heritage organization Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna protested against the removal of a rare World War II gas shelter and other historical remains from the British period. While the restoration of St James Cavalier was intended as the first phase in a larger project aiming to radically alter Valletta, it has so far been halted at planning stages and is the subject of much local controversy.

Other sites

Often overlooked are the many sentry posts and lookout towers that pepper the city bastions. Before the construction of the city a tower existed there, originally erected by the Phoenicians and later used by the Greeks and Romans. The existing watchtowers were built under the Knights and have been used by every succeeding conquering power since.

They vary in design but are generally rounded and bear armorial or symbolic carvings on their exterior. One common motif, especially in restored examples, is the eye. This symbol is also found on the sides of dgħajes and luzzijiet, traditional Maltese boats. The watchtowers are placed at strategic locations throughout the city, most prominently towards its rear and main entrance.

The present City Gate (Bieb il-Belt) is the fourth to have stood at the entrance to Valletta. The original gate, known as Porta San Giorgio, was designed by military engineer Francesco Laparelli de Carotona and was erected between April 1566 and 1569. It was replaced in 1632 by a more ornate gate designed by Maltese architect Tommaso Dingli, during the rule of Grand Master Antoine de Paule. In 1853, at the height of British rule over Malta, a new gate designed by a certain Col. Thompson of the Royal Engineers was erected, consisting of two central arches with two smaller ones. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, City Gate was known as Porta Reale, "Putirjal" in Maltese and "Kingsway" in English. The present City Gate was inaugurated during the Independence celebrations in 1964. Its Italian modernist design remains the source of much controversy.

Triton Fountain is situated in the centre of the main bus terminus from the City, at the center of shops and cafes. Its statues were designed by the Maltese sculptor Vincent Apap in 1959 and are modelled after Classical and Baroque examples.

Facing the harbour, Castellania was originally constructed by the Knights of Malta as the city's law courts. The building was designed by architect Francesco Zerafa, and was built in 1760 during the reign of Grand Master Manuel Pinto de Fonseca, who died two years before the building was completed. It includes a florid stone-work and his crescent emblem. The statues on either side of the first floor balcony, which represent Justice and Truth, was made by Sicilian sculptor Maestro Gian. A pillory stone resides in the apex of the building's corner, for those convicted and sentenced to death after the Priest's Revolt of 1775. Above the stone is a hook, used to lift the bells of St. John, or to suspend prisoners that have been sentenced to death. It is at the Castellania that physician and archaeologist Sir Themistocles Zammit discovered the Mediterranean strain of brucellosis in 1905.

The Valletta Waterfront is composed of nineteen 250 year old warehouses built by Grand Master Pinto, stretching along the water's edge and the Quay Wall. Also part of the Waterfront are the Forni Stores, built in 1626 at the order of Grand Master de Vilhena. These restored buildings now provide retail, dining and leisure outlets.

One of the most imposing buildings in Valletta is the former "Sacra Imfermeria" of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, now popularly known as the Mediterranean Conference Centre. It is located adjacent to Fort St Elmo, overlooking the Grand Harbour. Work on this vast edifice started during late 1574 during the reign of Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere (1572-82) and was extended several times over the years. The “Old Ward” which is the main attraction was extended into the “Great Ward” during the years 1660 to 1666 under the rule of the Cotoners. This hall measuring 155 metres in length, was at that time one of the largest in Europe and was described as “one of the grandest interiors in the world”. The Sacra Infermeria was considered to be one of the best hospitals in Europe and could accommodate 914 patients.

In 1676 Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner founded the School of Anatomy and Surgery at the Infirmary, considered to be amongst the oldest hospitals in Europe. This school was to be the forerunner of the Medical School of the University of Malta. When the Order of St John of Jerusalem left the Maltese Islands, the French took over the Infirmery in June 1798, just after the occupation of the Island by General Napoleon Bonaparte. The Infirmary now became known as "Grand Hopital". From 1800 till 1918 during the British Rule, the Centre served as a Station Hospital. Situated very near to the Grand Harbour, the hospital was within easy reach of the sick and wounded servicemen as hospital ships brought them in. Between 1950-1951 it was turned into a the Children’s Theatre and later served as an Examinations Hall. The building was finally transformed into the present Mediterranean Conference Centre in 1978. The Centre was inaugurated on the 11th February 1979 and was awarded the coveted Europa Nostra Diploma of Merit for the "superb restoration of the Sacra Infermeria and its adaption for use as a conference centre."

