Rarely a town rich of history and charm has also such a precise date of birth as Valletta. 1551 is the year when the Fort of St. Elm was constructed in defence of the island. Afterwards architects and engineers were charged to consolidate the defence, which was in great danger at that time, due to the frequent assaults of the Ottomans.
With a contribution by the major kings of Europe and the Pope State, the construction works began, which involved more than 8000 people. The name of the town is a homage to the Great Master of the Knights, Jean Parisot de la Vallette. The Order of the Knights settled into town on 17th March 1571, the year of the Battle of Lepanto. The Knights did not limit themselves to build, but they also called to Malta prestigious artists, mainly Italians, to decorate and embellish those buildings which were at the same time the seat of military power and courtesan life. The city is constituted by a pattern of orthogonal streets with the Republican Street representing the main axle. Valletta can be considered an open-air museum, with so many art works placed one next to the other in such a confined place (1000 mt x 800).
Here are some of the most interesting places which are worthy of visit, all of them easy to reach:
- City Gate: the entrance door to the city, built in 1964
- St. James Bastions: the robust wall belt separating Valletta from Floriana;
- Auberge de Castille: one of the eight auberges where the knights of 8 different nationalities stayed. The Auberge de Castille was destined to the Spanish.
- Merchant Street: the second most important street after Republic Street;
- Republic Street: the main axle of Valletta, and the liveliest part of the city;
- St. John’s Co-Cathedral: free entry to the church Monday to Friday from 9.30 am to12.50 pm and from 13.30 pm to 16.50 pm. Saturday from 9.30 am to 12.50 pm. Closed on Sunday and public holidays. Ticket office:in summer, from 7.45 am to 14 pm, other periods from 8.15 am to 17 pm. Sunday morning a solemn mass in Latin and Maltese is celebrated at 9 am and 15 pm. The church was built by the Knights and dedicated to their patron saint St. John Baptist. Inside the Chapel of Italy is hosted a painting of 1608 by Caravaggio (San Gerolamo) and other fine works.
- Great Master’s Palace: this is the palace of the Great Master, occupying a very wide area facing Palace Square.
- Fort of St. Elm: entry ticket; Saturday from 13 pm to 16.30 pm. Sunday from 9 am to 16.30 pm. Guided visits every 15 minutes. This is the fort which was built to defend the city and the island. Today it hosts the National Museum of War.
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