Walls, gateways & gardens, Valletta
Valletta, built by seafaring foreigners, has been placed strategically to take advantage of the shoreline and be protected from an attack coming from the sea. The town is perched on an elevated rock roughly rectangular in shape and surrounded by the sea in three sides. The opposite shores across the bays are curvy with coves and even an island – perfect features for extra fortifications to back up the main stronghold of Valletta. Any belligerent adversary who would attempt an attack by sea would be exposed to a crossfire coming from both sides of the inlets surrounding the town. To grasp better the extraordinary geography of the place and understand its value in terms of naval defence one has to do the “tour” of the walls. Superb views of Valletta’s suburbs, to the north and to the south, line up in front of the spectator. The only thing in need is good weather so the panoramic pictures turn out brightly coloured with the infinitely blue waters and skies juxtaposed to the tender ochre of the land and buildings.
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.
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.
Named after Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria in celebration of his first visit to Malta in 1858. The Duke of Edinburgh planted a Araucaria Excelsa tree in the centre of the courtyard and during his visit, the castle was lit for the first time using gas.
The upper Barakka Gardens is set high above the Grand Harbour behind the ramparts and fortifications; It was created in 1661 by an Italian Knight called Flaminio Balbiani as a retreat for the knights. It consists of some flower beds, trees and memorials surrounded by an arcaded section and much of it is the original design although it's arcaded section was originally roofed until 1775 when some Knights were meeting there to plot against Grand Master Ximenes de Taxada, he ordered the roof to be stripped off as a symbolic warning..
The views over the Grand Harbour and the trees Cities are fantastic. It is also the home to the Saluting Battery and to the Noon Day Gun which is a large Cannon fired at midday, It was our main reason for visiting the Gardens and we stood over the saluting Battery waiting for somebody to come out and fire a gun! At just turned Midday the was a loud boom from behind us and it was at this point when we and quite a few other people realised that the Midday gun was although still in the Barrakka Garden, not a part of the saluting battery and so if you want to see it not just hear it don't do what we did and follow the signs for the saluting battery when you enter but turn right where it is sign posted free transport to the Malta at War museum and that is where you will find the large cannon that is fired by some men dressed in colonial period costume.
For a pleasant break from sightseeing, visit the Upper Barrakka Gardens (Il-Barrakka ta' Fuq) just near the Auberge de Castille and the Place de Castille. The gardens certainly gave us a peaceful interlude because of the tranquility and quietness which enveloped them.
A lovely, large circular fountain was one of the many man-made attractions. Paths meander through the garden which also nicely displays works of art such as the notable "Les Gavroches" ("Street Urchins") by an early 20th century Maltese sculptor which depicts "three children hurrying forward, the idea behind this statue was the extreme hardship faced at the turn of the 20th century." Walking through the gardens you will also find "busts, statues and plaques that chart various personalities and other significant events in Maltese history."
An expansive rectangular area bound walls with arched openings forms a sort of open-air pavillion. The far end contains a preserved, fluted column. A plaque on one wall placed nearby there reads: "In Memory of Their Comrades Who Have Fallen During the Siege of Malta 1940-1943." This is obviously a place of great solemnity and remembrance. It sits right at the edge of the gardens and near to the overlook of the embankment which provides some of the most wonderful views across the Grand Harbour and over to the Three Cities. It's quite beautiful.
A special attraction: Every day at noon, cannons are fired from the "Gun Saluting Battery" which is located just one level below the terrace of the rectangular pavillion. This gives visitors a marvelous view of this daily ceremony for free. However, if you'd like to be nearer, then descend to the Gun Saluting Battery which you can reach from inside Barrakka Gardens.
For a small fee you can descend to the Gun Saluting Battery at around 11:00 am. A volunteer dressed in gallant military style will take your admission fee and direct you on to the Battery area.
The origins of the Upper Barrakka Gardens go back to 1661, when it was a private garden of the Italian Knights, whose inns of residence (auberges) lie close by. It was not until 1824 that Barrakka Gardens became a public garden. Unfortunately, during WWII the garden suffered much destruction just as the nearby Auberge de Castille, and even more so the Opera House which was totally destroyed.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens were built on top of a demi-bastion and are adorned by several statues and monuments. However I doubt that people come here for the gardens but rather for the stunning view of the Grand Harbour – possibly the town’s best view of it.
If you arrive at midday you can watch (and hear) the Noon-day Gun fired from the Gun Saluting Battery which is located one level below the gardens. The view and the noise are free, but in case you are interested in seeing how the cannons are charged and fired, at 11-ish you can pay to descend to the battery level and see the whole show from up close.
Built by the Knights of the Order of St John, the gardens are on the highest point of the 16th-century bastion walls. Here you'll find a fountain surrounded by plants & trees, it's a pleasant place to sit & relax. From the gardens terrace there are spectacular views of the Grand Harbour & The Three Cities.
Valletta's large city gates have changed much over the years. The current Gate, the fourth to be built was erected in 1964 and stand as triumphal arches giving entrance to the City from what is termed the Bus Station (a large area dominated by a waterfall and were all the bus's from the island end up.