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Valletta: Secrets of Malta's UNESCO World Heritage Site

Nestled along the sparkling shores of the Mediterranean Sea lies Valletta, the capital city of Malta. This historic gem, often described as an open-air museum, boasts an intricate tapestry of culture, architecture, and history. Established by the Knights of St. John in the 16th century, Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site that beckons travelers with its stunning Baroque buildings, majestic fortifications, and vibrant street life. As you wander through its narrow streets, you'll discover a city where every corner tells a story, from ancient cathedrals and grand palaces to charming cafes and bustling markets. Join us as we explore the timeless allure of Valletta, a city where the past and present harmoniously blend to create an unforgettable experience.

 

Discovering Valletta: Must-See Sites in Malta's Capital


St John's Co-Cathedral

St John's Co-Cathedral; Imposing and intricately adorned, St. John's Co-Cathedral stands as a masterpiece of Maltese baroque architecture, designed by Gerolamo Cassar in the late 16th century. Its unassuming facade belies the opulent splendor within, where every surface dazzles with gilded ornamentation. Adorned with vibrant frescoes by Mattia Preti and housing Caravaggio's striking masterpiece depicting John the Baptist, the cathedral is a testament to Malta's rich artistic heritage. Following an extensive renovation, the Cathedral Museum now showcases precious illuminated manuscripts, Flemish tapestries, and an immersive exhibition on Caravaggio's life. Elevated to co-cathedral status alongside St. Paul's Cathedral in Mdina, this sacred site invites visitors to witness the grandeur of Malta's religious and artistic legacy. Remember to dress respectfully, as stiletto heels are prohibited to preserve the cathedral's marble floors.

Grand Master's Palace

Grand Master's Palace; Behind its austere facade, the Grand Master's Palace, a 16th-century marvel, conceals a wealth of historical treasures. Once the residence of the Grand Masters of the Knights of St. John and later serving as Malta's parliamentary seat until 2015, this opulent palace now houses the remarkable Armoury, once the stables of the Grand Master. Within, visitors encounter a remarkable collection of 16th- to 18th-century armor and weaponry, including the breastplate worn by la Valette and the intricately adorned suit crafted for Alof de Wignacourt. The State Apartments, occasionally closed due to official functions, offer glimpses into Malta's regal past, adorned with exquisite tapestries and paintings depicting scenes from across the globe. From the Council Chamber adorned with 17th-century Gobelins tapestries to the Hall of the Ambassadors, where foreign envoys were received, the palace is a testament to Malta's rich history and grandeur.

National Museum of Archaeology

National Museum of Archaeology; Housed within the grand Auberge de Provence, the National Museum of Archaeology offers a captivating journey through Malta's rich prehistoric past. Delicate stone tools dating back to 5200 BC, Phoenician amulets, and a mesmerizing temple model from Ta' Haġrat illuminate ancient architectural prowess. Among the museum's prized possessions are exquisitely crafted prehistoric figurines, including the iconic Sleeping Lady, dating back 5000 years. The 'fat ladies' sculptures from Ħaġar Qim, characterized by their robust forms and intricate details, and the diminutive yet lifelike Venus de Malta, stand as testaments to ancient artistic expression. Upstairs, visitors encounter a diverse array of artifacts, from Bronze Age pottery to intricate animal figurines and jewelry, offering insights into Malta's enigmatic past, including the island's mysterious cart ruts.

Upper Barrakka Gardens

Upper Barrakka Gardens; Established in the late 16th century as a serene refuge for the Knights residing at the nearby Auberge d'Italie, these colonnaded gardens offer a tranquil oasis high above the bustling Grand Harbour. Providing respite from the city's hustle and bustle, the gardens boast a picturesque balcony with unparalleled views, offering visitors one of the most breathtaking vistas in all of Malta.

