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August 12, 2017

Malta: Valletta


Ricasoli East Breakwater

Malta’s jewel is its capitol Valletta. Valletta sits on a well-defended peninsula surrounded by its sheltered harbors. The fortifications and walls that ring the central city speak to Valletta’s military importance. Malta’s history reads like a “Who’s Who” of Mediterranean civilizations. The Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Saracens, Aragonese, the Napoleonic French, and the British have all left their marks on the island nation strategically positioned in the Mediterranean Sea to the southwest of Sicily.

Valletta’s history is particularly linked to the Order of Saint John, also known as Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, Order of Hospitallers, or the Knights Hospitaller. The Hospitallers and the Knights Templar were the most formidable military orders in the Holy Land during the Crusades. While the Knights Templar integrated into European society and went onto fame in Dan Brown’s books, the Hospitallers path took them to Malta.

Defensive structures protect Valletta

Disused barrack Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta, Malta

After being driven from their bases in Jerusalem and Rhodes, the Knights Hospitaller were homeless. In 1530, by Order by Spanish Emperor Charles V, the Order of Saint John was granted dominion over Malta, the adjacent island of Gozo, and the city of Tripoli in modern Libya. Under the rule of the Knights Hospitaller, Malta prospered. In the 16th Century, after recapturing the peninsula where Valletta now stands from the Ottomans, the Knights of Malta strengthened the area’s fortifications. With time additional defenses were built further securing the harbor. Valletta’s heavy fortifications define the city’s appearance today.

Valletta’s military history extends into the modern era. Situated in a strategic position in the Mediterranean, Valletta was a key British naval base during World War II. The island nation was uncomfortably close to Axis bomber bases in Sicily. Consequentially Valletta was heavily bombed. Indeed, the Maltese claim that Valletta is the most bombed place on earth. Though that is undoubtedly a difficult assertion to validate, the point is still legitimate: Valletta was devastated by Axis bombing campaigns during World War II; it barely survived.

Super yachts moored near Fort St. Angelo

Disembodied Winston Churchill in Valletta

After the World War II, the bomb damage to Valletta was repaired. The city has been reborn. Valletta is now facing an invasion that the Knights Hospitaller’s could never have imagined. Each day armies of tourists arriving by sea and air descend on the old town. The city’s fortifications provide no defense against the onslaught.

In recent years Valletta tourism has boomed. Quite possibly a good part of increase is a result of Malta being used as a backdrop in the filming of the Game of Thrones. As of 2016 roughly 2 million tourists arrive each year. So far Valletta has handled the throngs reasonably well. But with 16% yearly increases in tourism that may not last forever.

New security recruits in Valletta

A ferry crosses the harbor from Valletta.

Valletta Balconies

I’m not sure that I want Captain Morgan to be taking me out on a boat.

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