Things to Do in Valletta - page 2
Marsamxett Harbour sits on the north-west side of Valletta and, along with a series of major creeks – Sliema, Msida and Lazzaretto – provides calm mooring for boats as it is protected by the plug of land at Dragutt Point and by rocky Manoel Island, now connected to the town of Gzira by bridge. Marsamxett is separated from the Grand Harbour by the Valletta peninsula but together the two inlets make up the biggest natural harbor in Europe.
The towns of Sliema, Gzira, Ta’xbiex and Msida sprawl into each other along the northern edge of the harbor, while the southern side is lined with the battlements of Valletta and Floriana. A vast, slowly decaying 18th-century fortress stands on Manoel Island as well as the ruins of an isolation hospital that was used in the 17th century to quarantine sailors suspected of having the plague. Marsamxett Harbour is also home to Malta’s biggest yachting marina, which stretches right up Msida Creek to Ta’xbiex.
With a long history as a key port, Grand Harbour is a natural inlet extending along the eastern edge of the Valletta peninsula. Dividing the fortified capital and the Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua on the other side, it is Malta’s main maritime gateway.
Overlooking Marsamxett harbor between Valletta and Sliema on the side of Msida Creek, well-to-do Ta’ Xbiex is Malta’s diplomatic quarter. It’s chiefly notable for its number of embassies and high commissions, all housed in ocher-colored grand villas and palazzi along with an enclave of private mansions. Currently the UK, Ireland, France, Spain and Austria have their embassies here.
A seaside promenade runs from St Julian’s to Pieta, passing Ta’ Xbiex marina, where sleek yachts bob in their berths. Along the walkway there are spectacular views over the harbor towards Valletta and the bastions of Floriana as well as a number of quality seafood restaurants. Standout among these is The Black Pearl, a wooden schooner dating from 1909 and now transformed into a fine-dining restaurant, which once had a starring role in the film Popeye along with Robin Williams.
Msida town was originally a little fishing village but now straggles into smart Ta’xbiex, the wealthy enclave that is home to the majority of Malta’s diplomats and embassies. Msida’s biggest claims to fame today are a prestigious university and the mammoth yacht marina stretching along the north side of Marsamxett Harbour right up Msida Creek. It is Malta’s biggest and most sheltered harbor and the place to head to see the sleek super-yachts of the super-wealthy Euro-glitterarti.
The marina has berths for 720 boats and can accommodate vessels up to 72 ft (22 m) in length along pontoon and breakwater moorings. A cluster of restaurants and stores have appeared around the marina, which following a period of updating is now open for business once more. A sprinkling of traditional fishingluzzus provide a splash of cheery color among the smooth lines of the contemporary sailing craft moored up in the marina.
This walk-through, multi-media exhibition with plenty of sound effects and flashing lights focuses on the epic events of the Great Siege of Malta of 1565, in which the Turks were defeated by the Knights of St John. It also looks back on the history of the Knights, from their formation in the 12th century and their original role in tending to the pilgrims en route to the Holy Land to their reinvention as the quasi-military force who repelled the Turkish invaders. The story of Malta’s great victory is told in a series of period dioramas through the words of Francesco Balbi, a Spanish poet who was eyewitness to the breaking of the Great Siege.
The exhibition provides a great introduction to the events that marked so much of Malta’s tumultuous history and there are plenty of gory recreations of battle scenes from the 1565 siege, which kids will particularly appreciate.
Housed in a renovated 400-year-old fort in the heart of pedestrianized Valletta, the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity (Spazju Kreattiv) has become the city’s go-to cultural hub. While its rugged interior remains largely unchanged, it features an art-house cinema, theater-in-the-round, a small concert hall, and a series of temporary art exhibitions. Summer sees jazz concerts, British comedy shows, contemporary exhibitions, creative-writing courses for children, and celebrations of dance and music. Concerts are also held at the adjacent church of St Catherine.
Built of honey-colored sandstone blocks, the fort itself was built after the Knights of St John repelled the Ottoman invaders in the Great Siege of 1565; this was an era of great construction as the knights commissioned the heavily fortified city of Valletta to be built on its rocky promontory. St James Cavalier was one of the first buildings to be completed, set into the fortified walls and designed as a look out and gun platform to ward off further invasion from the sea.
Over the centuries the fort has functioned as a NAAFI for the British Army and housed the Maltese Government printing press. Its utilitarian beginnings now overthrown, in the years since it opened in 2000 it has become the island’s best-loved arts center.
Valletta's cramped grid of streets boast 25 churches, and the beautiful little 16th-century Roman Catholic Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck is one of the oldest and most important. It’s built on the site of an older temple to St Paul; this incarnation dates back to the 1580s although the façade was rebuilt in Baroque style by Nicolà Zammit in 1885. The church is often overlooked as it is tucked away out of sight. It is currently being restored but the building work does not completely disguise the elaborately decorated interior, which is covered from floor to ceiling with elaborate gilded frescoes and paintings.
The decorative riches in the church were all paid for by wealthy members of the Knights of St. John. Among all the glitter, marble and gilt they include frescoes of the life of St. Paul by Attilio Palombi and Giuseppe Calì, an elaborate altarpiece festooned with silver, by Matteo Perez d'Aleccio, and a vast organ. The dome is covered with Biblical scenes from Maltese artist Lorenzo Gafà.
St Paul is often considered the father of the Maltese, with his shipwreck on the island in 60 AD regarded one of the nation’s most important events. The church boasts two relics of him -- a wrist bone and part of the wooden column on which he was apparently beheaded in Rome. His wooden statue was created in 1657 by Melchior Gafà and is carried in procession around the streets of Valletta on his feast day, February 10.
The Port of Valletta is one of Europe’s most-visited cruise ports, and travelers to this historic town on the northeast coast of Malta will immediately understand why. When you get off the ship, your first taste of the island will likely be at Pinto Wharf, a lively harbor featuring plenty of bars and restaurants.
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