Fort St Elmo & National War Museum

Fort St Elmo & National War Museum; Perched overlooking Marsamxett and Grand Harbours, Fort St Elmo, named after the patron saint of mariners, stands as a testament to Malta's storied history. Built in a mere four months by the Knights of St John in 1552, the fort endured the brunt of Turkish assaults during the Great Siege of 1565. Reopened after extensive restoration in 2015, it now houses the National War Museum, offering captivating insights into Malta's wartime past, from the Great Siege to the trials of WWII. Audiovisual exhibits vividly depict the island's struggles, including the perilous efforts to secure supplies amid German bombardment. Artefacts range from the remains of the Gloster Gladiator biplane "Faith" to the revered George Cross medal awarded to Malta's entire population in 1942. Visitors can explore the courtyard, adorned with the lids of underground granaries, and discover the historic chapel where Knights valiantly defended the altar during the siege. Additionally, the fort hosts the military pageant In Guardia between October and June, immersing visitors in Malta's rich military heritage.

City Gate

City Gate; The Renzo Piano-designed City Gate stands as a striking centerpiece of the architect's transformative project. Inspired by the dimensions of the original 1633 entrance, it replaces the 1960s gate, offering a bridge-like crossing experience with views of the surrounding fortifications. The minimalist design features a pair of towering metal blades resembling knights' sabres framing the gate, adding a touch of dramatic flair. Inside, wide, sloping flights of steps connect the bastions of St James’ Cavalier and St John’s Cavalier to Republic St below, forming a distinctive 'V' shape when viewed from the street, symbolizing Valletta's proud heritage.

Parliament Building

Parliament Building; Renzo Piano's awe-inspiring Parliament Building, completed in 2014, is a masterpiece of modern architecture. Its design features two massive stone volumes seemingly suspended in air, supported by stilts and machine-cut to enhance their appearance and regulate solar radiation. The rooftop is adorned with photovoltaic panels, providing sustainable energy for heating and cooling. While the northern block houses the parliament chamber and the south block accommodates MPs' offices, Piano's bold additions to Valletta's historic landscape, including the Parliament Building, City Gate, and Opera House, have sparked controversy in Malta, stirring passionate opinions among residents and visitors alike.

Saluting Battery

Saluting Battery; The Saluting Battery, once a vital site for firing salutes to visiting naval vessels, has been meticulously restored to its former glory. Visitors can witness the firing of a cannon Monday through Saturday at noon and 4pm, accompanied by ceremonial pomp. It's a captivating experience, especially for children. For deeper insight, consider timing your visit for a guided tour, where enthusiastic guides in period costume explain the intricacies of loading and firing the cannon, adding an educational dimension to this historical attraction.

Church of St Paul's Shipwreck

Church of St Paul's Shipwreck; This church, with its 19th-century facade, holds a rich historical significance as the site where St. Paul, after being shipwrecked on Malta in AD 60, introduced Christianity to the island's population. While the exterior reflects a more recent era, stepping inside unveils a treasure trove of antiquity dating back to the 16th century. Among its prized possessions is a resplendent gilded statue of St. Paul, crafted in Rome during the 1650s, ceremoniously paraded through Valletta's streets on the saint's feast day. Additionally, visitors can marvel at a golden reliquary containing fragments purportedly from St. Paul's wrist, alongside a segment of the column believed to be the site of his beheading in Rome.

 

Savoring Valletta: Must-Try Culinary Delights


Imqaret

Imqaret; Imqaret, a beloved traditional Maltese pastry, encapsulates a delectable blend of dates, citrus, and spices encased in a diamond or rectangular shape, then fried to golden perfection. Its name, derived from "maqrut," meaning diamond-shaped, reflects its distinctive appearance. Often dusted with powdered sugar, this delightful treat may also be enjoyed alongside a refreshing scoop of ice cream, offering a harmonious balance of flavors and textures.

Aljotta

Aljotta; Aljotta, a cherished Maltese soup, shines as a Lenten favorite when meat is off the table. This hearty dish features fish as its star ingredient, including the head and tail, often sourced from small varieties like rockfish. Simmered with fried onions, garlic, tomatoes, and aromatic herbs like mint and bay leaves, the broth is then strained and infused with rice until tender. Garnished with parsley and a splash of lemon, aljotta emerges as a comforting and flavorful delight, perfect for warming the soul.

