city walls

The first thing that strikes the visitor after walking away from the central bus station towards the city are the walls. Valletta is located on a rocky peninsula and is protected by maybe the most impressive fortified walls that I have ever seen. Built by the Knights of St. John after the Great Siege by the Turks in 1565, the city actually never fell to a foreign invader in war. The only conqueror of the island was Napoleon, but the knights had fled to Russia abandoning the city, by the time the future emperor entered here.

Valletta Map

The city is the principal tourist attraction on the island and a mandatory stop for any trip here. It succeeds to be crowded it any season, and for us, who visited out of season it was almost the sole crowded place we have encountered during the vacation.

city gate

The land access to the city is through the city gate, which looks like a triumphal arch whose days of glory are well passed. It is actually pretty new, built in the 1970s, but not that well maintained. As in other places on the island we saw here as well signs about something new to be build soon instead – it looks like Malta is a place where the European money comes slowly, or when it comes it is not immediately used for the targeted purposes.

the bombed theatre

Right after the gate the visitor can see the ruins of the old and imposing building that stood here until the second world war and was destroyed in the savage bombing that the German aviation subjected the city to in 1942. Malta was the only country who had the entire population decorated by the British king during the war for the steadiness and will to resist the enemy under fire.

Auberge de Castille

Valletta is a beautiful city, and it’s beauty comes from the combination of refined architecture mixing palaces, churches, and sloppy streets and the spectacular setting of the peninsula surrounded by the blue of the the sea. Many of the beautiful places in the city come directly from history – for example the Auberges (Inns) which look to the contemporary eyes as real palaces where the knights were hosting the guests from various places in Europe. The buildings perform various functions nowadays, among other Auberge de Castille is one of the most imposing, hosting the office of the Maltese Prime Minister.

view from the Upper Barrakka Gardens

One place to watch the landscape of the city are the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Across the bay one can see the Three Cities, and down the slopes the bastions, wharfs, and especially the esplanades of the lower gardens, with the canons that once defended the city.

cafe Gordina

All streets in Malta streets have two names – one in Maltese and the other in English. For example the principal street in Valletta is Triq Ir-Repubblika, or the Road of the Republic, which crosses the peninsula and the city from South to North, and divides the city into a West side and a East side, as in Manhattan, all proportions kept, of course. The street looks very much like a tourist spot as in many other places in the world, but some special buildings remind you that you are in a special place. For example Cafe Gordina has a definite European flavor, with a superb chocolates and cakes assortment.

the Manoel Theatre

Just down the street from Cafe Gordina you will find the almost only open plaza area in the city. The Manoel Theatre – the most famous theater and opera place on the island stands across the road from the Grand Master’s Palace and State Building, where the parliament and the president of the Republic have their residences.

flags and balconies

Visitors to Valletta and to Malta in general will find out soon after visiting the first city or village that balconies are kind of the local passion, the preferred architectural ornament and a reflection of the social status of the owner of the apartment or of the house.

saints behind the corner

Valletta is also a city of churches, and there are many from the imposing St. John’s Co-Cathedral which will be the subject of a dedicated episode to small churches on the side streets. The religious fervor of the inhabitants is reflected not only in the multitude of churches however, religious art seems to have freely escaped from the perimeter of the walls of the churches in the streets of the city. It looks like at every street corner at least one saint carved in stone or painted on the walls is extending his blessing to the travelers.

San Francisco on the Mediterranean

The most beautiful places in the city demand however some efforts to explore and walk. If you step aside from the main road you find yourself soon on quite streets on slopes, which seem all to descend to the sea, whatever direction you take. The comparison with San Francisco immediately comes to mind, but the tram is missing. One just needs to remember that anything that goes down will inevitably go up as well, as the only point to exit the city is the entrance gate. The slopes back can really be brutal, at the end of a day of walking the city.