Streets and squares, Valletta
I hav mentioned elsewhere on my Valletta page that the city was named for Fra' Jean Parisot de Valette, the 49th Grand Master of the Order of Malta, from 1557 to 1568. The Knights Hospitaller were a Christian crusading Order, although they were more involved in care of the sick than their more military minded contemporaries the Knights Templar. The history of the Hospittalers, or Knights of St. John of Malta, as they tend to be know now (they are still inexistence) is to a great extent the history of Malta and Valette is a huge part of that history. He was in charge of the island during the Ottoman Turk seige of 1565 which was successfully resisted. de Vallete is certainly an interesting character and worthy of study.
Whilst on a fairly aimless amble round central Valletta one day in early 2013 (my preferred mode of exploring) I chanced upon the well-executed statue here. It was surrounded on all sides by the predominantly European Union funded building work which seems so prevalent on Malta and looks as if it might be pretty old at first glance but a closer examination reveals the truth. Having studied the lives and habits of the Knights on the island, and indeed back home in London, I think they may have adhered to the Christian vows of chastity and obedience but poverty does not seem to have been high on their lists of priorities. If you are in London and would like to know more about the Order, I really do recommend their Museum which is fascinating.
The Knights were not Maltese at all but came from the noble families of most of Europe and had eight branches (langues) from all sorts of areas namely Anglo-Bavaria, Provence, France, Italy, Germany,Auvergne, Aragon and Castile, Leon and Portugal (all one branch). No doubt there would have been links with the landed gentry of Lombardy as part of Italy, a near neighbour and if you look behind the noble gentleman's shoes you will see (as depicted) that the statue was commissioned and erected here by the Lombard Bank of Malta as recently as November 2012. Yes, I freely admit that I am a cynical man and I wonder what the payoff was. Banks are hard-nosed institutions, not renowned for philanthropy. Whatever the reasons, it is a pleasant looking statue to look at, the work of Joseph Chetcuti and weighing an impressive 700 kilos. Incidentally, if you are wondering what the papers are that he is carrying in his right hand, apparently they represent the plans for the city.
New it may be and the reasons for it's donation may or may not be a little "murky" but I rather liked it.
Like most of Malta Valletta is inextricably linked with the Knights of St. John of Malta, the crusader order that ruled the island for centuries. The Maltese, it appears, are extremely fond of statuary and this tip combines the two. The rather important looking gentleman you see commemorated here is Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, one of the more famous and influential holders of that post and is one of the finer statues in a city full of them.
de Vilhena was born in Portugal in 1633 and became Grand Master of the Order in 1722. At his own expense he built Fort Manoel to guard against invasion and gave his name to the island adjacent to Valletta known as Manoel Island to this day. Indeed, Floriana, which is the area of Valletta outside the city walls, was originally called Borgho Vilhena. The name was subsequently changed to that of the Pope's architect, Floriani, who laid the area out.
The statue was commissioned by another Knight, one Felicien de Mont Savasse and cast in bronze by M. Louis Bouchet. There are Latin inscriptions on each side of the pedestal extolling the virtues of the man commemorated. My schoolby Latin didn't run to a full translation (sorry Mr. Mulryne) but fortunately there are full translations on the wall behind.
So why the title of this tip then? Certainly the gentleman himself moved about a bit in life but I actually refer to the bronze which is now occupying it's fourth site. It was originally at the fort bearing his name in Gzira, then moved to Queens Square and subsequently to the end of the Mall. In 1989 it was moved again to make way for the Independence Monument (see seperate tip). Let's hope they leave the poor man where he is now, it's a pleasant little square.
The telephone number given is a freephone number from within the island where you can get information on the statue and the nearby Lion Fountain. It is available in English, German, French and Italian.
On my first wander round Valletta I came upon a fairly huge open space in front of what I know now is the impressive St. Publius Church and was wondering what exactly the uniformly space protruberances on the ground were. They really made no sense to me. Initially, I thought they were the remnants of old columns but that couldn't have been right as the area covered is vast. Fortunately I happened upon one of the excellent and informative Floriana Heritage trail notices which explained everything.
What I was looking at was acruallyThe Granaries, known locally as Il-Fosos. These were constructed, like so much else on Malta, by the Knights of St. John of Malta and were designed to store grain in the event of a seige. I am sure they proved useful during the Great Seige of Malta by the Ottoman Turks in 1565. History, as we know, has a habit of repeating itself and the Granaries were again called into action during the seige of Malta during the Second World War by the Axis powers when the islanders and their British defenders were close to starvation.
Whilst there is little to see regarding the Granaries (there is no access to them), the open area is pleasant and serves another purpose. It is effectively the mass-meeting spot for all of Malta. It has been the site of three recent Papal visits, most recently by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. There is also an annual MTV music festival.
