On that note, I would like to welcome you all to this series of articles on the Maltese capital city of Valletta, written under the auspices of the MUNPlanet City Maverick initiative. Over the course of the next few months I shall be offering my fellow MUN enthusiasts a taste of the history, lifestyle and lesser-known trivia of this idyllic fortress capital. And of course, I cannot help but mention that as of 2015 the City of Valletta has the distinguished honour of playing host to the annual Malta International Model United Nations!
I sincerely hope that this series of articles will warms you up to the idea of furthering (or starting?) your MUN journey in the 2018 European Capital of Culture. Please feel free to comment below with any questions you may have, and watch this space for more.
So, let’s delve right into it!
In the beginning...
It was tough being an inhabitant of the island of Malta in 1565. Western Europe was embroiled in a bitter power struggle with the Ottoman Empire. After being thwarted at the gates of Vienna, the renowned Suleiman the Magnificent sought alternate routes into Continental Europe. During the 1564 Divan (akin to a Council Chamber) the idea of invading the island of Malta gained traction. Formulating a cunning plan to use the island fortress as a stepping stone to further his intentions, he sent forth his celebrated admiral Dragut to lay waste to one of the last remaining Christian strongholds in the Mediterranean.
After being bombarded by the Ottomans for the best part of four months, the sovereign Knights of St. John were finally able to expel their oppressors, in spite of their inferior numbers, through sheer grit and determination. Victory in the Great Siege, as it is fondly referred to today, became a great source of national pride.
Whilst his warriors revelled in their victory, Grandmaster Jean de la Vallette hatched a plan to consolidate the Knight’s grip over the island.Fearful of a repeat invasion by the Ottomans, de la Vallette swiftly commissioned the construction of a city fortress that could withstand the test of time. As for a location, he chose the bare peninsula known as Mount Sciberras, an elevated plateau with undulating surroundings. The site had proved advantageous to the Ottomans, having positioned their heavy artillery atop its spine during their siege of Fort St. Elmo, a strategically placed fortress located across the Grand Harbour.
Pope Pius V dispatched famed papal engineer Francesco Laparelli (together with some much needed cash!) to oversee the construction of the fortress, and the foundation stone was laid on 28 March 1566 … precisely 450 years ago! Sadly, de la Vallette did not live to see the completion of his grand project, although he did lend his name to it.
The Envy of Europe
Over the course of the next three centuries, Valletta flourished as the economic, political and cultural epicentre of the Maltese economy.Tales of the city’s grandeur and opulent décor spread far and wide, with the resulting fame attracting a healthy number of noble visitors. It was during this period that the city earned its reputation as a cradle of the arts.
However, despite its chivalrous pedigree, the fate of Valletta was intrinsically tied to the fortunes of its rulers. The Knights of St. John experienced a significant decline throughout the 18th century, a development that ultimately led to their unceremonious departure following an unforeseen blitz by the French navy in 1798. General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was en route to Egypt, installed himself in Valletta and over the course of six days transformed the island’s political structure to mirror that of a French department. Following his departure, a brief but intense period of hostility erupted, with the French garrison barricading itself within Valletta, where they held out for two years before being ousted by the Maltese with the support of the British Navy.
The Winds of Change
With the British assuming sovereignty over the island of Malta in 1813, Malta’s strategic value became evermore aligned with British imperial policy. Trade flourished with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, however the City of Valletta failed to maintain the dizzying heights of its former glory and entered a period of relative decline.The fluctuating geopolitical relevance of the island left a profound mark on the infrastructure of Valletta; in fact a number of proposals made during the course of the 19th century suggested the total demolition of the city’s fortifications.
During World War II the Axis
Powers wrought devastation to the City of Valletta in an aerial campaign that caused
considerable damage to the city’s architecture – most infamously the Royal
Opera House – as well as the surrounding harbour area. An estimated 3150 tons of bombs were dropped
on Valletta during a single month in 1942.Nonetheless, the resolve of the Maltese people was never in question and
the battered citizens persevered valiantly – so much so that King George VI
awarded the people of Malta the George Cross for Gallantry. The post-war period of reconstruction restored
many of the affected areas to their former glory.
And that brings us to … today!
Today, stepping into the City of Valletta feels a little bit like stepping back in time to the Baroque period. The atmosphere radiates history, and it feels like almost every turn brings with it a landmark of cultural significance.
Valletta has also experienced somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. After being nominated the European Capital of Culture for 2018, considerable amounts have been invested in restoring crumbling infrastructure and rejuvenating long-forgotten hotspots for entertainment. Perhaps the most prominent aesthetic changes came in the form of the City Gate project, which has totally overhauled the aesthetic of the main entrance to the fortress, complete with a state of the art premises to house the Maltese Parliament.
Today, Valletta is a bustling (microcosm of a) metropolis, with thousands of visitors pouring in daily to immerse themselves in the city’s splendour and spectacular scenery.