Valletta

Valletta
Photo by Els Slots.

The City of Valletta is an ideal Renaissance city founded by the Knights Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

The Order ruled from here from 1565 on for over two centuries and created a late Renaissance city within city walls to withstand the Turks. Hundreds of civil, religious and military monuments from the 16th century remain, as does the uniform urban plan.

Community Perspective: Valletta is an easy city to walk around, but it does have hills. Highlights include St John’s Co-Cathedral and the Upper Barakka Gardens, which overlook one of the greatest natural harbours of Europe. James recommends the recently opened underground tour of the tunnels that lie beneath the city.

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James Bowyer

United Kingdom - 19-Nov-23 -

Valletta by James Bowyer

Other reviewers have spoken about the highlights of Valletta: the magnificent interior of St John’s Co-Cathedral (despite its plain exterior), the hilly grid layout with many Baroque buildings, and the spectacular view of the Grand Harbour from Upper Barrakka Gardens. One aspect that has not been mentioned, probably because it only opened in 2021, is the tour of underground Valletta. For 15€, one can join a tour of the tunnels that lie beneath the city. The tour begins from MUŻA, the art museum located in the Baroque building that was the Auberge d’Italie. There are several such auberges throughout Valletta, each of which hosted knights of the Order of St John from the various countries. The Auberge de Castille is the grandest of these, housing Maltese government offices, whilst the Auberge de Provence is now host to the National Archaeology Museum, well worth visiting as it includes artefacts from Malta’s two other WHS, the megalithic temples and the Hypogeum. Returning to the underground tour, after a short wait in MUŻA’s courtyard, each of our group of ten or so was given a hardhat fitted with flashlight and then led out through the streets to the entrance to the underground, hidden amidst the tables of an unassuming restaurant.

The tunnels here were built at the same time as the city above in the 16th Century to help survive any future sieges after their successful defence against the Ottomans in 1565. In World War II, the city and its strategic harbour came under heavy bombardment from Germany and Italy and the local population expanded the original tunnels, widening them and adding additional chambers in which to live during air raids. Many of these chambers are decorated with roof tiles taken from the destroyed buildings above (see picture attached). There are also religious carvings as well as war-themed graffiti, including depictions of bombers and the Führer himself. The tour takes you through several of these tunnels as well as an old empty water cistern before ending in a much larger empty reservoir with many dangling tree roots. Such chambers would have held the water for Valletta’s many fountains, most of which sadly no longer seem to exist. The tour exits outside the cathedral’s main entrance but not before a ten-minute video that repeats much of what the tour guide has already said over muffled speakers. This was the low point of what was otherwise an interesting experience, particularly as there is no where to sit and, by the end, the warm humidity of the tunnels becomes an annoyance. The tour’s website states that Valletta “cannot be fully appreciated without experiencing what lies beneath it”, which is clearly false but it does offer a new perspective on a city that has so much history.


Jay T

USA - 25-Mar-20 -

Valletta by Jay T

The City of Valletta is an incredible sight when arriving by boat, as sandy fortress walls rise up from the harbor, topped with gardens, church domes and spires, and tiers of balconied houses. When the sun hits the city, it is a beauty to behold.

Valletta, like Malta's other two World Heritage Sites, is among the oldest sites on the UNESCO list. I visited the site in late November 2019, but since I had only a limited amount of time on shore and I had a plan to visit all three Maltese World Heritage Sites, I was not able to devote as much time to the city as I had wanted (and it didn't help that I bled time by taking the wrong bus to the Hypogeum). Consequently, I was unable to visit St. John's Co-Cathedral, for which I know I need to return. That said, I did attend an evening service at the Collegiate Parish Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck, which has an exquisite interior and relics related to St. Paul, who, as the name implies, was shipwrecked on Malta.
Both the Upper Barrakka Gardens and the Lower Barrakka Gardens were beautiful to stroll through, and I enjoyed wandering the streets all decorated for Christmas. Unfortunately there were some protests underway against the Maltese government when I visited, so some of the area around Parliament and the Auberge de Castile, which houses the Prime Minister's office, was closed off.

