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The History of Valletta

Valletta and its history

The city of Valletta has an intriguing wealth of history that spans for centuries.  Having suffered widespread damage, Malta’s capital has plenty of stories to tell.

The foundation stone for this Baroque masterpiece was laid by the Grandmaster of the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem,

Jean Parisot de la Valette, on the Xiberras peninsula in 1566. The city was meant as a consolidation of the order’s military defence infrastructure following its successful but bloody repulsion of the Ottoman attacks during the siege of 1565.

La Valette’s vision went beyond simple fortification. He envisaged the city to be a grand, European centre of culture and commerce, and although he died shortly before its completion, the city of Valletta went on to serve as the capital till present day, well beyond the Knights’ departure in 1798, when Napoleon captured the island.

The city was designed by the renowned Italian architect Francesco Laparelli, an assistant to Michaelangelo. Sent by Pope Pius V, who also funded part of the construction, Laparelli’s initial task was to survey and report on the state of the island’s current fortifications after the siege. His report included a recommendation that rather than rebuilding existing fortifications in other parts of the island, it would be far more economical and practical to construct a new fortified city on the Xiberras peninsula.

To secure funding for this great undertaking, the Knights petitioned the European courts for funding. Following their heroic and acclaimed defence of the islands, funding was easier to obtain. For the rest of Christian Europe, a properly fortified Malta meant yet another bulwark buttressing the West from the Ottomans.

Laparelli’s design represented a significant departure from the traditional medieval city structure.  He opted for one based on a grid. The grid system provided ample ventilation and sea breezes through the city, making life more bearable for the inhabitants. The city also had some interesting features including wider staircases to accommodate the knights and their bulky armour.

Following Laparelli’s design, which included the outer fortifications and the city grid, the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar took over and continued the construction of the city, concentrating on the buildings.  Following a short stay in Italy, Cassar built a number of notable buildings, including Auberges for each of the Langues of the order. Much like embassies, the Auberges were named after the different Langues or nationalities that made up the Order and served as a home away from home.

Did you know?

  • The famous eight-pointed Maltese Cross symbolizes the 8 obligations of the Knights of St John: Truth, faith, repent of sins, humility, justice, merciful, sincere and enduring persecution.
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