Valletta, Malta’s compact but lively capital started life out of a strategic defensive need. The site where the present city stands was the one used by the Ottomans to attack the Knights holed up in Vittoriosa for the duration of the Great Siege of 1565. After the siege was raised and the Knights finally decided to make Malta their permanent home, frantic work started on the building of this new city occupying strategically high ground, with the first stone laid on 28th March 1566.
The city is laid out on a rectangular grid pattern with streets crossing each other at strict ninety degree angles, which makes orientation all that much easier. Built originally in a somewhat austere Mannerist style (the façade of St. John’s is a typical example), it was later given a Baroque makeover which it broadly retains to this day. This was a major factor in UNESCO’s decision to bestow the city with World Heritage Site status in 1980.
Valletta is completely girdled by massive bastions, best appreciated from high points within the city itself or from the water across the city’s two harbours.
The sights in Valletta are numerous and one needs at least a couple of days to savour its varied pleasures – not least a veritable wealth of churches and palaces and a few good museums. Pride of place must surely go the Co-Cathedral of St.John’s – the Knights main place of worship and a place where superlatives are simply inadequate. Definitely one for anyone’s bucket list.
Valletta’s population is a surprisingly meagre 7,000 but its daytime population more than doubles with many office workers and shoppers making their daily commute. Busy and lively by day, the city understandably winds down in the evenings and there was a time not so long ago when finding a place to eat after sundown was a major feat. Happily that is no longer the case. Though Valletta has no club scene to speak of, it can now boast of a smorgasbord of good restaurants, wine bars and a lively café scene.
There’s an on going regeneration too – kick started a few years back by the award winning restoration of the historic Pinto Stores to what is now the Valletta Waterfront complex and lately the notable transformation of Strait Street – formerly the city’s dodgy red-light district now awash with trendy bars and eateries attracting a younger crowd to the city after dark. Valletta now also offers a small choice of boutique hotels, a relatively new concept to the island, as well as two well established hotels just outside the city walls.
Valletta has been chosen as the European City of Culture for 2018, an event that will surely bring out more shine in the city – not least the completion of the innovative and exciting City Gate project by the world renowned architect Renzo Piano.
Palazzo, Valletta Merisi Suites, Phoenicia Hotel, Grand Hotel Excelsior