The National Library began in 1555. It is currently the legal deposit and copyright for Malta. Its collection spans the personal libraries of the Knights of Malta (also the archives and treasury manuscripts of that order), including archives from the medieval [Università dei Giurati] of Mdina and Valletta. The idea of a public Library in Malta began with the issue of a decree by Fra' Claude de la Sengle, Grand Master of the Knights, whereby all books in the legacy of deceased knights were to pass to the Common Treasury of the Order. It was not until 1776, however, that the formal foundation of a Bibliotheca Publica was decreed at the Chapter General of the Order convened by Grand Master de Rohan. The main collections were those belonging to Fra' Louis Guérin de Tencin.

In 1925 the Library acquired its "legal deposit" status by an Act of Parliament and 11 years later was granted the prefix "Royal" by King George V of the United Kingdom. The following year the Royal Malta Library took over the custody of the Archives of the Order of St John which were transferred from the Public Registry premises. With the setting up of the new Public Library in Floriana in 1976, the Library in Valletta was officially designated as the "National Library of Malta" and became solely a research and reference Library. In its capacity as National Library the mission of the Bibliotheca is to acquire, catalogue and preserve manuscripts and all printed books, as well as periodicals and journals issued in Malta.

City life

Music

Jazz music in Malta was introduced through the lively Strait Street area, frequented by Allied sailors during both World Wars. The famous (now closed) Cafe Premier in Republic Square hosted many jazz formations. Valletta was also the location of the Malta Jazz Festival.

The City's dual band clubs are the "King's Own Band Club" (L-Għaqda Mużikali King's Own) and "La Valette National Philarmonic Society" (Is-Soċjetà Filarmonika Nazzjonali La Valette).

Carnival

Valletta is the scene of the Maltese Carnival, held in February leading up to Lent. Carnival in Gozo is celebrated in Victoria and many parishes in both islands hold their own festivities.

Feasts

The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated with devotion every 16 July, Saint Paul's feast is celebrated on the 10th of February, Saint Dominic's feast is celebrated in Valletta on August 4 or before, whilst the feast of Saint Augustine is celebrated on the third Sunday after Easter. A procession of St. Rita is also performed by City dwellers.

Sports

Valletta is renowned for its football club, Valletta FC, one of the top football clubs on the Maltese island.

Valletta also has its own Basketball team, the Valletta Ballers, and also its own rugby team, the Valletta Lions.

Marsamxett also has its "Regatta" (Rowing) Team, which takes part in the annual traditional Regatta on Victory Day (8th September).

In 1980, Valletta played host to the many nations attending the 24th Chess Olympiad.

Also, professional snooker player Tony Drago comes from Valletta.

Popular culture

  • The last several chapters of celebrated author Thomas Pynchon's novel V. take place in the city of Valletta.
  • Much of Nicholas Rinaldi's novel The Jukebox Queen of Malta take place in Valletta.
  • Parts of the Spielberg's Academy Award nominee film Munich were shot in Valletta.
  • In the popular computer strategy game, Age Of Empires III, Valletta and its surrounding areas are featured as the base of the main protagonist, Morgan Black, and is the setting for the first two levels of the game.
  • Valletta is the birthplace of popular comic book character Corto Maltese, created by Italian artist Hugo Pratt.

Transport

Valletta is served by Malta International Airport, which is located 8 km from the city. Malta's public transport system, which uses buses, operates mostly on routes to or from Valletta, with their central terminus just outside the city's entrance. Traffic within the city itself is restricted, with some principal roads being completely pedestrian areas.

In 2006, a park and ride system was implemented in order to increase the availability of parking spaces in the vicinity of the city. People can leave their personal vehicles in a Floriana parking lot and transfer to a van for the rest of the trip, which takes a mere few minutes.

In 2007 a congestion pricing scheme was implemented, the Controlled Vehicular Access system, in order to reduce long-term parking stays and traffic while promoting business in the city. An ANPR-based automated system takes photos of vehicles as they enter and exit the charging zone and vehicle owners get billed according to the duration of their stay. Various exemptions and flexible billing rules make the system the next evolutionary step of systems like the London congestion charge program.

References

External links

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