Valletta is most famous for being the home of the Order of St. John, or the Knights of Malta. Earlier in my trip I'd visited locations associated with this order, including the keyhole view of the Vatican from the Priory of the Knights of Malta on Aventine Hill in Rome, as well as the medieval city of Rhodes in Greece. The Grandmaster's Palace, which was formerly home to the head of the Order of St. John but is now home to the President of Malta, would have made a great visit to tie all of the sites together. However, like St. John's Co-Cathedral, the timing did not work out, and I will have to return to see the inside of the palace. Even though I did not get to see as much of Valletta as I would have liked, I was still very charmed by what I saw, and I am sure I will be back some day.

Logistics: Valletta is an easy city to walk around, but it does have hills. An elevator connects the port with the Upper Barrakka Gardens, while buses serving the island can be found at the plaza in front of the impressive City Gate.


Tom Livesey

United Kingdom - 28-Jul-15 -

I went to Malta on a last-minute whim over New Year 2014/15. After a lovely fireworks display at midnight, the weather was terrible on 1st Jan - raining all day. We managed to explore the small city of Valletta when the sun came out over the next few days, basing ourselves in an Airbnb apartment right in the centre.

Valletta is south of two African capitals: Tunis and Algiers – making it one of the most southerly reaches of Europe. It has a fascinating history, having been ruled by a who's who of civilisations since Antiquity.

St John’s Co-Cathedral was a highlight for me, notable for housing two of the finest paintings from Caravaggio’s oevre. The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist is said to be the first depiction of a ‘tragedy’ in post-Classical art.

On a different note, I regret to inform Paul Tanner that Malta's buses are no longer so characterful - they have been replaced by boring green Arriva buses of the sort you might find in Wales.


Clyde

Malta - 07-Sep-12 -

Valletta by Clyde

I used to live quite close to this WHS. I believe Valletta, Malta's capital city, is a treasure trove of history and culture built by the Knights of St. John. The natural harbour with its fortifications and bastions are best seen from sea preferably with the smaller boats known as Luzzu or Latini boats which are ideal to go deeper in all the creeks. Don't miss Caravaggio's Beheading of St. John in the Cathedral and the magnificent view overlooking the Grand Harbour from the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens.


Klaus Freisinger

Austria - 01-Oct-10 -

Valletta has only 6,000 people and is the EU's smallest capital city, but it makes up for that with a huge number of great buildings and fortifications unmatched by much larger cities. The best sight is St.John's Co-Cathedral - unremarkable from the outside, but pure Baroque splendour on the inside. Other interesting sights include the Grand Master's Palace, the Upper Barakka Gardens, the Archaeology Museum and the two harbours on each side of the peninsula Valletta occupies (a harbour cruise is not to be missed). The city is so small that all sights can easily be reached on foot, but it can still take quite a while, because on any given day, thousands of cruise-ship passengers crowd the streets.


Andy Eugenio

originally Philippines, now Memphis, TN in the USA - 13-Nov-08 -

Valetta was the first stop of our 7-day Mediterranean Cruise. While on the ship, we were advised to wake up early before it docks on the port because it is the most wonderful scenery during the trip. I was so glad I did. Just before sunrise, I positioned myself to a very vantage point on the upper deck to discover a sight never seen before. It was really magnificent as we approached the port and although I took a lot of pictures, I can still visualize in my mind the very wonderful sight I saw. And that was just the beginning. Although we didn't go very far, our stopover was well worth it. We were supposed to do a city bus tour but we ended up hopping into a cab and asked to be taken to the bus station where we came to a very good place to start our walking tour. It was a holiday then and school children were out with their parents. Just walking around gave us a lot of pleasure seeing the locals and lots of tourists as well. Plenty of shopping opportunities but I opted not to spend on anything. On the way back to the ship, we walked exploring the steep steps going down. We didn't have enough time to go inside the St. John's Cathedral, but what we saw was enough to wet our appetite to see more next time we decide to tour this place again.


