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davidx Valletta - A travel report by David
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Valletta,  Malta - flag Malta
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davidx's travel reports

Malta – magnificent monuments and more.

  9 votes
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Malta is small but its strategic location has marked it out for more than its share of history. There\'s not much between 2500 BC and 1530 AD to see but that leaves a mighty lot.

Fort St Angelo
Fort St Angelo
What is to be seen of Malta's history fits mostly into three periods. The first is by far the longest – 3600BC to 2500 BC. On the island of Malta itself there are 4 sets of monuments, the temples of Tarxien, Hagar Qim and Mjandra and the amazing Hypogeum. The oldest of all – and the oldest man-made building yet known in all the world – is on Gozo, the neighbouring small island. Here we find the Ggantija Temples.
The second period is the time of the Hospitaller Knights of St John of Jerusalem – 1530 – 1798, which accounts for one of Malta's two great moments in history, the Great Siege of Malta.. (The St John is the Baptist – not the Evangelist)
Lastly there is the period of British rule, from 1805 to the 1970s when Malta achieved independence. This covers the second great period. For 153 days during 1942 the island was bombed continuously, day and night. The heroism of the inhabitants led to the award of the George Cross to the whole island by King George VI, the father of the present Queen of the UK.
Although the really ancient remains are marvellous, the thing that must strike visitors to the island first is the fortifications, seemingly omni-present, most coming from the period of the Knights. Possibly the most exciting are those of Valletta, a city built after the Great Siege of 1565 to withstand future Turkish attacks – which never actually came. However there are plentiful fortifications at Mdina, the old capital of Malta and at the 'Three Cities' south of Valletta.
Apart from the ferries (to Gozo and across the harbours of Valletta) transport consists of buses, sadly or otherwise n the old bangers many still remember but more modern and less interesting ones. The buses are used extensively by the Maltese and the large number of stops means that it takes an hour and twenty minutes to reach the Gozo ferry from Valletta.

Favourite spots:
In the Co-Cathedral
In the Co-Cathedral
My overall favourite has to be the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, which is like nothing I have seen anywhere else. Photography is strictly banned there but I do urge you to look at the images on Google if you have not seen it. The Hypogeum is not a temple as such but was solely for the purpose of disposing of bodies. The Upper Chamber is not far below ground level and is the oldest. As they ran out of space, over a very long time, they created the Middle and Lower Chambers. Access is by passages not made for people above about 5 foot 7 inches. The intricacy of the internal architecture is staggering.
Much is made of a sculpture of a 'Sleeping Lady' found in the Hypogeum, which is now in the National Archaeological Museum in Valletta. I assumed it would be at least life-sized but in fact it is only 21 cm long! Importance does not depend on size alone.
If you mean to go, please do book well in advance, as only 10 are allowed in one (hourly) trip.

What's really great:
Hagar Qim Temples
Hagar Qim Temples
The Neolithic remains at Ggantija on Gozo, Tarxien, Hagar Qim and Mjandra are all really great. All are considerably older that the Pyramids of Egypt or Stonehenge. In at least three of them there is little chance that any metal implements were available but the consistency of the ornamentation is more than impressive. Who were the people who did this, you may ask. Where did they come from, where and why did they vanish in about 2500 BC. Pass, pass, pass and pass. Nobody knows.
Another must-see is the old capital of Mdina, silent, small, stunning and highly defended. The original cathedral of Malta is to be found here as is the beautifully ornamented Carthusian Priory. The neighbouring town of Rabat contains a Roman House with a great mosaic floor. It is advertised as though there are far more mosaics but is still well worth seeing.

The Azure Window
The Azure Window
Gozo is tiny but packs in enough attractions to hold people there for weeks. I found it worth while to pay to go on the hop-on hop-off bus.
Two places, other than Ggigantja (which I have already covered) particularly appealed. The first was Ramla Bay, a great beach. The very best was Dwejra Bay, where I alighted for an hour until the next bus. Here scenery abounds. There are the Crocodile and Fungus Rocks, the Azure Window (a very large natural arch and the Inland Sea. The last appears like a lake except that among the rocks on the Mediterranean Sea side there is a hole. This is what connects the Inland Sea with the Mediterranean and it is a grand spot for diving, as one of my friends assures me. On good days boatmen take visitors through the cave and into the Mediterranean. Not when I was there though. The Inland Sea, except for size, was more like the Atlantic Ocean and often the hole could not even be seen as huge wave after huge wave poured through.

