Category Archives: Valletta

About Malta: Valletta – The Fortress City

Valletta – a fortified city
Valletta owes its existence to the Knights of St John, who planned the city as a refuge to care for injured soldiers and pilgrims during the Crusades in the 16th century. Until the arrival of the Knights, Mount Sceberras, on which Valletta stands, lying between two natural harbours, was an arid tongue of land. No building stood on its bare rocks except for a small watch tower, called St Elmo, at its extreme end. Grand Master La Valette, the gallant hero of the Great Siege of 1565, soon realised that if the Order was to maintain its hold on Malta, it had to provide adequate defences. Therefore, he drew up a plan for a new fortified city on the Sceberras peninsula. Pope Pius V and Philip II of Spain showed interest in the project. They both promised financial aid and the Pope lent the Knights the services of Francesco Laparelli, a military engineer, who drew up the necessary plans for the new city and its defences. Work started in earnest in March 1566 – first on the bastions and, soon after, on the more important buildings. The new city was to be called Valletta in honour of La Valette. The Grand Master didn’t live to see its completion and he died in 1568. His successor, Pietro del Monte continued with the work at the same pace. By 1571, the Knights transferred their quarters from Vittoriosa (Birgu) to their new capital. Architect Laparelli left Malta in 1570. He was replaced by his assistant Gerolamo Cassar, who had spent some months in Rome, where he had observed the new style of buildings in the Italian city. Cassar designed and supervised most of the early buildings, including the Sacra Infermeria, St John’s Church, the Magisterial Palace and the seven Auberges, or Inns of Residence of the Knights.
By the 16th century, Valletta had grown into a sizeable city and people from all parts of the island flocked to live within its safe fortifications especially as Mdina, until then Malta’s capital, lost much of its lure. In the ensuing years, the serious mannerist style of Cassar’s structures gave way to the more lavish palaces and churches with graceful facades and rich sculptural motifs that we see today. The new city, with its strong bastions and deep moats, became a fortification of great strategic importance. Valletta’s street plan is unique and planned with its defence in mind. Based on a more or less uniform grid, some of the streets fall steeply as you get closer to the tip of the peninsula. The stairs in some of the streets do not conform to normal dimensions since they were constructed in a way so as to allow knights in heavy armour to be able to climb the steps.
Fast forward a few centuries and the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen came under another siege; this time in the shape of World War II which brought havoc to Malta. Valletta was badly battered by the bombing, but the city withstood the terrible blow and, within a few years, it rose again. During the postwar years, Valletta lost many of its citizens who moved out to more modern houses in other localities and its population dwindled to 9,000 inhabitants. However, in the last few years many individuals with a flair for unique architecture are trickling back into the city and investing in old properties.
Valletta, the smallest capital of the European Union, is now the island’s major commercial and financial centre and is visited daily by throngs of tourists eager to experience the city’s rich history.
Valletta Attractions
Despite measuring just 900 metres by 630 metres, Valletta boasts over 25 churches, a testament to the centuries-old ingrained Catholic faith of the Maltese. In fact, the first building that went up in the city is the church of Our Lady of Victories along South Street, which commemorates the lifting of the Great Siege. The Co-Cathedral of St John is nothing short of a gem and quite simply a must for any tourist. Described as the first complete example of high Baroque anywhere, it epitomises the spiritual and military role of its patrons. The Cathedral is a showcase to Mattia Preti who intricately carved stone wall designs, as well as the painted vaulted ceiling and side altars with scenes from the life of St John. Among the treasures found in the Cathedral are the unique Caravaggio painting depicting the beheading of St John, the extraordinary paving of more than 300 marble tomb slabs (the burial place of several former European princes), and the splendid vaulted central nave with frescoes of Mattia Preti.
If you’re looking for enjoyable Malta City Breaks, then stay in one of the leading Malta Hotels close to Valletta with its superb attractions, museums, restaurants and shops.
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Malta Events – Rolex Middle Sea Race

The Rolex Middle Sea Race is taking place on the 20th October 2012 and one should not miss the opportunity to make their way down to Malta’s Grand Harbour to witness the start from any of Valletta’s fortifications. This race is a sight worth viewing.
This exceptional race is a highly rated offshore classic and a spectacular event hosting a record of 78 boats in recent years thanks to its Organising Committee who have managed to bring Rolex on board as the title sponsor. This year, in 2012, the Royal Malta Yacht Club is organising the 33rd Edition of this race with 70 participants.
The Middle Sea Race began as the result of sporting rivalry between great friends, Paul and Jimmy who competitively raced in Malta in the early sixties. Paul and Jimmy, together with a mutual friend Alan Green, set out to map a course designated to offer an exciting and unique race. The resulting course was so inspirational that it is the same used today.
The race is considered to be a true challenge to skippers and crews who have to be at their very best to cope with the often changeable and demanding conditions that they face during the race. The race is blessed with unsurpassed scenery, taking competitors close to a number of islands, which form marks of the course. This magnificent race has been recognised all over the world including many prestigious figures such as Ted Turner, CEO of Turner Communications (CNN), who has written that the Middle Sea Race “must be the most beautiful race course in the world. What other event has an active volcano as a mark of the course?”
The race begins in Malta and heads for the Straits of Messina before circumnavigating Sicily. The course then goes on to take the racers past the breathtaking islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa before returning to Malta and features Stromboli’s active volcano.

