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Valletta is the capital city of Malta. It is located in the central-eastern part of the island and has a population of 6,098. The city 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 and it is named for Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, the gallant hero of the Great Siege of 1565. The official name given by the Order of Saint John was Humilissima Civitas Valletta meaning The Most Humble City of Valletta.
The city is essentially Baroque in character, with elements of Mannerist, Neo-Classical and Modern architecture even though World War II left major scars on the city. The City of Valletta was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.
Despite measuring 900 metres by 630 metres, Valletta is rich in its culture. It boasts of the Grandmaster’s Palace, the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, more than 25 churches, 5 musuems, 5 auberges, 2 public gardens, 2 forts and a theatre. Valletta has two natural harbours, Marsamxett and the Grand Harbour. The Grand Harbour is Malta's major port, with unloading quays at Marsa. A cruise-liner terminal is located along the old seawall of the Valletta Waterfront that Grandmaster Manuel Pinto de Fonseca had built.
The Grandmaster's Palace has always been the House of Representatives of Malta, first by the knights, then the British and now it also hosts the President’s office. The palace is built around two courtyards, one of which is dominated by a statue of Neptune. There are two entrances, one entrance from the recent embellished Piazza St. George and one entrance from Piazza Regina. In the interior of the palace is the famous Council Chamber, adorned with valuable Gobelins tapestries woven in France for Grand Master Ramón Perellos y Roccaf. The other rooms and passages of the palace are splendidly furnished with art objects, old coats of arms and armour. Particularly notable are the former Hall of the Supreme Council of the Knights, which hosts fine frescoes and the Hall of the Ambassadors, where portraits of Grand Masters and European rulers hang. On the basement floor is the Armoury, one of the largest collections of its kind in the world, though reduced to a fraction of its former size by the depredations of the French. Among its principal treasures are a suit of armour made in Milan for the Grand Master, Adrien de Wignacourt (1690-97) and a full-length panoply made for Grand Master Martin Garzes by Sigismund Wold of Landshut. One can visit the palace for free when parliament is not in session.
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 has the only signed work and largest painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio painting depicting the beheading of St John and it 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 extraordinary paving of more than 300 marble tomb slabs (the burial place of several former European princes).
The foundation stone of Valletta was laid on 28 March 1566 by the Grandmaster La Valette who placed the first stone in the Church of Our Lady of Victories along South Street. Among other churches one can find the following:
• Church of St. Francis of Assisi
• Parish Church of St. Augustine
• Sanctuary Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
• Carmelite Church
• Anglican Cathedral of St. Paul
• Church of Christ Redeemer
• Church of the Jesuits
• Collegiate Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck
• Church of St. Mary of Jesus
• Scots Church of St. Andrew
• Church of Our Lady of the Pilar
• Church and Monastery of St. Catherine
• Parish Church of Our Lady of Fair Heavens and St. Dominic
• Church of St. Mary Magdalene
• Church and Chapel of St. Anne
• Chapel of Sacra Infermeria
• Church of St. Nicholas
• Church of St. Roque
• Church and Monastery of St. Ursula
• Church of Our Lady of Damascus
• Church of St. James
• Church of St. Barbara
• Church of St. Catherine of Italy
• Church of the Blessed Virgin of Notre Dame De Liesse
• Church of the Holy Family's Flight from Egypt
• Church of St Lucy.
Auberge de Castille was designed by Girolamo Cassar in 1574 but was later remodelled in 1741. This auberge, situated in Castille Palace, is one of the finest architectural works in Malta, as evidenced by its spectacular façade. Finely proportioned and strictly symmetrical, the building was badly damaged during World War II but was later carefully restored. The building now houses the office of the Prime Minister.
Auberge d’Italie was also originally designed by Girolamo Cassar. It is situated in the upper part of Merchants Street and has a fine facade designed by Romano Carapecchia. It now houses the Malta Tourism Authority.
Construction of Auberge de Provence in Republic Street started in 1571. The size of the building is deceptive, since it is subtly hidden in the decoration of the façade. It now houses the National Archaeology Museum with many fine examples of pottery, figurines, and original carved stones from various prehistoric temples.
Auberge d'Aragon was also designed by Girolamo Cassar in 1571, five years after the establishment of the city. The residents of the palace were initially knights of Aragon, Navarre, and Catalonia.
Auberge de Baviere was built in 1629 as a private house in St Sebastian Street and it was subsequently purchased for the newly instituted Anglo-Bavarian langue in 1784. It has served as an army officers' mess, a school and a ministry.
Amongst the museums in Valletta one can find the National Museum of Archaeology (a display of artifacts from Malta’s unique prehistoric periods), National Museum of Fine Arts (a collection of fine arts, displayed in a broadly chronological order with paintings grouped together by school, ranging from the early Renaissance to modern times), the Palace Armoury (one of the world’s greatest arms collections), National War Musuem (representing Malta’s important military role in the post-1800 period under British colonial rule, especially during World War II) and a Toy Museum (an extensive collection of Corgi, Dinky and Matchbox cars plus other Maltese and international toys from the 1950s onward)
Barrakka Gardens offer a stunning view of the Grand Harbour. The Upper Barrakka garden, especially, is a must. Built on top of a demi-bastion, both locals and foreigners relish spending hours taking in the sights. A number of statues and monuments adorn the gardens, including one dedicated to Winston Churchill. A monument dedicated to Captain Ball is located in the centre of the Lower Barrakka Gardens.
Hasting Gardens are located on top of the bastions on the west side of City Gate. The recently embellished gardens offer a magnificent view of Floriana, surrounding cities and Marsamxett Harbour.
Valletta has also two forts, namely Fort Saint Elmo and Saint James Cavalier. Fort Saint Elmo houses Malta’s police academy and the National War Musuem. It served as a watchtower to both harbours. Saint James Cavalier was designed as a raised platform on which guns were placed to defend the city against attacks from the landside. St James Cavalier is now a Centre for Creativity, hosting various theatrical and musical performances while providing an installation and gallery space.
Manoel Theatre is Europe's third-oldest working theatre and has staged various celebrities. It is now Malta's National Theatre and is home to the National Orchestra of Malta. The Manoel Theatre is a small, six-hundred and twenty-three seat venue with a lavish, oval-shaped auditorium, three tiers of boxes constructed entirely of wood and decorated with 22-carat gold leaf and a pale blue, trompe-l'oeil ceiling that resembles a rounded cupola.
Valletta is the only village in Malta that celebrates 4 feasts. These are the Feast of St. Paul celebrated on 10th February, the Feast of Saint Augustine celebrated on the third Sunday after Easter, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel celebrated on 16th July and the feast of Saint Dominic celebrated on 4th August.
Valletta also hosts various activities and national events organized during the year such as the Maltese Carnival, Our Mother of Sorrows Procession and the Good Friday Procession. The main Maltese public transport system including all buses operates to and from the city, with the central bus terminus situated just outside the city’s entrance.
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