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The Fortress City, Citta' Umilissima, "a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen". Valletta has many titles, all recalling its rich historical past. It is the "modern" city built by the Knights of St John; a masterpiece of the baroque; a European Art City; and a World Heritage City. But these are just some of its faces and fortunes.
Valletta is also Malta's capital city: a living, working city, the administrative and commercial heart of the Islands. Nowhere in Malta is the life of the Islands reflected more than here. The city is busy by day, yet retains a timeless atmosphere. The grid of narrow streets house some of Europe's finest art works, churches and palaces.


The foundation stone of Valletta was laid by the Grandmaster of the Order of Saint John, Jean Parisot de la Valette, on 28 March 1566; The Order (which was the long-time ruler of the city and the island) decided to found a new city on the Scebberras peninsula just after the end of the Siege of Malta in 1565, so as to fortify the Order's position in Malta, effectively binding the Knights to the island. The city was designed by Francesco Laparelli, while many of the most important buildings were built by Gerolamo Cassar. Valletta, hence, is an urban area which boasts many buildings from the 16th century and onwards, but most of them were built during the time of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (the Knights Hospitaller, or Knights of Malta).
After the Knights and the brief French interlude, the next building boom in Valletta occurred during the British rule. Gates were widened, buildings demolished and rebuilt, houses widened and civic projects installed: However the whole city and its infrastructure were damaged by air raids in World War II, notably losing its majestic opera house constructed at the city entrance in the 19th century.

Main monuments

Co-cathedral of St. John

St John’s Cathedral was commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière as the conventual church of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John. It represents the most important works of Maltese architect,Gerolamo Cassar and was one of the first buildings completed (1578) in the new city of Valletta. It was to serve as the religious headquarters of the Order for the next 200 years.
The name, Co-Cathedral, refers to its later, dual role. In the 1820s, the Bishop of Malta, whose seat was at Mdina, was allowed to use St John’s as an alternative see, hence the name Co-Cathedral.
The Cathedral served the Knights not only as a centre of pious religious devotion, but also as the backdrop to state occasions. For this reason, they lavished riches and attention on its building and commissioned the best of European artists and sculptors to embellish it. 
Mattia Preti was responsible for the magnificent baroque interior we see today. He worked from 1661 into the 1680s to complete the work. The earlier interior was probably more in keeping with the austere façade. Preti’s masterpiece is the vaulted ceiling depicting the life of St John. He employed all the techniques of the period to create the illusion of a single, smooth narrative.
Another artistic technique he executed masterfully is the tromp l’oeil effect on the series depicting the ‘Heroes of the Order’ (their history and deeds). Some of the best of the paintings in the side chapels are also by Preti. One highlight is the altarpiece of St George, identified as probably Preti’s earliest work in Malta. The side chapels themselves were allocated to each langues of the Order and are dedicated to their various patron saints.
Preti not only painted the vault of the Church but supervised the intricate and painstaking carving, gilt and marble work of the central nave and side chapels. The carving is done in such deep relief that it appears almost as sculpture.
The most famous works of art in St John’s are the two paintings by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). One represents Saint Jerome in the act of writing; the other, The Beheading of St John the Baptist, was commissioned as the altarpiece of the Oratory adjacent to the Church. Both are key works in the artistic development of this controversial painter. The latter has been called ‘the painting of the 17th century’ by art critics.
The Cathedral’s artistic treasures do not end there. It houses some fine sculptural heritage, notably the sarcophagi of the Grand Masters in the side chapels. The most lavish and exuberant of these baroque monuments are those representing Ramon Perellos, Marc’ Antonio Zondardori and Anton Manoel de Vilhena. Look out also for that of the first Grand Master on Malta, Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam (d.1534).
The marble pavement of St John’s consist of over 350 tomb stones in intricately-inlaid marble; the work of some six generations of craftsmen. These stones preserve the memory of members of Europe’s most famous aristocratic families. Although each tomb stone is an independent composition, they form an exciting and magnificent art work the length and breadth of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral Museum, in the Oratory, houses Caravaggio’s Beheading of St John and a collection of religious artefacts ranging from Gobelin Tapestries based on drawings by Rubens to vestments.