If you wish to stay informed of events taking place in and around Malta check out our Malta events page.

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A GRAND TRIP – Enjoyable Malta Holidays.

Ian Murray from Hampshire in England spent a fabulous long weekend staying at Malta’s luxurious Grand Hotel Excelsior. Find out what he has to say about Malta and the Grand Hotel Excelsior!
The great bastion walls that surrounded us were no strangers to loud explosions. Five hundred years ago it had been the invading Turkish army that had sought to batter the walls of the city into submission during The Great Siege of Malta.
The arsenal that was rattling the windows of our balcony hotel room was, mercifully, less lethal, but none the less spectacular. Malta was hosting an International Fireworks Festival, and night after night the skies above Valletta, its Grand Harbour and surrounding sister walled cities, were ablaze with tremendous displays of fire, colour and noise. However, safe as we were, it was still comforting that our hotel, the aptly named Grand Hotel Excelsior, was built into the very bastions created by the Knights of St John to ensure the fleets of their great enemy never captured this outpost of Christianity.
Today The Grand Hotel Excelsior ‘sails’ majestically out from the bastion walls itself. Designed to look like a cruise ship, it skillfully blends the ancient walls with a very modern, yet stylish link to the surrounding sea. And this was more than just a nod to the glamour and comfort of the cruise industry, as we were to discover.
Malta has become extremely easy to reach thanks to new flights with Ryanair from Bournemouth Airport. Thursday morning departures with returns early on Monday morning create the ideal long-weekend break. With flights just under three hours and a 9.45am lift off we were by the hotel pool basking in the warm Maltese sunshine by mid-afternoon. Bliss. The Grand Hotel Excelsior sits on the waterfront facing onto Valletta’s second harbour.
Until four years ago it stood abandoned and run-down – almost impossible to understand for such a beautiful spot.
Bought by Hampshire hotel entrepreneurs the Elliot family, the hotel was restored, re-opened and today stands as one of Malta’s most exclusive venues. With its own yacht marina, spa and indoor pool and fitness complex, the five-star hotel is already world-renowned. The cruise-ship design is not restricted to the exterior of this beautiful building. Throughout the hotel there is a feel of grandeur afloat, from the lobby’s grand staircase modelled on that of the Titanic, to the wide corridors and impressive public rooms where guests mingle with locals and large panoramic windows open onto spectacular waterside views.
The cruise-theme features again with the hotel’s dining experience. Guests to the beautiful dining room experience a different world buffet each evening. And it is to the poolside, of course that the guests gather during the hours of the warm Malta sun. Set against the ancient walls created to defend the city, the pool is also the site of the Tiki bar where attentive staff ensure guests don’t have to lift themselves too far from their recliners to enjoy a drink or snack.
The pool has views of Marsamxett Harbour overlooking Sliema and there is a steady flow of water traffic ambling past.
Indeed, the hotel is one of the points of interest for visitors using the numerous sight-seeing boats that ferry tourists around Valetta’s waterfront. And a waterborne trip is probably the best way to first experience Valletta and its surrounding cities. Staff at the Grand Hotel Excelsior are happy to arrange all manner of excursions and will also provide directions for the short, ten minute walk along the harbour front to where water taxis will speed you across to Sliema where the larger ferries leave. The tour we experienced cost £10 each and over two hours weaved its way close to the city walls of not just Valletta but of its surrounding fortress cities. Valletta may be some 500 years old, but it is a virtual youngster compared with some of its neighbours. A water tour is, we decided, the best way to gather bearings and decide which places of interest to return to at a later date.
For Valetta itself the hotel is based just five minutes stroll from the ancient city gate itself. Once inside, past the striking new Parliament building still under construction, and Valletta tumbles away on all sides. Always down to the water. The city was created by the Knights on a huge outcrop of rock and for five centuries waves of residents bringing their culture and architectural styles have swept through and sometimes stayed. The French and we
British were the last conquerors. The Germans tried during the last World War but failed, the battle bringing Malta its cherished award of a George Cross for bravery for all of its citizens.
Today Britain’s legacy remains in the form of language – just about everyone speaks English – a red pillarbox here, and old British phone box there. The most popular flags you see flying today, however, belong to the island’s many football clubs. Valletta is a marvellous clutter: a gorgeous mixture of old and new, high culture and everyday folk, exclusive shops jostling for position with trendy bars and street cafes. Yet authentic Malta with its lively, friendly people, is everywhere.
At the Grand Hotel Excelsior tired feet and sun-kissed skin can find its rest from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The balcony to our harbour-view room proved just that added oasis of luxury that enabled us to find even more quiet and comfort. And as the evening sun set before us, the lights from across the harbour turning the seafront into a shimmering spectacle, we gave thanks to the Knights of St John for saving the island for us – and Ryanair for making getting there so easy. Bless them all.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable Malta Holiday, then stay in a top Luxury Malta Hotel on the doorstep of Valletta, the capital city of Malta.
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