The capital of the island is Valletta, which was built by the Knights of St. John after the Great Siege of 1565. Within days of the end of the Siege, the Knights of St. John decided that a fortified city needed to be built. In 1566 the first stone of Valletta was laid and within five years the city was built.
As the home of the Knights the city features many fine buildings and although some were lost during the bombings of the Second World War, there are enough left to impress any tourist.
Situated in the heart of this bustling city is St. John's Co-Cathedral with its impressive interior offering a glimpse of a bygone time. The Archeological Museum gives you an idea of just how important Malta has always been as a settlement, and Upper Barrakka Gardens offers a wonderful view of the breathtaking Grand Harbour. All of these sites and many more are within easy walking distance allowing the English Language Student the chance to experience the historical and cultural life of Malta.
A World Heritage site, the city has a lively open-air market as well as many shops along the famous Republic Street. (See shopping for more details)
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM of ARCHAEOLOGY - Situated in the centre of Valletta in Republic Street, this museum displays a startlingly wide variety of artefacts from a number of sites in Malta. The museum is housed in one of the most important buildings in Malta, the Auberge de Provence, which was also one of the earliest buildings in the new city of Valletta (it was built between 1571-1575).
THE PALACE ARMOURY - This museum contains one of the finest collections of armour in the world. Covering pieces from the main producers of arms from around Europe it also boasts a stunning collection of Turkish armour. The Palace Armoury is located in Merchant Street.
THE NATIONAL WAR MUSEUM - This museum covers the period from the start of British rule but naturally concentrates on the Second World War period. With many photographs of that time on display one can get a feeling of the hardships endured by the Maltese. The museum also houses the George Cross presented to the island by King George VI and also the illuminated Scroll given to the Maltese people by President Franklin D Roosevelt. Situated in Fort St. Elmo this museum is one of the top tourist attractions on the island.
CASSA ROCCA PICCOLA - This 16th century privately owned palazzo is located in Republic Street and provides the visitor with a glimpse into life in a fine house. With 50 rooms, many open to the public, it is a chance to view fine collections of antique furniture, silver and paintings. Visitors may also view the private Chapel, the Library, World War II bomb shelters. Although still occupied by a Maltese noble family there are daily tours at 10:00am 11:00am, noon and 1:00pm.
Republic Street, which starts just as you enter through the City Gate, is the main shopping area with Sapienza's for books, Mexx (Clothing), Chemimart Perfumery, Darmanin (Shoes) and many more. There are also some well-known international Stores such as Marks & Spencer, Next, Morgan, Zara, Principles and the Diesel Store.
Merchant Street, which runs parallel to Republic St., has a daily morning open air market popular with English Language students eager to buy anything from CDs and DVDs to clothing, costume jewellery and bags.
The Embassy Complex just off Republic Street houses Monsoon, Accessorise, United Colors of Benetton, Agenda Bookshop (for your Language Books and Magazines), Terranova and many other small shops. There is a Café/Bar on the 1st floor and also a Cinema Complex where English Language films are shown.
On Sundays there is a large open-air market situated near the bus terminus.
A recent addition to the attractions of Valletta is the renovated Waterfront complex. Here you will find bars, restaurants and shops all beside the magnificent Grand Harbour. It can be reached by walking down from the Auberge de Castille or via a tunnel running from the multi-story car park close to the bus terminus.
One of the best value trips on the island is the 10-minute ferry ride between Valletta and Sliema. The walk down to the ferry from Republic Street takes about 15 minutes and you will pass through some of the old narrow streets of the capital. At the ferry there is a restaurant as well as a café and you can have a drink while marvelling at the impressive Tigne Point development over in Sliema. The ferry lands right in the heart of the shopping area in Sliema and there are many bars and restaurants on that side of the water.
For the most breathtaking views of the Grand Harbour there is no better place than Upper Barrakka Gardens. Near the Auberge de Castille (now the Prime Minister’s Office) the gardens offer peace and quiet near the centre of Valletta. As well as the wonderful views of the harbour you can also see the Three Cities and the enormous cruise liners that usually arrive on Friday mornings.
The cathedral entrance is in Republic Street. Although very busy with visitors it is worth the effort to go inside and view the interior. The highlight of any visit is the powerful painting by Carravaggio depicting the Beheading of St. John. This is the largest painting the artist produced and it is also the only painting he ever signed. It is recognised by many art historians as the most important painting of the 17th century and many would agree there are few more striking paintings in the world. This painting dominates the oratory.
From the outside St.John's Co-Cathedral has a rather simple and ordinary appearance. However on entering the Cathedral it is clear that you are in one of the finest churches in the world. Built between 1572 and 1581 by Gerolamo Cassar it was not until a century later that the Italian artist Mattia Preti transformed the interior of the church with his baroque decoration of the vaulted ceiling. His depiction of the life of St. John the Baptist is quite extraordinary and was painted in oils but onto the stone.
The Co-Cathedral was the church of the Knights and each section of the Knights (called langues and named after their country) has a chapel within the church. Perhaps the finest of the chapels is that of Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre which was decorated by Preti showing St. George and the Dragon. In the chapel of Italy you can see the painting of The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine as well as Caravaggio's painting of St. Jerome. In the crypt there are the remains of twelve of the Grand Masters. There is also one knight buried there. He was Sir Oliver Starkey, an English knight who was La Vallette's secretary during the Great Siege of 1565. Although it is easy to be impressed by the ceiling, do not over look the floor of the Co-Cathedral. Here you will discover the tombstones of over three hundred knights.
Make sure you visit the museum before leaving. There are some fine tapestries based on paintings by Poussin and Rubens and they are brought out into the church during the festa of St. John.
The Malta Experience
One of the best ways to sample some of the history of Malta is in one of the many audio/visual shows the island offers. Among the best is the Malta Experience which is situated close to Fort St. Elmo on the periphery of Valletta.
Housed in the historic Hospital of the Knights of St. John, that is now the Mediterranean Conference Centre, this show brings the full history of Malta to life. Presented on a giant screen and in twelve languages everyone will be thrilled and impressed with this spectacular show.