The History of Valletta, Malta

By March 30, 2021 September 28th, 2023 No Comments
Valletta sea and beach in Malta

Valletta is the fortified capital city of Malta, and a World Heritage site. When one speaks of Valletta Malta, the first thought that comes to mind is of a place firmly embedded in rich military history as well as history connected to the Knights of St. John

This is reflected in the treasure trove of architectural splendor that is Valletta, Malta. 

It contains a vast array of majestic fortifications, stunning baroque buildings, lavish palaces, magnificent churches, grand theaters and striking gardens.

Main Attractions in Valletta Malta

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Here we will be looking at the main attractions derived from the history of Valletta, Malta.

The Knights of St. John in Valletta, Malta

This capital city came into existence thanks to the Knights of St John, under Grand master Jean Parisot de la Valette who had been given Malta by the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, Charles V. 

Malta was the very first place the Order could call home after numerous years of wandering the Mediterranean in the name of Christianity.

That is, after the Great Siege of 1565, the Knights began their Valletta project in Malta, intending to build a so-called ‘city built by gentlemen for gentlemen’. 

This is because, La Valette quickly realized that if the Order was going to retain its grasp on Malta, it had to build adequate defenses. 

Therefore, he drew up a plan for a late Renaissance Valletta, Malta, consisting of a grid system within fortified and bastioned city walls, on what was a mostly vacant lot. 

In fact, this was one of the first European cities to be constructed on a new site. Valletta Malta was built on what used to be known as Mount Sciberras. 

This is a portion of land in between the island’s two natural harbors, known as the Marsamxett and Valletta harbors.

Both Pope Pius V showed interest in the project, so he sent his foremost engineer, Francesco Laparelli. 

His idea was to build the city, both as a fortress in order to defend Christendom and as an architectural jewel. 

Work started in March 1566. First on, the bastions and, soon after, on the more important buildings. 

The new city was to be called Valletta in honor of La Valette. 

What’s interesting is that the city came to resemble an Italian religious community, as well as aspects of Ottoman and North African influences that the knights had seen on their journeys.

This new city, with its impenetrable bastions and deep moats was a point of great strategic importance. 

The British impact on Valletta, Malta

The British Period, beginning from 1800 was a very momentous era in Maltese history. 

The British Empire ruled over Malta for over 150 years overall, so it is hardly surprising that a large proportion of Maltese culture has been British overtones. 

As a result, the British legacy still lives on in many facets of daily life in Malta today.

After helping the Maltese do away with French rule in Malta, the British became the ruling force of the Islands. 

Malta became an important part of the British Empire due to its strategic position in the region, and because it was the first step in Britain’s expansion to the East.

It is no secret that Malta played a vital role in the Mediterranean theater of war.

The role of the Maltese Islands during the First World War was to act as a ‘Nurse of the Mediterranean’. That is, it was a base for the recovery of those who were injured.

The bravery of the Maltese people during the war was acknowledged by King George V who awarded the Malta his George Cross for valor.

The 164 years which the British spent in Malta have had the most impact on Valletta Malta since the city was originally built. 

Walking through the capital, Valletta, you’ll come across shops and cafes with British names that date back to last century.

The main boulevards and churches look unmistakably Italian but the corners tend to consist  of red English phone boxes or mail boxes.

Malta British influences in Architecture in Valletta, Malta

The British used architecture to assert their power, and control over the Maltese Islands. This is particularly prominent when it comes to the architecture in the city of Valletta Malta.

St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta 

This Anglican Cathedral is located in the Independence Square in Valletta Malta

This was commissioned by Queen Adelaide during a visit to Malta in the 19th Century, and was built between 1839 and 1844. 

Prior to this, Anglican services were held in a room in the Grand Master’s Palace, as there was no other place for the Anglicans to worship on the island.

Victoria Gate, Valletta, Malta

Victoria Gate is a city gate named after Queen Victoria in Valletta, Malta. It was built by the British in 1885, and replaced the old “Porta del Monte” (named after one of the Grand Masters). 

This replacement occurred due to the fact that Marina street was one of the busiest streets at the time, and there was a growing need for a bigger gate. Although this is not the main city gate, it is the main gate from the Grand Harbor.

Royal Opera House, Valletta Malta

The Royal Opera House was one of the most iconic buildings in Valletta Malta during its time. 

It was built during the British Era on the site of the Auberge d’Angleterre in Strada Reale between 1862 and 1866.

Activity was vibrant at the Royal Opera House as it offered a wonderful taste of popular opera to local audiences until 1942. This is the year in which it received a direct hit from a bomb during a World War II air raid and crumbled.

Unfortunately, only the building’s foundations, and a few photos remain of Malta’s once gorgeous Royal Opera House, which graced the entrance of Valletta between until that faithful day in 1942. 

This raises questions as to why this magnificent building was never restored to its former glory. Its rebuilding was shrouded in controversy, because some people wanted to have it rebuilt exactly as it was before, while others wanted to build it in a modern style. 

The ruins were, instead, redesigned by Italian architect Renzo Piano, who brought it back to life as an open air performance venue. It reopened in 2013 under the name Pjazza Teatru Rjal.

