Tag Archives: Knights of St John

Malta, A Stroll Around Valletta and the Head of John The Baptist

Valletta Malta

The fact that Fort St Elmo was closed for restoration wasn’t really a problem because the whole of Valletta is in fact one huge fort with Medieval fortifications defending it on all sides so we set off to walk along the side of the Grand Harbour with views across to the marinas and docks on the opposite side.

Grand Harbour, Valletta…

Walking along the edge of the water it was easy to appreciate just how strategically important this place was to a strong naval power like the British and why Germany in World War Two would have liked to possess it.  Today the harbour is full of fishing boats, yachts and tourist vessels but it is easy to imagine it full of battleships and naval dockyards.

It was a pleasant walk along the water side but eventually we decided to make our way back into the city centre.  On a side street we came across a bar which seemed to be cut into the rocks but it had some tables outside and a large beer was only €1.50 and there was some Spanish style tapas so we sat there for a while and enjoyed the sunshine.

Valletta Malta

We also enjoyed watching a trio of Community Wardens who were using this convenient junction to catch motorists who were driving without seat belts or who talking on their mobile phones.  They caught so many offenders that were being handed a €60 fine that very quickly there was a substantial traffic jam.

Apparently these two offences are common in Malta but despite this statistics show that the country has the lowest death rate from traffic accidents. With a fatality rate of twenty-five deaths per million of the population, Malta tops the table as the safest country, followed by the Netherlands with forty-five deaths and Sweden with forty-nine fatalities.  I imagine this must be due to the fact that there are so many cars on the road in Malta that no one can realistically expect to drive faster than about ten miles an hour so making a sneaky phone call is not such a big problem.

After a profitable half an hour the Wardens eventually packed up and moved on to another location and we drained our glasses and walked into the city through the Victoria Gate.  That would be Queen Victoria I imagine.

Valletta Malta postcard

We were getting dangerously close to shops now and Kim stopped now and then to look at shoes and sparkly things but the danger passed and soon we were back on Republic Street.

Cathedral of St John, Valletta…

It was time to visit a church and although Kim wasn’t too keen, on account of the fact that the exterior was dull and uninteresting we bought tickets to visit the Cathedral of St John and even Kim was pleased that we did because inside was a complete contrast with an opulent Baroque interior and a floor of headstones each commemorating one of the Knights of St John.

St John the Baptist…

There was some wonderful things in the Cathedral, art, sculptures, tapestries and finally a room with two magnificent paintings by the artist Caravaggio including the famous beheading of St John the Baptist.

Very good but a bit gruesome…

Caravaggio The Beheading of St John The Baptist

In a Museum there was an explanation that the Cathedral once possessed  the Saint’s right hand, which is of course a very important relic because this was the hand with which he baptised Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.

Unfortunately at some point over the last two thousand years it went missing.  This seems rather careless to me. No one can be really sure of course but today it is claimed to be in the Serbian Orthodox  monastery in Cetinje* in Montenegro, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and also in a remote monastery somewhere in Romania.

The Baptism of Christ

Several different locations also claim to possess the severed head of John the Baptist. Among them are Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, San Silvestro in Capite in Rome and the Residenz Museum in Munich (a bit odd, if you ask me).   Other JTB heads were once said to be held by the Knights Templar at Amiens  in France, at Antioch in Turkey and, most unlikely of all, the parish church at Tenterden in Kent, in England where it remained until it was disposed of during the English Reformation as being superfluously Catholic.

Anyway, there are thousands of Churches and Mosques dedicated to St John the Baptist.  I used to go to this one every Sunday in the village of Hillmorton where I grew up…

No flash photography rules…

Despite all of the splendour the most memorable thing about our visit came at the very end when we came across an altercation between a German visitor and some Cathedral staff.  He was upset about the no photography rule and wasn’t prepared to listen to reason.  I feigned a sudden interest in the last of the exhibits so that I could enjoy the exchange.  Try and do in a German accent because it works best – “I vant to know who vrote ziz policy”, “I vant to speak to ze man who wrote ze policy”, “Just who has made deeze rules”.  I was tempted to join in and suggest that it might be the Big Man upstairs.  Eventually the staff tired of repeating their entirely reasonable explanation and he followed them to the offices demanding to have access now to the complantze policy.

