Whilst wandering around central Valletta, actually looking for the Palace Stae Rooms (see seperate tip), I came upon this delightful little courtyard and learned a bit about it's quite interesting history. It really is like walking into a bit of an oasis of calm here as it is merely feet from the bustling main thoroughfare of Republic Street.
I thought it was just another of the many beautiful little places you can find all over the island until I discovered the plaques which informed me that I was in Prince Alfred's Court so named on 19th December 1858 to commemorate the first visit of Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria, to Malta. At the time he was serving as a junior officer in the Royal Navy. there is actually a long tradition of naval service amongst the Royal Family of the UK as Queen Elizabeth's consort, Prince Phillip, was a Royal Navy officer as indeed was Prince Charles, heir to the throne.
I had been walking about all day and my back was hurting a little so I sat for a few minutes in this calm and enjoyable spot. It is a great little place to take a rest from the rigours of a day sightseeing in the city and I hope the images give some sense of that.
Readers of my other pages will know that I am very interested in cemeteries and specifically military cemeteries. This is not some morbid obsession as I find such places to be hugely informative and of great sociological interest. I must admit, however, that I was somewhat surprised to find the memorial pictured whilst on a fairly random wander round the Floriana area of Valletta.
For those members and casual readers that may not now, the term ANZAC is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, a loose definition that included all servicemen from those two nations during the first world war. The sacrifice of the ANZAC troops on the beaches of Gallipoli (modern day Turkey) has now passed into legend both in film and in the excellent song by Erig Bogle entitled, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. This is a wonderful composition about the futility of war and I do urge the reader to listen to whatever version they can find online, it has been covered by a myriad of artists.
What I had not really thought about was that in the days before any sort of long-distance aerial transport a place like Malta would have had a role in that conflict, but it did as I was subsequently to find out on my visit to the War Museum which is dealt with in a seperate tip. In the central Mediterranean, Malta was effectively a hospital station for the mutilated men of that bloody, ill-advised and futile campaign.
Less than 30 years later, the civilised world again faced extiction from the fascist regimes in Germany and Italy along with the Japanese in the East. Again, troops from the nations of Australia and New Zealand stepped forward and made great sacrifices in all theatres of operations.
Inevitably, with it's pivotal role in the war in North Africa and subsequently Southern Europe, there were bound to be casualties in Malta and there certainly were. The fallen of this are commemorated on this memorial which is somewhat obscurely situated in the Argotti Botanical Gardens in Floriana, a little off the normal tourist beat.
I really was a bit taken aback to find this place although a bit of knowledge on my part should have suggested I should not have been. I have written about the park in another tip on this page, and it is worth visiting, but if you have an interest in military history, specifically ANZAC history, this is something you should not miss.
As I have mentioned in my tip about the gardens where the memorial is sited, it appears to be fairly smooth and therefore accessible to travellers with mobility problems.
Whilst on a fairly aimless wander round Valletta with the intention of orientating myself, I had stumbled upon the Floriana walking trail which I have dealt with on another tip on this page. Trying gamely to follow it, I was led to the Argotti Botanic Gardens which is perhaps a fifteen minute leisurely stroll from the main bus station yet seemed to be entirely devoid of tourists unlike much of the rest of the city. It certainly was a place of tranquility, offering some good views across Floriana and led me coincidentally to the ANZAC war memorial which I deal with in a seperate tip.
It is certainly not huge and not terribly implressive but it is a very pleasant place to sit and rest your legs if you have been walking a while. I would suggest the cacti are the most memorable things here. I believe they do cultivate unusual species here but unfortunately that part of the park appears not to be open to the general public.
The attached website is from the local cuncil and they are to be commended for trying to promote the very interesting portion of the city outside the normal tourist beat within the walls. It includes the information that the gardens were named for a Spanish knight, Ignatius de Argote who was garrisoned here as part of the Knights Hospitaller under the Grand-Mastership of the very famous Manoel Pinto de Fonseca. It was for Fonseca that Manoel island, so called to this day, was named. The good Senor de Argote founded a place that has apparently striven to achieve horticultural excellence ever since, a tradition that continues to this day.
Admission is free and the park is open during daylight hours. Although not an expert on the subject, I would suggest it is pretty accessible for travellers with mobility problems as all the paths seemed fairly level.
