We doubt there’s anywhere in the world that packs quite as much history into as small an area as Malta does; last time we went over the mysterious megalithic temples of its islands, and for today’s World Heritage Site visit we’re going to a city that’s been owned by just about every major Mediterranean civilization of recorded history:
The capital of Malta is inextricably linked to the history of the military and charitable Order of St John of Jerusalem. It was ruled successively by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John. Valletta’s 320 monuments, all within an area of 55 ha, make it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.
Malta’s capital Valletta is a fortified city located on a hilly peninsula between two of the finest natural harbours in the Mediterranean. The Siege of Malta in 1565 captured the European imagination and mobilised the resources needed to create the new city of Valletta, founded soon after, in 1566. The Knights of St John, aided by the most respected European military engineers of the 16th century, conceived and planned the city as a single, holistic creation of the late Renaissance, with a uniform grid plan within fortified and bastioned city walls.
Since its creation, the city has witnessed a number of rebuilding projects, yet those have not compromised the harmony between the dramatic topography and the Hippodamian grid. The fabric of the city includes a compact ensemble of 320 monuments that encapsulate every aspect of the civil, religious, artistic and military functions of its illustrious founders. These include the 16th century buildings relating to the founding of the Renaissance city, such as the cathedral of St John, the Palace of the Grand Master, the Auberge de Castile et Léon, the Auberge de Provence, the Auberge d’Italie, the Auberge d’Aragon and the Infirmary of the Order and the churches of Our Lady of Victory, St Catherine and il Gesù, as well as the improvements attributed to the military engineers and architects of the 18th century such as the Auberge de Bavière, the Church of the Shipwreck of St Paul, the Library and the Manoel Theatre…
320 monuments is an epic inscription indeed! The most impressive of them all is definitely St. John’s Co-Cathedral:
If you like visiting religious buildings you can’t miss this one a richly ornamented in high Baroque. Every corner is highly decorated with 16th and 17th century art. This cathedral is one of the most beautiful you will probably see!
Not only the walls are and ceilings are decorated but also with floor covered with memorials with inlaid colourful marbles creating a rich tapestry effect. Do not miss the Caravaggio’s painting…
Even if you don’t like visiting religious buildings, make an exception for this one — it’s Baroque indeed, and a top contender for the most beautiful you’ll ever see, period; no less than Sir Walter Scott described it as the most striking that he’d ever seen, and who are we to question that authority?
And speaking of those “fortified and bastioned city walls” — check out the view from the City Gates:
Now that’s some hardcore fortifications! And they continue all the way around the city — here’s a fairly typical shot of the Valetta seaside with dozens of those 320 monuments raising their spires over the city:
Valetta is justly renowned as a tourist destination as well as being the capital, so if you’re visiting Malta you’ll almost certainly be visiting Valetta at some point without our prompting — but we’ll prompt you anyways to make sure you schedule a good bit of Valetta exploration time when you visit Malta!