Malta Stories and Tips

Valletta

Floriana Photo, Valletta, Malta

My guidebook called Floriana "a quiet little town that feels like a suburb of Valletta" and that was pretty much what it was. There were monuments to dead airmen and independence, a Roman square with stone columns spaced about like stumps in a forest clearing, a cat-feeding station, a boarded up church with Sex room? scrawled on what used to be the window, and a look-out point over a white and beige jumble of houses and church domes and factory chimneys as if someone had managed to squeeze a provincial Italian city together with a Lancashire milltown and the outskirts of Fez.

I passed back through the bus station, through the City Gate and into a square straight out of a Disneyland Mediterranean village. Porticoed arcades, painted wooden balconies, a Burger King and a craft shop with Clearance Sale, Factory Prices Inside. To the right was the old Opera House, flattened during the last war and left looking like something the Ancient Greeks might have built. To the left were children playing hide and seek behind the tomb at Hastings Gardens, where you could look across a five-a-side pitch built into the battlements and see clear across Sliema to Saint Julian's and the north.

Republic Street is the spine of the city, from City Gate and Freedom Square at one end to Fort St Elmo at the other. It starts unexcitingly, but past St John's Co-Cathedral the sights come thick and fast. Straight on and to the left: the National Library, Manoel Theatre, Grand Master's Palace, St George's Square, the dome of Our Lady of Mount Carmel jostling an Anglican spire for primacy of the sky. To the right: Upper and Lower Barakka Gardens, and the best views of the Grand Harbour. The Auberge de Castille and the Siege Bell Monument, reminding you that not everything here was always so peaceful.

I walked around the high, cool streets of Il-Mandragg, between the fort and the Anglican Cathedral, the closest a city of six thousand gets to an off the beaten track. A car reversed into a narrow parking space, wrecking a perfect shot of an archway. Streetlights were strung to cables down the middle of the road, clothes hung out to dry, a horse-drawn carriage waited for passengers in a square, women swept balconies while their husbands leaned out of first floor windows, talking to the street. You begin to feel that Valletta's even smaller than expected: every second turning leads to somewhere you've been before.


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