I happened to be in Malta before and during a general election and politics excites great excitement amongst the Maltese. One evening whilst travelling back through Valletta I saw an absolutely huge crowd in the Granaries, on this occasion neither pop concert nor religious event but a political rally. There are two major parties in Malta and this one happened to be in support of the Nationalist Party (PN) who are generally to the right politically and had ruled for 25 years. I have no political leanings either way in anyone elses country but I thought it would be interesting. To be honest, I was thinking it would make a good tip for VT, which shows how my mind works when I travel! It was an incredible sight and I heard later that the police had estimated the crowd at over 50,000 people, it certainly felt like it and I have included images. The reader may not get the opportunity to witness a mass event here but the Granaries are certainly worth a look at merely as a historical curiosity.
Watched over by the guards of the Presidential Offices in the old Grandmaster's Palace on one side, and flanked by a low, wide portico on the other, St. George's Square lies bang in the middle of Valletta and celebrates one of the little country's greatest achievements: the awarding of the St. George's Cross for bravery during World War 2.
This is the name of the square infront of St. Publius church. This area is one of the most popular open spaces for open-air concert for famous celebrities such as Elton John, Joseph Calleja, Rod Stewart etc. It is also used for festivals, and when Holy Mass was celebrated by Pope John II during his visit to Malta in 1990 and the celebration of the Holy Mass by Pope Benedict the XVI during his visit in April 2011.
I wonder why this religious looking building was out the front of the Church, and lights were done in the shapes of Trees, and the streets were decorated. It looked like it was like this all the time!
After viewing St. Publius Church, I happened to notice what looked like pits in the big square infront of the Church.
Sure enough, they were pits, used as underground silos. They were dug during the grandmastership of Martino de Redin (1657-1660). The grain was imported to Malta and stored in these underground chambers known also as fossae. Not only were they good for grain storage, they also protect the grain from insects, rodents and mould, and be safe during wars and sieges. The fossae consist of the neck of the aperture, the cylindrical chamber and a dry pit.
The Granaries can store 5,OOO tons of wheat and grain, and have been used continually since their construction. They proved to be very useful during the last war, when the island was under siege for more than two years. They are still in excellent condition for storage, but their importance has diminished since the building of a modem above-ground silo in 1962.
These I saw, is the largest number of fossae found in Valletta.
The City Gate is at the end of Republic Street & in front of Freedom Square. It was originally known as the Gate of St George & was the main entrance through the bastions to the city. Later it became Porta Reale & then King's Gate. The City Gate here now dates back to 1964.
This lovely square is situated about half way along Republic Street. The left of the square is one side of the Grand Master's Palace, the backdrop is the Bibliotheca (National Library). The other side of the square is dominated by Caffe Cordina, a great place to sit & have a meal in the open-air.
The city is built on a grid pattern. It's so easy to leave the main streets & find yourself in a beautiful old backstreet, feeling like you've stepped back in time.
The narrow old streets offer both shade from the sun and a break from the crowds. Many of them contain buildings that are visually stunning, especially those with the typical Valletta balconies.
This pedestrian street stretches from the City Gate to Fort St. Elmo. It's the cities main shopping street, full of tourist shops, boutiques, cafes & small shopping malls.
The street is also home to many of the cities historical attractions, such as churches & museums. It was a great place to walk along both day & night as it bustled with locals & tourists.
Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its enclosed balconies, seen on almost every building in innumerable forms and varieties, are one reason its architecture is so special.
So make sure you allow yourself time to wander the streets, away from the main tourist routes, and just enjoy looking at all the possible ways on can construct, support and decorate and enclosed balcony!
I've even made a travelogue of Valletta balconies. :-)
Republic Street is Valletta's main thoroughfare, and it is the islands principal shopping street and axis for a walking tour of the main sights. Before it became Republic Street in 1974 the prior names reflected the city's history - as Strada San Giorgio, Rue de la Republique, Strade Reale and Kingsway.
Once one walks through the City Gate one gets a bit of an "untidy" impression of Valletta at the Palazzo Ferreria. Behind this square one can find the Old Opera House, the design was unpopular as it reflected the imperial bearing of the British Empire. It was gutted by fire in 1873 and reopened four years later. The contenious structure was destroyed by the German Luftwaffe in 1942 and has languished as an eyesore ever since.
This is the central street and central pedestrian zone in Valletta. You can find many cafeterias, tourist shops and museums here. You can also see it from a bit different prospective - by taking a horse carriage :)
The Republic Street is the main street of Valletta. It starts at the City Gate and goes to Fort St Elmo. You'll find all kind of different shops there, but the side streets are also nice, and mostly quieter! At the Tourist Information near the City Gate, you can get free leaflets with recommended walking tours in Valletta (and other cities like Mosta, Mdina etc.).