Islands of the Western Mediterranean travel blog

Preparing for the Festa

A Grand Master with page "boys" sometimes actually girls discarded at age...

St John's Cathedral

Caravaggio' s painting. The beheading of John the Baptist

Engraved armour

The Malta "Venus" in the museum of archaeology


Our day started with an audiovisual - The Malta Experience - in a theatre situated in the St Elmo Fort. Valletta is sited on a peninsula under a kilometre in length and arranged in a grid pattern with narrow streets to keep the buildings shaded but always accessible for the cooler breeze off the sea.

The A-V gave an excellent overview of the history bringing together our experiences yesterday, today when we concentrate on the Knights of St John and tomorrow when we visit Mdina in the centre of the island.

Valletta is preparing for a festa in honour of St Augustine, one of Valletta's patron saints so there are banners in the streets and statues brought from churches but swathed in plastic as there is a possibility of rain.

We focussed on the Knights and the Grand Masters first visiting the Palace of the Grand Master, where many portraits hang. This order has a long history with the Knights coming from noble families and bringing with them great wealth.Their leader was the Grand Master. Although all were to take vows of poverty and chastity these vows were frequently ignored and Grand Masters had illegitimate children who could not inherit as all the wealth belonged to the order.

But the Knights fought and in the Armory of the palace we explored the suits of armour, often engraved and inlaid with gold but of such weight that it was a wonder any horse could carry the knight in armour as well as its own armour. Battles were always fought in the summer and many Knights died from heat exhaustion. The Ottoman fighters were less encumbered and their swords or scimitars more lethal but the Great Siege of 1565 was won by the Knights and is much commemorated.

Visiting the Cathedral of St John was a baroque feast with so much gilding - 24 carat gold laid on carved limestone. The side chapels were dedicated to the various nationalities from which the Knights came with the graves of the Knights marked in the marble, while Grand Masters had a mausoleum.

Napoleon did occupy Valletta and was initially welcomed in when he asked for water, a request which could not be refused. Of course it was not a short visit as he was ideally positioned next for his Egyptian campaigns but when he started to strip the churches of the silverware the residents had had enough and in 1880 sought the help of a British ship and Malta beacame a British Colony and continued to be so enduring terrible bombing and lack of food as it was always dependent in imports. Today Malta produces about 24% of its own food, the remainder must be imported.

Malta was granted independence in 1964 and is now a member of the EU.

Our second last stop for the day was at the Museum of archaeology where among other exhibits we saw the original carved stones and "fat lady" which were removed from the Tarxien Temples for preservation.



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