From the roof-top restaurant.
From the roof-top restaurant.
I stayed for my whole week at the Hotel Castille in Valletta, so called because it is opposite to the Auberge Castille where the Knights from Castille and Portugal were quartered, now the office of the Prime Minister. Its position is excellent. With views from the rooftop restaurant over the Marsamxett Harbour, Manoel Island and Sliema.
Only yards from the hotel are the Upper Barakka gardens where any visitor to Valletta should go for the views over Grand Harbour and the 'Three Cities.' There is a long lift (€1) down to the waterfront.
The beds are comfortable and the water is hot – eventually. The rooms could use a bit more light. Still – the refurbishment that some guests crave would surely put it out of my price range! There is a long view down St Paul's Street from the balcony to my room.

Birgu (Vittoriosa)
Birgu (Vittoriosa)
Not nightlife but a daytime Harbour Cruise form Sliema round Valletta's two harbours and their ten creeks with great views of Manoel Island, Valletta's seaside fortifications and the 'Three Cities.' The cruise took about 90 minutes and was free with the Gozo bus tour – or with either of two Malta tours. During the trip the crew take orders for very reasonably priced hot drinks, cold soft drinks, beer or wine and then bring them.
Outside of the winter season there are far more boat trips.

From Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valletta
From Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valletta
On a very pleasant day there were lots of people hanging out at Upper Barrakka gardens, enjoying the sun and the wonderful views. Just below the top part of the gardens there is a level given over to cannon – named the saluting gallery.
Other fascinating places in Valletta were the Co-Cathedral which lacked all ornamentation for about two hundred years but is now beautifully adorned in Baroque style and the Grand Master's Palace, now seat of the Malta Parliament but with its State Rooms and Armoury open to the public.
I was sorry only to see the Manoel Theatre from the outside but it is not possible to fit everything into a week.

In 'The Cave'
In 'The Cave'
I went to several different restaurants. All were good. I particularly enjoyed rabbit stew, rabbit with garlic and swordfish. I mention three in particular. One was the Cafe de Brazil, near the maritime Museum and the Inquisitor's Palace at Vittoriosa, one of the 'Three Cities.' it is a fast food place but a very good one, small but packed.
The other two are associated with the Hotel Castille, where I stayed. The roof-top restaurant was not open every night in the winter season but when it was I had delicious swordfish there. The other was The Cave, situated in cellars below the hotel, said to be 400 years old.

Other recommendations:
Carthusian Priory, Mdina
Carthusian Priory, Mdina
On the morning of my return flight I had time to take a bus and make a brief visit to Marxaschlokk, a scenic bay to the south packed with traditional Maltese boats and site of a very large Sunday market. Although I actually bought something at the market – a thermal hat for €2.80 – I think t would be better to go on a weekday afternoon and have a less interrupted view of the bay.
Lastly I was impressed with the town of Vitorriosa, locally known by its old name of Birgu and should have liked to have walked to Fort St Angelo there and up to the top of the place – but on a better day.

Published on Thursday February 7th, 2013

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Sat, Aug 31 2013 - 06:11 AM rating by mistybleu

A great report and a very investing read.

Tue, Feb 12 2013 - 07:04 AM rating by louis

Wonderful report about small but interesting country. Malta is on my list to-go places. Your report made me even more curious. Rafal

Mon, Feb 11 2013 - 05:40 AM rating by shervin19

Thank you very much for your nice report.

Sat, Feb 09 2013 - 11:47 PM rating by rangutan

Excellent report of a place very close to my HEART. My attempt to get a job there have failed but I will fly down and seek locally. Like Singapore, cayman Islands and other small countries, the local people have PRIORITY in getting the job. Any tips? RRG

Sat, Feb 09 2013 - 11:19 AM rating by hieronyma

Thank you, David, for this report. You made me curious. I always wanted to go there, but I never made it. Now I think it is time to go. You gave me all the information I am looking for, because, I think, you have to know the history of a place to enjoy and understand it.
Take care.

Fri, Feb 08 2013 - 11:54 AM rating by krisek

Beautifully narrated, lovely photographs, with personal touch - a great report! Thank you, David. It is super to read new material from you. Kindest regards.

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