Mayhem in the Med: Day 3, Valletta (Malta)

Posted: June 19, 2011 in Mediterranean Cruise, Paris

Tour = Valletta & Mdina: A Tale of Two Cities

Entering the port of Valletta was simply magical, despite the fact that I was barely awake at that point. The sun was shining, there was barely a cloud in the sky and on both sides rose fortifications and beautiful buildings. I think I might have fallen a little bit in love with Malta from that moment. I was hooked, literally couldn’t wait until I got off the boat. All the resting the day before had done me a world of good, and I was raring to get off the boat and let the tour begin, but I remembered to begin my day with a square meal at Topsiders before heading out on deck, taking photos and finally meeting up for the tour.

Valletta, Malta
We checked in at 7.45am and were escorted off the boat after verifying photo ID and Key to the World cards. It was at about this point that I reflected that it would take a little bit of getting used to actually being the one who was guided instead of being at the head of the group and guiding the tour itself, especially with the mouse eared paddle that our Tour Escort was bearing, or being the one who studiously avoided tour groups and did everything on my own but I was willing to give the whole thing a shot and simply sat back and relaxed whilst our bus took us up the hill to our first stop, at some gardens that gave a beautiful view over the port of Valletta.
We were able to take a couple of photos and listen to the interesting commentary about the Knights of Malta (Templar Knights) who came to Malta in 1538 and would stay for 268 years.  Malta, being a strategic point between Europe and Africa was of course highly coveted (and still is, really), and the Knights settled themselves there, different factions building their own ‘auberges’ (lodges) in various parts of the city. The Knights themselves were drawn from nobility, and were a sort of military brotherhood whose religion (christianity, obviously) was highly prized, as evidenced by the Maltese cross which was adopted as their symbol in 1126 and was later approved by the Pope in 1830.

An interesting thing to note about Malta is that there are very few gardens due to a lack of fresh water. They’ve only recently been able to get a system in place which converts seawater into fresh water. Also worth noting is the fact that there is very little room within which to actually have a garden in Malta, as space is at a premium!!

From the Gardens we made our way past a couple of the Knights’ auberges, the Portugese and French Provencal ones, from memory, before we ended up at St John’s co-cathedral, within which is housed the famous painting showing the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, by Caravaggio. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take photos in that part of the church, but I promise you the painting itself is well worth seeing. It really is an amazing piece of art, and the people are incredibly lifelike and extremely well painted. There’s another work of Caravaggio’s in the same room which shows the level of detail he put into people which is also interesting.
The main part of the Co-Cathedral itself is absolutely beautiful. Knights’ Mausoleums are dotted all about the place, and the floor is actually more Knights’ tombs. The Knights showed their wealth by decorating the cathedral itself and their mausoleums before they died, so the inside of the cathedral is simply stunning. Carvings, statues, paintings and over the top things everywhere you look.

Valletta, Malta - St John's Co-Cathedral

Following the Cathedral (a very hard act) we made our way across Valletta and through Queen’s Birthday celebrations to the Grand Master’s Palace, which now houses the Maltan Parliament and is used for official occasions etc. It has some beautiful tapestries of Africa and the Orient (an entire room of them, in fact) as well as some beautiful artworks around the walls, and a lot of antique furniture that speaks volumes about exactly how rich the Knights of Malta were.

From there we headed back through the streets of Valletta, admiring the old buildings and their beautiful little wooden balconies. Apparently it’s law in Malta that heritage buildings aren’t allowed to be changed at all, and so most of the department stores and shop fronts are pretty well hidden from view. The wooden balconies are yet another symbol of wealth, being that at the time of their construction wood was an expensive commodity in Malta due to there being no forests.

We headed across to Mdina from that point. On the way we learnt a little more about Malta as a whole. The country has a population of around 400,000 people, and enjoys exceptionally good weather – never dipping below about 10 degrees celsius all year round. The country has high rates for electricity given that it’s hard for them to create electricity on their tiny slice of land. The pharmaceutical industry is booming there, with 33 companies on the island. A lot of facts and 20 minutes later, we arrived at Mdina.

 A lot of wandering of the city was done, along with a visit to the Mdina Cathedral which kind of paled in comparison to St John’s Cathedral visited earlier that morning. A highlight was the lookout from which we could see a good part of Malta and Valletta in the distance from the fortified walls of Mdina. We had a bit of free time to walk around after the tour guide had done her bit, and I used it to explore the back streets and take photos of random things such as letterboxes and door handles (see Facebook for photos of these!). When it was finally time to go again everybody seemed pretty tired and definitely a little overheated. We were all glad to get back into the air conditioning and head back to the boat.
I ended up having a late lunch of pizza by the pool and taking a dip in the afternoon. I didn venture off the ship again – was really tired from all the walking that morning and waking up early – and so I relaxed a bit more and took advantage of the sun in order to erase my pasty white skin from view. Consequently I added to my sunburn, but also managed to darken my skin a little!! Dinner that evening was in Parrot Cay and the show was a magic show (Hawley Magic, not amazing, but pretty good at some points). I ended up having chicken (default when I can’t find anything I like on the menu!) but decided to step out on the wild side and tried the crab entree which was surprisingly good! For dessert it was a delicious s’more cake (chocolate, marshmallows etc etc) and then I was off to bed to sleep and prepare myself for the next day for which I would be guiding myself!!

A trio of parting shots, for those in want of more Malta (as I am!!) :

Facebook Status: “What’s red, white and sometimes wears a cross? Me. And the Maltese Flag.”
Photo Count: 333
Total: 435

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s