Valletta's namesake founder declared back at the city's ground-breaking in 1566 that it should be "a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen." That's quite a mantra to live up to, but almost 450 years hence, the pint-sized capital of the the European Union's smallest member state still retains remarkable splendor, and I would like to think that somewhere, Jean Parisot de la Valette is smiling.
A view of Valletta and the Grand Harbour at dusk, from the viewing platform of the Upper Barrakka Gardens. (2008).
Valletta was - and still is - a triumph of architecture and urban planning. Among the first planned cities in Europe, it was an early adopter of the grid layout ... which allowed for cooling sea breezes to circulate amongst the tall, elegant buildings that shaded Valletta's narrow streets from the hot Mediterranean sun. Another notable feature of the city: its towering wall fortifications.
Of course, with Malta's history of being conquered and re-conquered by numerous different powers around the Mediterranean (and beyond), the emphasis on defence isn't that surprising. A sampler list of those who have ruled Malta besides the native Maltese since pre-historic times: the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabians, Normans, French, Aragonese, Spanish, Knights of St. John, and British.
Malta still retains the influences of its foreign rulers to varying degrees, which affords the archipelago nation and its little capital a unique melting-pot culture and cosmopolitan charm. This is something you might not expect from the a city (town?) with a population of only 7,000 ... but Valletta is living proof that good things come in small packages.
The meticulously well-kempt Upper Barrakka Gardens. Valletta, Malta. (2008).
Armoured knights guard the halls of the Grand Master's Palace, Malta's seat of power since 1571. Valletta, Malta. (2008).
The Maltese are among the oldest Christian peoples of the world, having been converted to Christianity by St. Paul after he shipwrecked on the islands in A.D. 60. To this day, Malta is still very Catholic, as can be evidenced on the streets of Valletta. (2008).
The pastizza - a hot, flaky, and mouthwatering pastry filled with either melted ricotta cheese or mushy peas - is the ultimate Maltese snack and breakfast food. It's cheap, too - I only paid for 35 euro cents for the sizable one pictured above. Valletta, Malta. (2008).