The capital city of Valletta surely deserves a day or more of your time in Malta. The wealth of museums, churches, palaces and urban architecture need time for a decent appreciation. Visiting in the summer months can be exerting as the midday heat starts to take its toll and sap away at your energy. Valletta’s varied open spaces provide the perfect break for recharging batteries – and most of them are quite an attraction in themselves.
Valetta’s foremost open spots are its three public gardens, the best known of which is the Upper Barracca. Occupying one of the highest points in the city, it boasts probably the best views over the Grand Harbour. The garden has mature trees, plenty of shade and some notable statuary; the Maltese sculptor Antonio Sciortino’s “Les Gavroches” being undoubtedly the finest.
Much quieter and less visited is the Lower Barracca Garden, nearer to the harbour’s mouth and with equally stunning views. This small garden is dominated by a monument dedicated to Alexander Ball – Malta’s much loved first governor in the British era.
The least visited of Valletta’s gardens is Hastings – ironically just a flight of stairs away from the city’s main gate. It’s by far the quietest of the city’s gardens and commands excellent views of Valletta’s second harbour Marsamxett. Sitting atop Valletta’s massive dry moat, Hastings is one of the best locations from where to get a good idea of the city walls’ massiveness.
Away from the city’s green oases, Republic Square is probably the city’s best people watching space. Don’t bother asking where it is – a query about Republic Square will probably get you blank looks from the locals since it’s invariably referred to as Pjazza Regina. Indeed a fine statue of Queen Victoria graces the square, backed by Malta’s National Library – the Knights’ last building of note before they capitulated to Napoleon in 1798. The square – right in the middle of Republic Street by the way – hosts some of Valletta’s finest cafeterias; not least Cordina’s, itself something of an institution with some lovely fin de siècle interior decoration. Virtually the whole spectrum of Maltese society passes through the square; the politicians and the lawyers, the wheeler-dealers and the high society crowd, as well as the hundreds of ordinary folk on their mundane errands.
One of the “newest” open spaces in Valletta is just one block down from here. Saint George’s Square – for a long time an inglorious car park occupying the space in front of the Magisterial (now Presidential) Palace – has been pedestrianized and given a complete makeover in recent years, and is now graced with subtle street furniture (and Wi-Fi access) and a musical fountain. The square’s minimalist design sits well with the Palace’s somewhat austere façade. The square hosts military parades and other events from time to time – Brian May played a sold out concert here just a couple of months back.
Valletta will have even more open spaces in the near future when Renzo Piano’s city gate project is completed. The welcome demolition of City Gate – a nondescript project of the sixties – is aimed at making the entrance to the city a welcoming open forum, and though the project is not yet complete (completion is set for November 2014) one can already feel the enhanced sense of space. Later on parts of the city’s dry moat will be turned into a public landscaped area giving Valletta more open space to enjoy.
Author: Steven Bonello
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