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This week's post was a tough one. Talking about cultural landmarks within Valletta could be considered somewhat redundant - the truth is that the entire city boasts of cultural heritage, a matter reflected by its status as a World Heritage Centre.
That being said, I've narrowed down this list to four cultural landmarks that I consider to be the most iconic as well as those that offer the most memorable experiences for visitors of our capital city. I've included a list of some more sites that deserve an honourable mention at the end of this post - so if you're ever in town, be sure to check them out too!
Kudos to the chaps over at Team Stealth Rotors for the drone footage used in some of the images displayed below. For those who are interested, their breathtaking footage of Valletta and its surroundings can be viewed here:
Welcoming you upon your arrival to this old city fortress is a grand entrance colloquially referred to as "City Gate". Whilst there is no enclosure per se, the recently refurbished front entrance to Valletta is as majestic as they come, with a quick hop over the surrounding ditches being followed by a refreshing open space flanked by the House of Parliament on one end and commanding architecture on the other.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens are located adjacent to Castille Place and the Malta Stock Exchange and offer breathtaking views of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua). The gardens were designed as a place for recreation for members of the Italian langue of the Knights of St John, however they have been open to the public since the Order's unceremonious expulsion in 1800.
Other than the spectacular views, the gardens contain a number of historical plaques and monuments (including one commemorating big Malta fan Sir Winston Churchill) as well as a refreshment stand for those eager sightseers looking to quench their thirst in the Mediterranean climate. The gardens also lead to the Lascaris Wharf via the Barrakka Lift which was recently reopened in 2012 - offering a quick means of passage for tourists disembarking from one of the regular visits by enormous cruise-liners.
Last but not least, it is highly recommended to time your visit at around noon or 4pm - the Saluting Battery located on the terrace directly beneath the gardens conducts a ceremonial salute everyday - certainly worth a peek.
Perhaps the most scintillating site within the walls of Valletta is the renowned St John's Co-Cathedral. It was constructed to serve as the conventual church of the Knights of St John, although it was not to displace the Mdina Cathedral for primacy (hence the "Co-").
I shall avoid entering into too much detail here and allow the accompanying images to illustrate the sheer marvel that is this monumental feat of architecture. St John's is the example par excellence of high Baroque architecture with its jaw-dropping interior having been designed by Mattia Preti. Its crowning jewel is an oil painting by the notorious Caravaggio (who served a brief stint as a Knight before landing himself in serious trouble) known as The Beheading of St John the Baptist (seen below).
Graduates of the University of Malta are invited to a mass dedicated to their successful completion of studies during the graduation month of November.
Fun fact: the marble floor of St John's may appear haphazard, but that is no mere floor you are treading on, but rather the marble tombs of over 400 Knights and officers of the Knights of St. John! In addition, the Co-Cathedral contains a crypt that serves as the resting place for some of the Order's most prominent leaders - including Valletta's namesake Jean Parisot de (la?) Vallette.
The epicentre of Maltese performing arts, the beloved Manoel Theatre is reputed to be the third oldest working theatre in the world, having been commissioned by Grandmaster de Vilhena in 1731. Although being a huge success in its early days, the theatre eventually fell into disuse following the opening of the rival Royal Opera House near City Gate. However, the latter's legacy was not to survive long - the building was reduced to rubble following the Siege of Malta in 1942. In subsequent years, the Manoel Theatre was restored to its former glory.
Presently, the Manoel Theatre continues to host a vast array of theatrical productions, operas and musical recitals. It is perhaps most revered for its hosting of an annual Christmas pantomine produced by the Malta Amateur Dramatic Club.
Event listings and tickets can be found at Teatru Manoel.
Valletta simply has too many cultural landmarks to list in a post of this length. However, I would highly recommend visiting the following sites should the opportunity ever arise:
- Aubuerge de Castille
- St. George's Square
- The President's Palace
- Valletta Waterfront
- The Breakwater Bridge
- Fort St. Elmo
- The Lower Barrakka Gardens
- Mediterranean Conference Centre