Pastizz

Pastizz; Pastizz, Malta's quintessential national snack, is a delectable phyllo pastry celebrated for its versatility and flaky texture. The thin dough, meticulously layered with fat, achieves its characteristic crispiness when baked to a golden brown hue. Filled with a variety of ingredients such as peas, ricotta, anchovies, corned beef, or apples, these savory or sweet pastries are shaped into diamonds or semicircles, making them perfect for snacking or serving as appetizers in bars.

Ġbejna

Ġbejna; Ġbejna, a small cheeselet crafted from sheep or goat milk, salt, and rennet, holds a cherished place in Maltese cuisine. This versatile cheese can be enjoyed in various forms - salted, peppered, pickled, herbed, or plain. Traditionally, Ġbejna was curdled with seawater instead of rennet, adding to its unique flavor profile. Today, it features prominently in Maltese dishes, from the traditional soppa tal-armla soup to breakfast spreads with local sourdough bread. It also makes a delightful addition to Maltese appetizer platters, and some eateries have innovatively substituted it for ricotta in the classic qassatat pastry.


Ruġġata; Ruġġata, a delightful sweet syrup native to Malta, is crafted from a blend of almonds, sugar, vanilla, and occasionally cloves. Typically enjoyed during the summer months, this refreshing beverage is often diluted with cold water for a revitalizing thirst-quencher. Lemon, cinnamon, and water are also key components in its preparation, adding layers of flavor to this beloved Maltese treat.

Imqarrun il-forn

Imqarrun il-forn; Imqarrun il-forn, a flavorful staple of Maltese cuisine, is a baked pasta casserole boasting Sicilian roots. Typically prepared with penne or rigatoni, this hearty dish combines pasta with a medley of ingredients including ground meat, onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, eggs, cheese, and aromatic spices like nutmeg, curry powder, or bay leaves. Baked to perfection until golden-brown and crispy on the outside yet moist within, it's a beloved centerpiece of Sunday lunches across Malta.

Figolla

Figolla; Figolla, a delightful Maltese cookie filled with marzipan, takes center stage during Easter celebrations, often crafted into charming shapes like lambs or bunnies. Adorned with icing, melted chocolate, or chocolate Easter eggs, these sweet confections add a festive touch to the holiday. Originally shaped as fish, baskets, or women, figolla symbolized fertility, evolving over time into its beloved Easter-themed forms. Whether from pastry shops or homemade kitchens, figolla remains a cherished tradition in Maltese households during the Easter season.

Stuffat tal-qarnit

Stuffat tal-qarnit; Stuffat tal-qarnit, a cherished Maltese stew, showcases the flavors of the Mediterranean with its main ingredient, octopus, cooked alongside garlic, onions, red wine, olives, capers, and tomatoes. For a hearty one-pot meal, potatoes can be added, along with aromatic herbs like thyme and marjoram, and a touch of sweetness from raisins or walnuts. Tenderizing the octopus before cooking is recommended, either by freezing or using a mallet. Served alongside crusty bread or roasted potatoes, this flavorful stew is a comforting delight for any occasion.

Pixxispad mixwi

Pixxispad mixwi; Pixxispad mixwi, a classic fish dish hailing from Malta, features succulent swordfish fillets marinated and grilled to perfection. The fillets undergo a flavorful marinade of onions, garlic, oil, mint, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, and paprika, infusing them with Mediterranean zest. Grilled until golden and fully cooked, the fish is basted with the marinade for added flavor. Garnished with sage and green bell peppers, these delectable swordfish fillets are served piping hot, offering a taste of Maltese culinary tradition.

Kwarezimal

Kwarezimal; Derived from the Latin word "quaresima," meaning Lent, these oval-shaped Maltese cookies are a beloved tradition during the forty-day Lenten period. Crafted from a blend of ground almonds, flour, sugar, cocoa, citrus zest, orange blossom water, and spices like cinnamon or cloves, they offer a rich and aromatic flavor profile. Once baked, the cookies are generously smeared with honey and adorned with crushed almonds or almond slivers, adding a delightful crunch to their sweet indulgence.

 

*Watch until 7:50 to see a small section on Malta*

 
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