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Valletta! What can you say? Beautiful Valletta, with its golden stone buildings, vast harbour, fine cafés and bars, compact shopping centre, historic buildings and tourist attractions. It has to be a must-see for any visitor to Malta. But this city is so much more than all the above and its majesty represents something much deeper than most people who come here ever realise.
To get to the crux of Valletta’s significance you need to delve briefly into the reasons why it came about. So here goes!
Take yourself back to the early 16th century when the Islamic Ottoman Empire is running rough-shod across Europe, conquering countries and converting them to the Muslim faith. On their way, they invade Rhodes, forcing a bunch of Catholic nobles called the Knights of St John to flee the island.
The Knights found refuge on Malta in the 1530s, where the Pope put them in charge. They immediately set about strengthening its defences ready for an Ottoman invasion. The assault came in 1565, when an armada of about 40,000 Ottomans turned up and attacked.
Helped by the Maltese, the Knights won a hugely historic victory, securing the island’s Catholic status. In defeating the Islamic invaders, they almost certainly did the same for other European nations. Catholic Europe was immensely grateful and sent huge gifts to the Knights who reacted by building a new fortified city alongside the natural deepwater port.
The city was named after the top knight of the time – the Grandmaster de Valette – and it also took his name - Valletta!
This city has often described as a city ‘built by gentlemen, for gentlemen’ and has recently been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site to cement its cultural importance. It is the commercial and political centre of the country, predictably busy and filled with hundreds of shops as well as hosting a vast daily market.
But the one thing Valletta has that makes it truly unique is the sea. It’s built on a lofty peninsula using a grid pattern so you can see the sea from almost everywhere in the city. The sea you see is also very deep, especially in the harbour, which is capable of accommodating the world’s biggest ships … and frequently does.
Cruise traffic is very common and courtesy of a fairly recent development these luxury liners have the perfect place to dock while non-passengers have the perfect viewing platform to watch them do so in the shape of the Valletta Waterfront.
This swish new development resulted from the refurbishment of 19 historical Baroque warehouses that were created more than 250 years ago. This was once where the Knights of St John and European merchants would unload their cargo but is now packed with bars and restaurants and leisure facilities – perfect for the half million cruise passengers who disembark here each year and for anyone else who likes a drink or meal with a breathtaking view.
The city itself is teeming with museums, galleries, palaces, churches and other places of extreme interest, many of which are covered in their own dedicated articles.
Unlike some European cities no parts of Valletta are off-limits, dodgy or dangerous - everywhere is safe. So walk around. It’s not very big and you can’t get lost because, like we said, it’s a grid of streets on a finger of land that points into the sea.
Valletta is signposted extremely well if you’re trying to drive there yourself but beware that parking spaces are hard to find. You may drop lucky, the secret is to be patient. Other alternatives include catching the bus, as there are loads of them that wind up here, or to get on the Sliema Ferry, which is much less stressful than driving and only costs €1.50 each way.
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