“Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe. The city is one of the most beautiful, for its architecture and the splendour of its streets that I know: something between Venice and Cadiz.” – Benjamin Disraeli
Bus Ride to Valletta…
On the second day in Malta we decided to take our chances on the buses once again and visit the capital of the island, Valletta. We waited in a long line at the bus stop but luckily most people were going to nearby Bujibba on a different route so when the bus we wanted pulled in to pick up there were still some spare seats. This didn’t last long and after a few more stops it was packed tight like sardines in a can. A very warm can!
It wasn’t very far but Malta has one of the highest ratios of car ownership to population so the roads were congested and the nearer we got to the city the slower the journey became until the bus finally crawled into the bus terminus close to the old medieval walls. The terminus is like a giant roundabout and was clogged with coaches all belching fumes and impatiently trying to get in and out.
Valletta and the Knights of St John…
The city of Valletta was built by the Knights of St John who were granted the island in 1530, seven years after being expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks. Trouble with Turks however continued to follow the Knights and in 1565 the Ottomans laid siege to their new home on Malta with the intention of establishing a base from where they could conveniently advance into Europe. But as in Rhodes and at Bodrum the Knights proved a tough nut to crack and the Great Siege of Malta which lasted from May until September ended with the defeat and retreat of the Turkish army.
The rest of Europe was so grateful for this stoic resistance that it began to provide funding for the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de Valette, to plan and construct a new fortified city that was to be called Valletta in his memory.
A walk through Valletta, Malta…
Although it was designed principally as a fortress city with great battlements and armed bastions the architects also paid attention to good design and within the walls they built a Baroque style city with churches, palaces and fine mansions, laid down gardens and designed grand plazas at the intersections of the grid pattern of the streets. Disraeli called it “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”. Sadly much of medieval Malta was destroyed in the bombing raids of the Second-World-War and although it took a long time to recover it has now been named the European Capital of Culture for 2018.
We walked through the city main gate which isn’t a gate anymore, just a modern interpretation of what a gate might have looked like. Not at all like a gate in my estimation. And then down Republic Street which undulates like a giant roller coaster and is flanked on either side by expensive shops and boutiques. This is probably on account of the fact that the ugly cruise ships stop here now and all of the passengers are regularly emptied onto the quay side to go shopping and marauding in the main streets.
We passed the Cathedral and the Palace of the Knights and continued on our way to the furthest point, St Elmo’s Fort, which was closed for restoration. In 2008 the World Monuments Fund placed the fort on its Watch List of the one hundred Most Endangered Sites in the world because of its significant deterioration due to factors such as lack of maintenance and security, natural ageing, and the still unrepaired damage from the bombing in the Second-World-War. If Valletta is to be a European Capital of Culture then it has to be cleaned up.
I was disappointed by this but I think Kim might have been secretly pleased. We now had to run the gauntlet of the pushy drivers waiting to ambush people with their flotilla of horse drawn carriages called Karrozzins, they look seductive but they are terribly expensive. They are equine taxis and I never trust a taxi driver.
So we said no thank you several times and set about walking around the waterside edge of the Grand Harbour accompanied for a while by an elderly man, an ex British serviceman who had been stationed in Malta at the end of the war and was struggling to be able to find his bearings in a faded memory.
Not surprising really. It is said that Malta was the most bombed place in Europe with relentless air raids every day for over two years. This naturally destroyed Valletta and other parts of the island so most of what we see now has been reconstructed since 1945. It is because of facts like this that I don’t have too much sympathy with Germany when it keeps whining on about the bombing and destruction of cities like Dresden and Cologne. They started it!
Benjamin Disraeli would definitely not of recognised it.