Upper Baracca Gardens

This is one of two gardens, one named Upper Barracca and the other Lower Barracca, facing the Grand Harbour. Both offer a panoramic view of the Grand Harbour. The Upper Barracca Gardens offer the best view since they're more centered and at a much higher level. The garden was the gift of an eighteenth-century knight. The Anglican Garrison Church partly intrudes upon it. The garden is built on top of a demi-bastion. The Grand Harbour side of the Gardens is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. The view of the Harbour from this vantage point is magnificent and many people spend hours taking in the site.
An arcade on the same side gives this area the feeling of a balcony. A number of statues, monuments and plaques fill the gardens. A small fountain full of water-lilies and gold fish is located at the center of the garden. A kiosk located on the south side offers cool drinks, ice-cream and tea and coffee to weary tourists and other visitors to the gardens.
From here you can enjoy unrivalled views across one of the world's largest and deepest natural harbours, Grand Harbour, and over to the Three Cities. Upper Barracca was originally the private gardens of the Italian Knights whose inns of residence (auberge) lies close by. The paths are lined with trees including a pistachio. Below the gardens is a saluting battery which has been turned into a small formal terrace. The busts, statues and plaques in the gardens chart various personalities and events in Maltese history. Of special interest are the bronze group, known as Les Gavroches, by an early 20th century Maltese sculptor, Antonio Sciortino; the statue of Lord Strickland, a former prime minister of Malta; the sepulchral monument of Governor Sir Thomas Maitland, known locally as Lord Tom, who died in 1816. For over two centuries, Upper Barracca has been a popular meeting place.

The three cities
The three cities Valletta Malta tourism

The Three Cities offer an intriguing insight into Malta and its history. Left largely unvisited, the Three Cities are a slice of authentic life, and a glimpse into Malta's maritime fortunes. The Three Cities can rightly claim to be the cradle of Maltese history. Vittoriosa and Senglea on rocky promontories jutting into Grand Harbour, and Cospicua at the end of the creek between, have provided a home and fortress to almost every people who settled here. Their harbour inlets have been in use since Phoenician times: the docks always providing a living for local people, but also leaving them vulnerable when Malta's rulers were at war. As the first home to the Knights of St John, the Cities' palaces, churches, forts and bastions are far older than Valletta's. The local communities here celebrate holy days and festas as nowhere else on the Islands. The most spectacular events are the Easter processions when statues of the "Risen Christ" are carried at a run through crowded streets. Another attraction is the Birgu Festival in October which re-enacts the arrival of the Knights on Malta in 1530. Although renamed by the Knights to reflect their victory over the Ottoman Turks, the Cities are still called by their older names of Birgu, L-Isla and Bormla. They are known as the 'Cottonera' after the Grand Master Cottonerwho built their inland defences. Understanding this name game is all part of discovering a fascinating area of the Islands.



National Museum of Archaeology

The National Museum of Archaeology displays an exceptional array of artefacts from Malta’s unique prehistoric periods starting with the first arrival of man in the Ghar Dalam phase (5200 BC) and running up to the Tarxien phase (2500 BC).
The collection is housed in the Auberge de Provence, one of the first and most important buildings to be erected in Malta’s baroque capital city, Valletta, after the Great Siege in the late 16th century.
The construction of the Auberge was probably entrusted to the local architect Gerolamo Cassar (1520-86). Among the more captivating features of the Auberge is the large top floor salon with its richly painted walls and wooden beamed ceiling. Over the centuries, the Auberge has undergone other architectural changes, but it remains one of the best preserved residences of the Knights.
The building served as the main residence for the Provençal knights of the Order of St John. Following the departure of the Order from Malta, the property was administered by the French during their brief occupation of the Islands. It was later on taken over by the British Government and served as military barracks, a hotel, a Union Club, an auction house and, eventually, as a museum.
The building was inaugurated as the National Museum in 1958 when it housed the archaeological as well as the Fine Arts collection, which is now in another palace nearby.
The first rooms trace man’s early settlement of the Islands up to the temple-building periods using a reconstruction of a rock-cut tomb. The collection includes obsidian cores and the Red Skorba figurines, which are predecessors of the temple period objects and statuary.
The main hall is devoted to temple carvings, in particular the giant statue and altar blocks of Tarxien Temples. The collection continues with representations of animals, temple models, and the remarkable human figures. Of particular note are the exquisite figures of the ‘Sleeping Lady’ from the Hypogeum, and the ‘Venus’ of Hagar Qim.
The last room exhibits some pottery from the temple period, together with tools of flint and obsidian, beads and other ornaments, all of which illustrate the remarkable artistic skill and sophistication of the prehistoric dwellers of the Islands.
To appreciate the skill of the temple builders, we recommend you visit the various sites. A tour of the National Museum of Archaeology is an excellent introduction and starting point for your discovery of Malta’s fascinating prehistory. It is the Museum’s exhibits of personal possessions and ritual objects that really bring the periods to life and bring us closer to the men and women who fashioned them and used them.
Monday to Sunday: 9.00-17.00
Last admission: 16.30




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