My tip would be that if you are on a budget (or even if not) that you grab a little snack from a local pastizzeria and enjoy it in this very peaceful little corner of the city.
Built on a bastion to the west of Valletta's city gates is another fine garden with a vista: Hastings Gardens. From here you can see Valletta's suburb of Floriana, Manoel Island and Sliema. Directly north there is the town of Msida, and if you look in this direction, on most days, you will be able to see as far as Mdina, on a hill in the north of the island. Equally you can see Valletta from Mdina.
An even better vista is just south of the westernmost gate, slightly downhill and in the attached car park. From here you can also get an iconic photograph of the Carmelite church dome and the spire of St. John's cathedral from a dramatic viewpoint. You'll see this view on many tourist adverts, but not many tourist guides will point you here. Probably because it smells of dog wee.
Although lower in height than its twin, the views from the Lower Barrakka Gardens are also magnificent. It features at its heart a notable monument to a Maltese hero: Captain Alexander Ball. He fought against Napoleon's short occupation of the islands, and later became Malta's governor. The monument is like the Parthenon in miniature, complete with titled pediment supported by ten Doric columns.
With some of the best views in Malta, the Upper Barrakka gardens look out over the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities. It's a stunning vista and a great place to visit first in Malta. It was built in 1775 and pays tribute to a number of people and events, on plaques and statues, around the gardens and under the arches. At the far end of the gardens there is now a super modern lift that takes passengers down to the waterfront about 50 meters below.
Standing next to the World War II Siege Ball is the Lower Barrakka Gardens, a smaller garden than the Upper Barrakka Gardens and not as crowded. The first thing you see in the gardens is the Greek style temple with the fountain in front. There is a monument dedicated to Capt. Ball in the centre of the garden.
From this vantage point, visitors can get a good view of the siege bell and of the Grand Harbour and its entrance. It is a good spot to watch ships go in and out of the harbor, sit and relax, read, or visit with friends.
There is extremely limited parking in the area, so I don’t recommend driving to the gardens. It is preferable to walk or take the bus that goes around the walled city.
There are two nice garden spots that overlook the Grand Harbour for a spectacular view, each with similar names – the Upper Barrakka Gardens and the Lower Barrakka Gardens.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens is the larger of the two and provides plenty of shady seats to relax, read, or chat. The gardens have quite a few sculptures and memorials to people such as Winston Churchill and others. One of the nicer sculptures is Les Cavroches by Maltese sculptor Antonio Sciortino, which depicts three boys. The gardens are above the Saluting Battery and its cannons neatly lined up, which are fired at noon and for special occasions.
While we were there, a cruise ship left the harbor and the HMS Illustrious, a Royal Navy light aircraft carrier was in port. From the terrace of the Upper Barrakka Gardens, one had a great vantage point for these ships.
The gardens are not open at night and the gates are locked shut, but during the day they are a pleasure to stroll around and watch the action in the Grand Harbour. There are also public restrooms in the gardens, one of the few public restrooms we saw while in Valletta.
In addition to people, like many places in Malta, the gardens had its feral cats. They just seem to own the place and don’t really bother anyone.
There is extremely limited parking in the area, so I don’t recommend driving to the gardens. It is preferable to walk or take the bus that goes around the walled city. The gardens are next to the Stock Exchange.
The City gate is the main entrance through the city walls to the City of Valletta. The original gateway was completed in 1569 with a draw bridge over the very deep dry moat now called a ditch. This was replaced by a 1632 by a more ornate structure.
It was from the Bridge leading up to the City gate, that I had wonderful views of the ditch and the ramparts.
The ditch is 18 metres deep, 20 metres wide and nearly 1 km long.
This is a beautiful gate is made out of Maltese limestone, and is named after Queen Victoria. The arched entrance has the coat of arms of Malta and Valletta.
This gate replaced the old "Porta del Monte" (named after one of the old Grand Masters), which had also been known as the "Porta Marina." The Marina Gate, only was a single arch, and was built at the time of the knights complete with draw bridge.
In 1884 the foundation stone was laid for the Victoria Gate, and it was opened the following year as a thoroughfare for all kinds of traffic. Vehicles passed through the large arched entrances, whilst pedestrians used the smaller doors on each side.
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