When it was over we left the Cathedral and walked now to the other side of the city to Marsamxett harbour to the north where we watched the ferries travelling forward and back to the holiday town of Sliema on the other side and walked a while along the water front and admired the multi coloured box window balconies of the high rise apartment buildings.

I like Valletta, it is a vibrant city, an eclectic mix of Naples, Palermo, Porto, Salamanca and Marseilles and only spoilt by the fact that it has become a cruise ship destination which means more jewellers, boutiques and pricey restaurants.  I really do not like those awful cruise ships!

It was late afternoon now so it seemed about the right time to make our way back to the scrum at the bus terminal.  There was one due in ten minutes and only a few people waiting at the stop but by the time the bus arrived this had swollen to several thousand.  We were getting used to this by now and we pushed our way on and thankfully found a seat for the sixty minute journey back to Mellieha.

In the late afternoon we followed the same routine. I went to the mini-market, we sat on the balcony, Kim thrashed me at cards as usual and then we went to the same restaurant.  On the way back however we did something different and once back at the hotel followed the sound of the booming music and made our way to the Limelight Lounge.  It was wonderful, like stepping into a time machine and going back twenty years to my last visit.  This is where I used to play bingo, this was where there was children’s entertainment and this was the place where they played groovy disco music – and they were still doing it!

It had been a good day.

Malta Valletta St Johns Cathedral

* I have driven through Cetinje  in Montenegro and have to say that it seems a distinctly unlikely place to find the hand of John The Baptist.

Malta, Bus Ride to Valletta

Valletta Malta Grand Harbour

“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.

Valletta Malta

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.

Valletta City of the Knights

Entrance Tickets – The Fortress of Kos

Fortress of Kos

I was finding it all quite different from my first visit to Kos so we went first to the castle of the Knights of St John because I felt sure that a seven hundred year old medieval castle couldn’t have changed so very much in thirty years. The castle was once surrounded by a moat with one entrance over a stone bridge and it was over this bridge that we entered the grey castle walls with its stout towers and impregnable defences and went inside to the ruins of this once great defensive bastion.

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Kos Fortress Visitor Leaflet

Weekly Photo Challenge: Serene

Malta Boats Luzzu

I read somewhere that Malta was the last place in Europe to be cleared up after the war and I recall that Valletta was a little untidy but this seemed to add to its charm as we walked along Republic Street, stopping more often than I would normally choose to step inside the tourist shops, darting down narrow alleys and investigating hidden corners and emerging by the waterside and walking around the Grand Harbour in the shade of the sandstone coloured fortifications of the Knights.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts

Light and Shadow

The Street of the Knights in Rhodes because this is one of the best preserved/restored medieval streets in Europe and we wanted to get there before the crowds.  As soon as the cruise ships arrive and discharge their guests onto the quayside hundreds of people make straight for this place and it immediately loses its atmosphere and its charm.  At eight o’clock in the morning however there was no one about except the odd delivery man and it was possible to soak up Mussolini’s fascist  interpretation of the medieval street.

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Malta – Sightseeing, a Church, a Cartoon and a Capital City

malta-map

“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

After the nautical adventures of the previous day, the tedious Captain Morgan and the hair-raising Toni Oki Koki motorboat ride, we had had enough of boats and the sea for the time-being so turned our attention to dry land once more and returned to walking and sightseeing.

The village of Mellieha is quite large and it rises up behind the shoreline of the bay and is topped by the twin towered Baroque style Parish Church which looked easily as big as any cathedral.  It wasn’t very far away and so one lunch time we tackled the walk to find somewhere different for something to eat.  Although it wasn’t far it turned out to be an especially arduous trek because it was up a very steep incline and the road swung around in extravagant hair-pin sweeps before reaching the top of the hill and the expansive promenade that surrounds the church.

There were excellent views from the top but we were concentrating on catching our breath and in the heat of the day we needed somewhere cool to collapse and enjoy a beer.  There was plenty of choice and we selected one with outside tables under the shade of red and white umbrellas, ordered drinks and snacks and addressed the matter of getting back.  Although it was downhill all of the way we didn’t really relish repeating the ordeal so we settled on a bus ride and enjoyed the cold drinks all the more for that.

