Valletta - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Valletta


Valletta, which is the capital of Malta, has the charm of an Italian city with its many Baroque palaces set on narrow steep streets that form a grid pattern. The city was carefully planned by its founder, Grand Master Fra Jean de la Vallette and the Knights of the Order of St John. The city was 'built by gentlemen for gentlemen' with the first stone being ceremonially laid in 1566 after Ottoman forces withdrew their siege of the Maltese Islands and the Knights of St John took over. The purpose of the city, built in a short span of 15 years on a plateau between two harbours on Malta's northeast coast, was primarily to fortify the island and secondly to provide palaces, Auberges (lodgings) for the eight Knight's groupings (Langues), churches for worship and gardens for recreation. The remnants of the Knight's occupation today characterise Valletta in the form of some splendid Baroque buildings and fortifications, but the majestic architecture manages not to overwhelm the island's carefree personality.

Information & Facts


The Mediterranean climate of Valletta ensures the weather is hot and dry during summer (June to September) and slightly cooler in winter (December to March). Summer temperatures can reach 84ºF (30ºC), but the heat tends to be tempered by sea breezes. In spring and autumn, the hot Xlokk wind sometimes brings high temperatures and humidity. Valletta experiences little rainfall, and it occurs only in winter.

English and Maltese are the official languages; Italian is also spoken

The currency was changed to the Euro (EUR) on 1 January 2008. (Maltese lira are no longer accepted.) Banks, ATMs and exchange bureaux can be found all over the islands, as well as foreign exchange machines in the tourist areas. Banks generally open mornings Monday to Saturday, but exchange bureaux at the international airport are open 24 hours a day. Many hotels, shops and restaurants accept foreign currency, but currency and travellers cheques can be changed into lira at banks and tourist offices. Most hotels and restaurants, as well as many shops, accept Access, American Express, Carte Blanche, Diners Club International, MasterCard and Visa.


Valletta's nightlife is fairly quiet, with the town emptying out by around 9pm. There are still a few wine bars that retain some atmosphere, including Trabuxu and Maestro e Fresco, and the city centre has venues like the Manoel Theatre (one of the oldest theatres in Europe) and the St James Centre. The Valletta Waterfront is home to popular spots such as Q Bar and V5. The Dragonara Point and Oracle casinos are also entertaining nightlife options in Valletta. In summer, Valletta hosts various festivals, such as Carnival and the feast day of St. Paul, featuring street parties and fireworks. There are nightclubs and more bars in the nearby Paceville and Sliema areas of St Julian's.


Shopping in Valletta features a selection of art and craft shops, boutiques, markets, jewellery stores, high-street fashion outlets and local souvenir shops. Republic Street is the shopping hub of Valletta but there are also a couple of other shopping venues in the city. Most shops open around 9am and close for siesta from 1pm, reopening from 4pm till 7pm. There is a market on Sunday mornings at St James Ditch selling clothing and antiques, while the fresh produce market behind the Grand Master's Palace has great fruit, vegetables and fish for sale. Browse Monti market, as well as the Republic and Merchant street-markets, for clothes, shoes, watches and jewellery. Designer label clothing can be found at the Forni Shopping Complex and in high-street outlets on Republic Street. There is a Marks & Spencer on Strait Street.

The Silversmith's Shop on Republic Street sells gold and silver filigree jewellery, as do the jewellers on Triq Santa Lucija. A popular holiday souvenir from the island is a silver eight-pointed Maltese cross. The Waterfront has a couple of craft shops selling local pottery and glassware, and Gio Batta Delia (near the City Gate) has prints, pottery and old lace. Malta Crafts Centre also sells glassware, ceramics, jewellery and lace, and The Malta Experience has good-quality souvenirs, though you may find cheaper buys elsewhere.


Valletta's attractions revolve mostly around its architecture, with a number of churches, cathedrals and other sacred sites taking centre stage. There are other interesting buildings, including historical residences, palaces, and forts.

Perched on top of Mount Sceberras and surrounded by the sea on three sides, Valletta has many beautiful views. While there are no sandy beaches, the docks and harbourfronts are pleasant areas to stroll along.

For first-time visitors who don't know much about the country, The Malta Experience is worth considering, as for 3.5 Liri you can get an overview of the country's history and culture in roughly half an hour.

St George's Square puts on an evening show with jumping fountains and coloured lights, making a perfect ending to a day of sightseeing.

The prehistoric temple complex discovered in 1839 at Hagar Qim in western Malta dates from about 3,800 BC, and has the oldest known human structures in the world. The Hagar Qim and nearby Mnajdra ruins are close to the village of Qrendi, about nine miles (15km) southwest of Valletta. The megalithic temple complex carved from giant limestone slabs is adorned with carved animals and idols, sacrificial altars and oracular chambers, all fashioned with flint and obsidian tools. The largest megalith is 23ft (7m) high and weighs about 20 tons. Many of the relics recovered from the site, including the famous 'fat lady' statues, are on display in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.

