Whatever your thoughts on the European Union, preserving the
history and heritage of this tiny city - a mere 135 acres within
the mighty city walls - is an admirable project, and one that has
put Valletta firmly back on the map.
First, the history. Valletta's perfect harbour has played host
to sea-faring civilisations from the Phoenicians onwards, with each
in turn leaving behind a coating of culture, cuisine and
construction work. This has lead UNESCO, not an organisation prone
to overstatement, to describe the city as 'one of the most
concentrated historic areas in the world'.
Above all, Valletta's main cultural association is with the
Order of St John of Jerusalem - better known as the Knights of
Malta - who, over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries,
created the walls and the grid-based city within, almost all of
which exists today. You don't have to be a history buff to marvel
at the extraordinarily well preserved monuments - 320 in total -
that make the city a near perfect example of late Renaissance city
planning. The highlights include the Co-Cathedral of St John
(complete with Caravaggio's largest painting) and the Palace of the
Grand Master, as well as later 18th century additions such as
lovely Library. That so much of the original city survives is all
the more remarkable given the monumental pounding Malta received at
the hands of the Germans and Italians during WWII.
Away from the cultural immersion, the city has also developed a
very decent nightlife of late, centred around the St Julian area
outside the city walls, and a clutch of cracking new restaurants
and bars within the walls themselves. Best of all, Malta's
diminutive size means that the entire island is within easy
striking distance of the city, including day trips to Mdina or
neighbouring Gozo and Comino; renting a brightly coloured luzzu
fishing boat for the day or taking the new ferry from Valetta
across to the Three Cities of charming and traditional Birgu,
Cospicua and Senglea.