Malta: Valletta

Valletta was a delightful place to visit. The historic city has a population of only a few thousand but the metropolitan area has about 400,000. Actually, it is one of the most densely population areas in the world. Unlike some of the more exotic places we have been, which were pleasant places to spend a day (for the most part), Valletta and Malta have enough going for them that we could see spending a week or two here.

The city has two deep water harbors, which has made it attractive to sailors for a very long time. Most of the city is built on a bluff high above the harbors. Getting from one level to the other was not easy but lots of options: standard taxis, buses, small electric vehicles, horse-drawn carriages, lots of steps, a very long ramp, or my personal favorite a lift, aka, elevator. The elevator is the dark line almost out of the picture on the right.

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.  Valletta’s Version of Lombard Street or Handicap Accessibility (no longer used.)

UNESCO has declared Valletta a world heritage site for its compact collection of cultural influences. It has been home to humans for thousands of years; because of its strategic location and its two deep water harbors, it has been fought over, occupied, and liberated multiple times. The Allies in World War II used Malta as their major supply depot in the Mediterranean so it endured relentless bombing from Germany and its allies. Because of the gallantry of the people of Malta in the face of these attacks, the island in 1942 was awarded the George Cross by King George, which is the source of much national pride and the Cross now appears on the national flag.

Rulers have included the Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans. The Ottomans tried but failed, due to aid from Sicily. The Muslims were in control for much of the Middle Ages. The Order of St. John, which was the military arm of the Catholic Church, ruled the island for over two hundred years, 1566 to 1798. The French took over, gave it to the British (by popular demand of the citizens) almost immediately. First it was a protectorate, then a Crown Colony, then in 1964, independent. This doesn’t get into the prehistory of the Stone and Bronze age residents. They managed to leave some of the earliest free standing temples and other structures. Some of these align with the sun at the solstice in interesting ways.

So there is much history, archeology, and related museums. Opera is a strong tradition. The Opera House built in  the 19th Century was destroyed in WWII but has now been replaced. Mdina glass is extraordinary.

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A small rocky island, extensively terraced for farming and surrounded by the blue waters of the Mediterranean

Then, of course, there is the climate, the Mediterranean, the wine, and the food. We could spend a week here.

Churches are plentiful. In spite of a long Muslim presence, Malta is almost totally Catholic, and the Knights of St. John were only here a couple hundred years.

From some tradition, almost all churches have twin towers. To satisfy the need of the people to know what time it is, one tower has a clock, usually the left tower. The second tower might also have a clock; one explanation for this is the second clock would be set to a different time in order to keep the devil confused. (A devil with one clock knows what time it is; a devil with two clocks isn’t quite sure and that apparently will keep him distracted.) I don’t make this stuff up.

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One Church per 1,000 Residents

Another theory is that the architect thought the second clock was needed for symmetry. Many churches don’t have two working clocks. Often, it just a painted clock face or a calendar. The one above has the date the island was given the George Cross.

While it was a full day and we saw a lot of the island, we didn’t see everything. In fact, we didn’t set foot in a museum or cathedral. We have to come back.

 

 

 

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