The Hypogeum, just southwest of the Three Cities in the suburb of Paolo, is a labyrinthine complex of man-made chambers hewn out of limestone, extending about 36ft (11m) below the surface. Experts believe it was used as a burial site and temple by Neolithic man, who used antlers and stone picks to carve out the labyrinth in semi-darkness nearly 5,000 years ago. The site has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Archaeologists have recovered numerous statues, amulets, figurines and vases, many of which are on display in the Archaeology Museum in Valletta.

Valletta suffered a great deal of damage during bombing raids in the Second World War. The Battle of Malta and other events involving the islands during the early years of the war are featured in a series of 17th century tunnels, which were turned into a military operations complex during the war. The complex has been restored and now acts as a museum, with displays including charts, models and dioramas.

A dramatic presentation that illustrates the history of Malta, from Neolithic to modern times, can be enjoyed at the Mediterranean Conference Centre at St. Elmo's bastion in Valletta. This building itself has been impressively restored, having been built by the Knights in the 1500s as a hospital. The wards, which are great sweeping halls with vaulted ceilings and marble floors, now serve as exhibition areas. A modern theatre has been added where the Malta Experience audio-visual show is offered in 10 languages.

Mdina, known as the noble city, was the original capital of Malta before the arrival of the Knights of St John in the middle ages. It was originally a Phoenician town but spent periods under Roman, Arabic and Norman occupation. The elegant walled city, with its suburb, Rabat, can trace its origins back more than 4,000 years, although today all that remains is the medieval town, which has been largely restored.

Mdina is situated on a rocky outcrop about nine miles (15km) west of Valletta. At the heart of Mdina is its landmark Baroque Cathedral of St Paul. Mdina has a conservative atmosphere, in keeping with its noble past. While the Knights reigned over Malta the city became the home of the Maltese nobility, who lived there under autonomous rule, not being deemed worthy to be invited to join the Order of St John. The descendants of some of these families live here still. Mdina and Rabat not only offer some fascinating and valuable sightseeing opportunities, but the old city is particularly inviting at night when it is lamplit and visitors can enjoy the ambience of restaurants tucked away in its bastions and palace courtyards. Motor vehicles are off-limits inside the city walls, and pedestrians have free reign to walk the streets and take in a glimpse of life in the middle ages.

The archaeological museum on Republic Street is housed in one of the inns of the Knights of St John, the Auberge de Provence. The museum's focus on Malta's prehistory includes displays such as the reconstruction of prehistoric remains found at Hypogeum. Items such as pottery, sculptures, statuettes, stone implements and jewellery from the prehistoric, megalithic and temple-building periods are featured, as well as some Punic and Roman tomb furniture. All the exhibits were found on excavations across the Maltese islands.

The Grandmaster's Palace, built around 1571, today serves as the office of the President and seat of the Maltese Parliament. The palace is a treasure house of art, from the unique collection of Gobelin Tapestries to frescoes depicting the Great Siege of 1565 by Perez d'Aleccio that cover the walls of the Halls of St Michael and St George. Visitors can also view the armoury and state apartments, which are adorned with friezes describing the history of the Order of St John.

Valletta's magnificent medieval cathedral is famous for the painting by Caravaggio, which hangs in its oratory, and the 369 inlaid mosaic marble tombstones that cover its floor. Each tombstone depicts the lives of the Grand Masters of the Order of St John, buried beneath. The façade is rather severe and militaristic, but inside the cathedral is lavishly splendid in the grandest tradition of high Baroque, with every inch of wall covered by carving, while the vaulted ceiling sports paintings depicting the life of St John the Baptist, patron saint of the Knights.

The centre of every Maltese town and village is occupied by a beautiful church. One of the largest in Europe is St Mary's in the central Maltese town of Mosta, with its glorious blue, gold and white dome. The church is regarded as having been the site of a World War II miracle: in 1942 while 300 people were praying in the church a bomb penetrated the dome and landed on the mosaic floor, but did not explode. A replica of the bomb is today displayed in the church sacristy.

Malta's main maritime towns have merged into a fortified conglomerate known as the Three Cities, resting on the promontories opposite Valletta. Walking tours of the area are popular. Vittoriosa is the oldest town in Malta after Mdina. It features plenty of historical architecture, including several of the Inns of the Knights of St John, as well as a hospital built by the Order in 1672, which is still a Benedictine convent inhabited by devout nuns. Fort St Angelo, the oldest fortified part of Vittoriosa dating from 1274, stands at the tip of the promontory, and the Museum of Maritime History is also well worth a visit. The youngest of the Three Cities, Cospicua, dates from 1717 and features some interesting churches, while Senglea, designed by Grandmaster De La Sengle in 1551, is an important place of pilgrimage. Senglea's parish church contains a statue of Christ the Redeemer that is said to have miraculous powers.

Located in Valetta, the Toy Museum showcases three floors of Maltese and international toys dating back to the 1950s, including matchbox cars, planes, dolls, train sets and an impressive Corgi car collection.

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