Valletta is Malta’s capital city, known amongst the Maltese as ‘Il-Belt’, meaning The City. Valletta is a historic walled citadel located in the central part of the island and built by the knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights of Malta or the Knights Hospitaller.
The city’s official name was Humilissima Civitas Valletta, which meant the most humble city of Valletta. It was named after the Grand Master Jean Parisot de La Valette, who managed to defend the island from the Ottoman invasion in 1565. Grand Master La Valette died in 1568 and never saw the completion of his city. His remains today rest in St John’s Co-Cathedral, amongst tombs of other Grand Masters of the Order.
Francesco Laparelli was the city’s principal designer and his plan departed from medieval Maltese architecture, which exhibited irregular winding streets and alleys. This city was design on a rectangular grid to house wide and straight streets, beginning centrally from the city gate and leading to Fort Saint Elmo and the Mediterranean Conference Centre. The Mediterranean Conference Centre was formerly the Sacra Infermeria, which was amongst the most renowned hospitals during the Renaissance period.
This beautiful city prides itself of two natural harbours, Marsamxett and the Grand Harbour. Today, the Grand Harbour is used as Malta’s major port where cruise liners can dock by the Valletta Waterfront Terminal,also known as Pinto Wharf because it was built by the Grandmaster Manuel Pinto de Fonseca. These harbours are surrounded by bastions, which enclose the city and were built as fortifications of the port by the Knights. The fortifications were built as an amazing series of bastions, demi-bastions, ravelins and curtains, approximately 100 metres (330 ft) high.
After the Knights’ departure and the brief French occupation, building projects in Valletta resumed under British rule. These projects included widening gates, demolishing and rebuilding structures, widening newer houses over the years, and installing civic projects.
The city today is characterised by its Baroque buildings with an infusion of Mannerist, Neo-classical and modern architecture. In 1980, the City was recognised as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. Throughout the second World War, the city suffered various raids that caused destruction. The Royal Opera House, constructed at the entrance of the city in the 19th century was amongst the buildings that was severely damaged by these raids.
The city is the island’s principal cultural centre and has an amazing collection of churches, palaces and museums that attract visitors all year round. In 1830, Benjamin Disraeli described Valletta as the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen. Today,visitors are spoilt for choice with places to visit including St John’s Co Cathedral , which boasts of the only signed work and largest painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
Other attractions include the Auberge de Castille et Leon, formerly the official seat of the Knights of Malta and today the office of the Prime Minister of Malta. The Magisterial Palace was formerly the seat of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta and today houses the Maltese Parliament and offices of the President.
The National Museum of Fine Arts is found at the Rococo palace and was built in the late 1570s, serving as the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet of the Royal Navy during the British era . Manoel Theatre was constructed in 1731 by order of Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, and is one of the oldest working theatres in Europe.
Valletta today remains a captivating city for many visitors surrounded by magnificent views with formidable fortifications, possibly the best medieval fortifications in the world, and still almost entirely intact.