Valletta is the tiny capital of the Mediterranean island nation of Malta. The walled city was established in the 1500s on a peninsula by the Knights of St. John, a Roman Catholic order. It’s known for museums, palaces and grand churches. Baroque landmarks include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, whose opulent interior is home to the Caravaggio masterpiece "The Beheading of Saint John."
Blogger: Cynthia Iskiw
Photographer: Alan Iskiw ©
Visited: May 2016
Massive, ochre stone walls thrust their way up out of dark waters to embrace the harbour and touch a sparkling blue sky. From a cruise ship, this is the first view of Valletta, Malta’s capital, and instantly recalls its storied past as a fortress vigorously defended by crusader knights.
A wander through the city’s narrow streets reveals tall, intricately carved buildings festooned with colourful banners and punctuated by compact market squares.
Tiny shops sell the mouth-watering local delicacy known as pastizzi -- a diamond-shaped pastry stuffed with ricotta or spicy pea filling.
Reminders of the crusader knights can be found throughout Valletta. Starting in the 16th Century, they worshipped at St. John’s Co-Cathedral which continues to dominate the landscape with its soaring towers and sombre, ecru walls.
Visitors entering the cathedral are instantly struck by the startling contrast between its plain exterior and extravagantly ornamented interior. Dramatic paintings, ornate carvings, glittering gold, silver and jewels cover the ceiling, walls and even the floor, overwhelming the senses in an exuberant tribute to the Maltese baroque style.
Amidst all of these treasures, Caravaggio’s darkly disturbing painting, “Beheading of St. John the Baptist” stands out to the eye and memory. Evidence that even knights needed rest and relaxation is provided by a stroll through the Upper Barrakka Gardens.
From high above the Grand Harbour, this colonnaded oasis still offers shade, stillness, and breath-taking views of the surrounding vista. Peace and quiet are only interrupted twice each day when cannons lining a nearby terrace called the Saluting Battery are ceremoniously fired. Passengers on departing cruise ships often delight in this official farewell.