Mellieha Malta Postcard

On the following day we weren’t going to make the same mistake of waiting until midday to go walking at the hottest part of the day so we started out early on the two kilometre stroll across to the west of the island to Anchor Bay and the film set of the 1980 film ‘Popeye’ with Robin Williams as the famous cartoon sailor.  Malta it seems is a popular location with film makers and directors and there is a long list of well known films shot on location on the island and it appears to be especially in demand for historical epics like Troy, Columbus, Alexander and Gladiator.

Popeye Village today is marketed as a Fun Park and one of Malta’s top tourist attractions but in 1997 it was just a fifteen year old film set that was starting to show signs of wear.  There weren’t many visitors walking around the dusty paths or wandering around the set interiors of the houses and the shops and it didn’t take very long to walk around the US style east coast harbour village and find ourselves back at the entrance and wandering back to the Mellieha Bay Hotel in time for lunch.

Popeye Village 1

After two days of walking we returned to the buses to visit the capital of the island, Valletta.  It wasn’t very far but Malta has one of the highest ratios of car ownership in Europe 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 yellow buses all belching fumes and impatiently trying to get in and out.

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.

Valletta Malta

Although it was designed principally as a fortress city with great forts 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.  The cathedral of St John is one of the most spectacular churches in Europe with a floor laid almost entirely from marble tombstones dedicated to the Knights of St John.

Benjamin 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.

I read somewhere that Malta was the last place in Europe to be cleared up after the war and I recall that Valletta was a little untidy but this seemed to add to its charm as we walked along Republic Street, stopping more often than I would normally choose to step inside the tourist shops, darting down narrow alleys and investigating hidden corners and emerging by the waterside and walking around the Grand Harbour in the shade of the sandstone coloured fortifications of the Knights.

Valletta turned out to be a fascinating place to visit and as the bus left the terminus and made slow progress through the east coast holiday resorts I regretted that we didn’t have longer to spend in the capital of the island but time was beginning to run out on this holiday.

Valletta Postcard

Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal

Restoration and Renewal

I used to think that reinterpretation and restoration was rather a shame but am now persuaded by Henry Miller who wrote of the the reconstruction and interpretation of the Minoan Palace at Knossos on Crete:

“There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration.  I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact.  However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know.  I am grateful to him for what he did…” 

Substitute Italians for Arthur Evans and he could easily have been talking about the Acropolis at Lindos.

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Bodrum, Shopping, Saunas and Sightseeing

Bodrum Turkey

There was a perfect blue sky when I was woken by shafts of sunlight creeping into the room through the gaps in the curtains and I lay still for awhile contemplating being in a new country and I began to think of the most obvious things that I associated with Turkey – Turkish Delight, Turkish Baths, Turkish Tea, Turkish Wrestling, Constantinople, Magic Carpets, Kebabs and Belly Dancers and when my mind was quite cluttered up with all of these items I got up and opened the window and was greeted with a powerful aroma that reminded me of one more thing – Turkish Coffee!

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Kos, Cruise Ships and Ancient Archaeological Sites

Costa Atlantica Cruise Ship at Kos Harbour Greece

Our plan today was to do some sightseeing in the city and so after a self prepared authentic  Greek breakfast on the balcony of the room we left the Hotel Santa Marina and walked again to the seafront and the road into the city.

Unfortunately today a massive cruise ship was moored up, ugly, monstrous and completely incongruous, dwarfing the city and the castle and spoiling the view of the harbour and the sea front, an eleven-deck eyesore soaring above the harbour and resembling a block of 1970s council flats, no style or charm, just a floating unattractive leviathan.

These loathsome giants spoil everywhere they visit; Santorini has become a crowded  nightmare, Dubrovnik is overwhelmed, Venice is sinking under the weight of tens of thousands of people.  I hate these cruise ships not least because I immediately knew that it would unleash hoards of cruisers swarming from the ship for a quick culture break in between continuous gluttony at the all day, all you can eat on board troughs.

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Greece 2010, Rhodes Town and an Unexpected Dinner Invitation

All of this medieval history is here on Rhodes because in 1309 the Island was occupied by forces of the Knights Hospitaller and under the rule of the newly named ‘Knights of Rhodes’ the city was rebuilt into a model of the European medieval ideal.  Many of the city’s famous monuments, including the Palace of the Grand Master, were built during this period.  The citadel of Rhodes, built by the Hospitalliers, is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, which in 1988 was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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