Walls, gateways & gardens, Valletta
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.
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.
Hastings Garden is a nice place to stop and take some time to look at your map and guide books, it’s lofty position on top of the wall offers a good view of the Fortifications and how they double back on themselves offering a 180 degree firing range. The Tomb in the middle of the garden is that of Lord Hastings, a former British governor who died at sea in 1827.
A look at a map of Valletta reveals that the city is virtually totally surrounded by its ancient walls and embankments. At its most southerly point the dry moat structures, "the Great Ditch" and several bastions continue to "defend" the city. Like Mdina and other medieval cities, crossing of a bridge and entering through a main gate was the one and only way to enter cities built as fortresses.
Valletta's City Gate today is actually the 4th reincarnation of the historical main entrance to the ." Previous versions of the gate have been architecturally more elaborate and considerably more popular and a move has been afoot to replace the City Gate which was built in 1964. The gate was officially unveiled for the Independence Celebration and was originally conceived as part of a project which would have also seen the Royal Opera House rebuilt after its destruction during World War II.
The 1964 gate's Italian Modern design is rather unremarkable but symmetrical with a large entrance flanked by two smaller entrances. The gate is rather unadorned except for two large medallions above the two smaller entrances. To me what is most memorable about the gate is the ocre yellow color of the sandstone and the excitement and anticipation I felt when entering the marvelous UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Valletta!
You mustn't miss going to the Upper Barrakka Gardens. They are situated near Castille Palace and have only recently been restored. From here you can enjoy magnificent views of the Grand Harbour and of the Three Cities or else just relax at the open air bar there. In this garden there are also some monuments, one of them is the statue of a former Prime Minister of Malta, Lord Strickland, but perhaps the most noted one is the bronze monument by Antonio Sciortino that shows three children hurrying forward. It is known as "Les Gavroches" (street urchins) and the idea behind this statue was the extreme hardship faced at the turn of the 20th century.
The staircase in this photo here, at the centre of the garden, takes you to the second part of this beautiful garden. If you look down to this garden you will see a cannon. In the past there were 18 bronze cannons and the Malta Heritage is however working on restoring more cannons to bring them here to their original place, and continue to bring the splendour back to this garden.
For me this is THE must-see in Valletta ... the gardens themselves are nice, but what is the main focus of interest here is the magnificent view of the Grand Harbour, as well as the three Cities. In the opinion of many, the Grand Harbour is one of the most beautiful in the world, and frankly I agree :-) Definitely one of the most scenic spots in Malta.
Not all of them, unles you really want to......but do walk at least some.
Because apart from being a truly stunning achievement (remember when they were built......in the mid-late 1500s) they do give the most fantastic views across the waters either side of the city.
For those of you with an interest in wars and battles, there are also many remnants of gun emplacements etc from the Second World War. Dont' expect everything to be signed, or informatuion boards to be available.............Valletta has not got there yet (hopefully it will, eventually). So get a good guidebook and/or map so that you have at least some idea of what you are looking at.
I found that the walls to the north (facing Sliema) were generally less visited, for some reason.
Go check out the views of Grand Harbour and the Three Cities from the Upper Barracca Gardens. Not only is it free, but there are usually little crowds. Although the gardens aren't too big or really all that spectacular, the views are really what draws people to them.
The Lower Barakka Gardens are a great place to walk around and to chill out in. It offers a magnificent view of the Grand Harbour and the Breakwater. There are two monuments, one dedicated to Alexander Ball and another in remembrance of the Great Siege of Malta.
The Upper Barakka Gardens are just across the road from the Auberge De Castille. We got diverted on our way to them though, becuase we saw the sign for "NAAFI Canteen" and we were feeling in need of a drink (see Restaurants section).
The Upper Barakka Gardens are not only a shady oasis in a hot and busy city, but also one of Valletta's and probably Malta's most famous viewpoints.
When we visited the place was full of locals and tourists taking a break and enjoying the views, and also a newly wedded couple were having thier wedding photographs taken.
Looking over the edge of the terrace in the Upper Barakka Gardens you can see the massive fortifications along the seafront. It's almost 100m down to sea level from here, and it's all lined with massive walls. The scale of the building work is mind blowing, even more so when you consider how long ago it was built, how (relatively) little time it took and how it has withstood the test of time since then.
Turning right at the bottom of the steps at St Ursula Street you come out by Victoria Gate, one of the old gateways into the city. This one leads out onto the quayside, and you can walk along there to the fish market and old customs house and see some old ramshackle but picturesque waterside buildings.
Next stop is the Lower Barakka Gardens and the chance for more refreshments. You need regular refreshment stops on this walk, not only because of the heat, but also because it gives you the chance to just sit and look at the views. Here there was a little corner kiosk selling ices & cold Kinnie, and lovely views across The Grand Harbour and back along the Valletta quaysides.
From here you can look back along the waterfront, past Victoria Gate (which is hidden) and up to the Upper Barakka Gardens (top of picture). You can see how the defences are tiered right down the side of thecliff. It must have truly been impregnable and equally it must have taken quite some building.