LA VALETTA, MALTA – With its lavish architectural offerings brooding over broad squares, Valletta is a city made for walking. Start your visit by experiencing the majesty after the Triton Fountain, a modernist cultural icon guardian the capitals entrance.
Built between 1952 and 1959, towards the end of Malta’s colonial chapter this homage to the island’s seas featuring three bronze Tritons was designed by local sculpture Vincent Apap, who had trained at the British Academy of Arts in Rome.
Today, the monument, which was extensively restored and unveiled in January 2018, dominates the vast square that welcomes the thousands of tourists, workers and shoppers who head into the city every day.
As you walk over the bridge into the capital savour the bird’s-eye view of Laparelly Gardens in the former ditch beneath the city’s entrance. Part of the extensive face-lift given to the main access into Valletta, the gardens feature youthful flower beds, lean decking and ample space where you can stretch and relish some peace and quie. And access is easy, by means of a lift or stairs if you are feeling energetic, situated on the right as you walk into the capital. Back up top, Republic Street the stem which connects all periphery road branches, leads you pass Malta’s Parliament building designed by Renzo Piano and towards the city’s open air Theatre Pjazza Teatru Rjal, which was erected over the ruins of the British built Royal Opera House, more than 70 years after it was badly damaged during the wartime bombing of the small archipelago. An imposing reminder of Malta’s suffering during the period, today, the theatre hosts musical concerts, plays and film festivals.
Further down the shopping Street stretch as far as the eye can see, punctuated by open spaces which have for centuries served as the city’s lungs and meeting spots. Valletta’s 16th century urban planners were at the forefront of innovation. At least 80 years before the auspicious beginings of that Dutch trading post in North America which became New York City – one of the world’s quintessential grid like metropoli Valletta’s city street lattice also incorporated wide public spaces, where the community could come together and build relationships. Today the capital’s arresting squares or pjazes as they are known in Maltese, still serve the same function, fommenting social associations as visitors from all over the globe mingle with the locals who call this island home.
One of this, Pjazza Jean de la Valette, is named after the eponymous founder of the capital and pays tribute to the legendary Grand Master whose drive and determination led to the creation of the city, yet who never leave to see it become reality. His statue adorns the small enclosure situated beside the 16th century church St. Catherine of Alexandria.
Winnowing out the pedestrianised Castille Square takes his name from the Auberge the Castile, a majestic architectural icon dominating this second mayor entrance to the capital. Head to the Upper Barrakka Gardens just off the square for a dramatic view of the Grand Harbour, a natural port, witness to centuries of battle and struggle as Malta tremored under the patronage of the Knights of St. John and the might of the British Empire. This is also one of the most romantic spots to experience sunset.
Moving down Merchants Street pass by Joseph Bussutil, a family run-store where you can pick up some handmade lace, filigree or glass souvenirs for family back home. Turning back onto the main street will bring you to Republic Square, loarded over by a statue of Queen Victoria, through the hundreds who enjoy some respite under the umbrellas and canopies of nearby bars and restaurants barely seem to notice the dowager.
Here Caffe Cordina, a family business established in 1837, incomparable pastries and luscious ice-creams to new visitors and faithful locals, who return day after day for another bite of their kannoli or pastizzi.
Sit outside in the square and order a snack with a local drink such as the citrus soft drink Kinnie, for some well deserved Maltese respite.
Adjasent, gastrobars, bistros and burger joints flank the grand urban space known as St. George’s Square, where children run through waterspouts screaming with laughter. And it is here where Malta’s main carnival festivities reach there apps, ce’ebrated in February, when vibrant floats, outrageous performances and children’s parades inject electrifying colour into the capital. But, before that if you are in the capital on February, stay to experience the heady revelry, attended by thousands on this public holiday celebrating St. Paul’s sheepwreck on the island.
Away from the winter wind, Valleta’s baroque heritage and the island’s dramatic history are also fully displayed behind the imposing fasades of the capital. A case in point, the Grand Masters Palace preens with elegance it boasts corridors breaming with frescoes from the brush of Nasoni – an Italian artist and architect, and features the epic Great Siege depicted in all its mortal finality on the ceilings of the Palace state rooms. Heritage Malta, the island’s national cultural agency, is responsible for the management of such sites ensuring their survival and instilling an appreciation of Malta’s art, culture and history in future generations.
The National Museum of Archaeology situated on Republic Street is also a must see. Apart from the exhibits and artefacts stemming from Malta’s Neolithic period right up to the Phoenitian period, the building houses one of the most stunning baroque rooms in the capital, – the Grand saloon, featuring gilded panelling, with its deep gold shots of red and daubs of turquoise.
To end your day of Culture in the capital, head down towards the front of the peninsula on which Valletta was built, where the 15th century Fort St. Elmo’s stands proud, having witnessed centuries of upheaval. Before your visit, brush up on your history with the Malta experience, situated within the fort’s bastions, a 45- minutes audio visual show giving you a rundownof the island’s 7000 year old history.
Than head inside the star-shaped fort to explore its expansive grounds, the National War Museum and commanding viewing points as the night begins to throw it mantle.
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