Solivagant

UK - 09-Jan-06 -

Valletta by Solivagant

Like many tourists, we first reached Valetta at its bus terminus just outside the city gate. Maltese buses are (were?) wonderful decorated and lumbering creatures but the diesel fumes, noise and general chaos did not seem to augur well. However, once through the walls, we found a delightful place. It is of an ideal size for exploring on foot, (but be ready for the “streets of steps” – it is rather hilly). Almost every building seems “old” albeit that many appear to need a bit of tender care and restoration!! Many have stone or wooden balconies which are typically “Maltese” and differentiate this city from others in the Mediterranean. The city’s position on a promontory between 2 arms of its wonderful harbour provides great views. We visited it on a short stopover on the way to/from Libya and it had to compete with the all other sights of Malta in 2 full days. Often we feel that we have given a city too long but just over half a short winter’s day was, unfortunately, not enough in this quite small city – we didn’t even have time for a harbour cruise or to visit the museum. As a result it joins my list of cities which I don’t feel I adequately explored but which, regrettably, are in locations which, given all the other places to see in this world, don’t have enough other attractions to take us back – perhaps in later retirement!


Els Slots

The Netherlands - 12-May-05 -

Valletta by Els Slots

The city of Valletta is one of the early WHS (1980), usually a good omen (together with matching criterium 1, a masterpiece of human creative genius, which Valletta also does). Only 7000 people live here, in this fortress city.

In the early evenings, I found the best time to roam around this city's streets. It's cooler and quieter then, and the shade and the descending sun do some marvelous things with the narrow streets and the monumental houses.

One thing not to be missed is the Cathedral. Not too spectacular on the outside, but with an amazing interior. Every wall and pillar is decorated with thick, curly ornamentation. Its floor consists of elaborately painted marble gravestones.


Ian Cade

UK - 01-May-05 -

Valletta by Ian Cade

The small capital of Malta is a great place to visit and I was happy to make this World Heritage Site visit number 100!

The city sits at the end of a peninsular and is enclosed in impressive fortifications. We spent four nights here using it as a base for exploring the country via the unique bus service. The city itself is uniform and surprisingly hilly with streets of steps a regular feature, St Ursular’s Street is perhaps the nicest and contains the thoroughly recommended Asti Guesthouse. The tall buildings are quite uniform however there are a few lovely façades especially on the Auberge de Castille. On the whole Valletta would be a nice site, however it does have two magnificent features that really warrant a visit.

Firstly there are the Gardens dotted around the extremities of the city. The most impressive are the Upper Barakka Gardens, which overlook one of the greatest natural harbours of Europe. These are a great place to just sit and relax and soak up the great panorama. The Hastings Gardens on the opposite side of the city are also worth a bit of time and offer nice views of the fortifications.

The most impressive thing in Valletta however is St John’s Co-Cathedral, as said elsewhere on this page the outside is nothing special, however the interior is spectacular. It is reasonably small but it is perfect! Baroque decoration covers every surface and the floor rightfully claims to be the most impressive in the world, it is covered in incredible memorials to the Knights of St John. This would be enough however the Cathedral contains one more undoubted masterpiece in the shape of Caravaggio’s ‘Beheading of St John the Baptist’. Truly an exceptional Cathedral and one not to be missed, despite the entrance fee.

These two world-class attractions, coupled with a lovely centre and two more World Heritage Sites in the suburbs make Valletta well worth a few days of anyone’s time.


Site Info

Full Name
City of Valletta
Unesco ID
131
Country
Malta
Inscribed
1980
Type
Cultural
Criteria
1 6
Categories
Urban landscape - Post-medieval European
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1980 Inscribed

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The site has 1 locations

Valletta

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