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Other popular Historical places to visit in Valletta, Malta 

We shall now discuss the numerous places which one should visit in Valletta, Malta.Our Lady of Victories Church, Valletta, Malta

The first church, and building built in Valletta, Malta was the Our Lady of Victories church (formerly known as the Saint Anthony the Abbot Church), a testament of their faith and victory over the Turks in the Great Siege that had occurred previously. 

Interestingly, it was built on the spot where a religious ceremony was held to introduce the laying of the foundation stone of the new city of Valletta Malta on 28th March 1566

St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta

A stay in Malta’s capital is not complete without a visit to St John’s Co-Cathedral Malta. This is a Roman Catholic co-cathedral dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. 

It is considered one of the finest examples of high Baroque architecture in Europe, as well as one of the world’s great cathedrals. 

This is called a Co-cathedral because it shares the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Malta along with the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Mdina. This was a project commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere to serve as the church for the Order of the Knights of St John. 

The façade is hedged by two towers, the one on the right containing three clocks – showing the time, day of the week and date. Under the clocks is a balcony containing three coat of arms. 

One is of Grand Master La Cassiere, who paid for the building, one is of Bishop Torres, who opened the Cathedral and the third is the coat of arms of religion.

The Cathedral consists of nine eloquently decorated chapels on either side; eight were constructed for each of the langues of the Knights of St John, and the ninth is dedicated to their patron saint, Our Lady of Philermos. 

One shouldn’t be fooled by its simple, austere looking baroque facade. St. John’s Cathedral has a lot to offer. 

The co-Cathedral holds impressive Baroque frescos, lifelike statues, embellished marble floors, and stunning painted vaulted ceilings adorned by the well-known Italian Baroque artist, Mattia Preti. The floor is also covered with memorials for the dead knights with colorful inlaid marble.

 Apart from this, the Co-Cathedral oratory also holds one of the most internationally recognized paintings known as ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’. It is also the only one which contains his signature. 

Hastings garden, Valletta, Malta

Hastings is a stunning garden which often goes overlooked. Located on top of the bastions, this embellished garden offers spectacular views. 

The fact that this particular garden is often overlooked means there are advantages to those who go there. Less people means there is always a free bench to sit on. The views are stunning.

One can find many views from this particular garden that are to-die-for. On one side, you can admire the newly restored Triton Fountain, located just outside the City Gate of Valletta, Malta. On the other side, you get a lovely view of Floriana, Manoel Island, Msida, Sliema, and Marsamxett Harbour. 

Inside the garden is a monument erected by the Hastings’ family in honor of Francis, Marquis of Hastings who was a governor of Malta.

Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens, Valletta, Malta 

If you’re looking for an area with the most impressive panoramic views on the island, this is the place to beat. 

Created in 1661, these gardens were actually the private gardens of the Knights of the langue of Italy, whose auberges lie very close by. It was only in 1824 that the gardens were opened to the public.

The gardens themselves home a collection of statues and monuments which are a testament to a number of events in Maltese history. 

The most noteworthy being a bronze piece by famous Maltese sculptor, Antonio Sciortino. This is known as ‘Les Gavroches’, and it depicts three children rushing forward. 

This statue is a personification of the the extreme hardships the Maltese population had to face at the turn of the 20th century.

Grand master’s Palace, Valletta, Malta

One of the earliest, and most breathtaking structures built is the Grandmaster’s Palace. This is a masterpiece which is located in the centre of Valletta, Malta.

Although the original Palazzo was designed by Gelormu Cassar, a number of Grandmasters each made it their own as they deemed fit as it was used as their official residence. 

In fact, this palace always hosted the government in Malta. Starting from the Knights, all the way to the current president (as his office), as well as the House of Representatives.

It also houses a number of spectacular works of art, such as frescoes, tapestries, as well as an Armoury.

Auberge de Castille Valletta, Malta

The Auberge de Castille is located at the highest spot of Valletta Malta, facing a wonderful view of Floriana and the Grand Harbor. 

Originally, the auberges were intended as the residences of knights who did not have a home of their own in Malta. 

Auberge de Castille was the official seat of the Knights of the Langue of Castille, Léon and Portugal. 

Throughout the ages, this particular auberge served as a home for the french, and British armed forces. Today, the auberge hosts the Office of the Maltese Prime Minister. The auberge was initially built in a more Mannerist and austere style. This was considered as one of the most innovative designs of the respected architect Girolamo Cassar in 1574.

The appearance of the Auberge today dates back to the 1740s, when Manuel Pinto da Fonseca was in the Grand Master’s position.

At this time, it received a design make-over, in favor of a more Baroque style with its amazingly decorated facades.

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Book Our Hotel With One Stop Away From Valletta, Malta

As previously discussed, Valletta Malta has been shaped, and molded by over 450 years of history, spanning a variety of foreign rulers.

ST Hotels is in Sliema, Malta – and is one stop away from Valletta Malta. Book a room at BluBay Apartments Malta to have a truly pleasant experience, together with a friendly service.

Are you interested in Sliema, Malta rather than Valletta Malta? If so, then read our article about the capital city of tourism.

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