The island of Malta sits 60 km off the coast of Sicily and 140 km from Italy. The Knights of St. John took possession of the island in 1530 and fortified it, then fortified the fortifications, then fortified it all some more. With the walls built on walls built on walls, Valletta is a port that has never been conquered in the past 1000 years.
The Knights of St. John still exist today and have representatives in 80 countries. They also have a permanent “Observer” status at the United Nations. The Knights ruled Malta for 268 years.
Our guide spoke English well and knew a great deal about the Knights of St. John and the history of Malta. The weather was great and we had a fabulous day.
We were driven to Birgu (the old city of Vittoriosa, where the Knights originally settled) across the Grand Harbour from Valletta. Our walking tour took us through the ancient narrow streets to the early Auberges of the Knights, the hospital, the armoury, the Treasury and the palaces used by the administration of the Order. The Knights of St. John only accepted sons of the nobility from eight European territories – the so-called ‘langues’ – and the Order became extremely wealthy in property and goods. Due to the extreme shortage of fresh water on the island it was forbidden to plant any greenery. It wasn’t until many, many years later that the first park was established in the city and people were allowed to have potted or other plants in their homes. There was plaque posted on one of the buildings of this street from the Birgu Local Council expressing their appreciation for the cleanliness of this City and its embellishments with potted plants.
Malta is famous for its unique door knockers. It was fun to spot the different ones as we walked past. I took pictures of lots of them too.
They had some pretty artistic house number signs as well.Our walk took us to or past the site of the seven Auberges of the Knights of St. John. Only three of the actual buildings remain. Even though there were eight European territories from which knights were recruited there were only seven auberges because two of the French territories built their auberge together. An auberge is like a hostel and they were used as living quarters by the knights who hailed from the different districts and also provided accommodation for pilgrims or visitor’s from the home country or territory.
March 31 is Freedom Day in Malta where they celebrate the anniversary of the removal of British troops and the Royal Navy from Malta in 1979. Every church, of which there are MANY, had a bell ringer in the tower ringing the bell for over an hour in the afternoon. We were taken to Barrakka Gardens which are located on the highest point of the 16th-century bastion walls built by the Knights. Due to it’s strategic position in the Mediterranean the Island of Malta was a constant battleground during WWII. After the war King George VI bestowed the George Cross upon the people of the island for their courage and fortitude during so many years of attack and deprivation.
Part of the Freedom Day celebrations is a huge regatta in the Grand Harbour. Rowing teams from all the cities of Malta compete against one another. The ship did not set sail until 7 am the next morning so from the Promenade Deck we had a nice view of the city lights at night.