After the Great Siege of 1565, the Knights set about an ambitious project, the building of Valletta, the so-called 'city built by gentlemen for gentlemen'. Pope Pius IV sent his foremost engineer, Francesco Laparelli, to build the city both as a fortress to defend Christendom and as a cultural masterpiece. A unique example of the Baroque, Valletta has been designated a World Heritage City.
In its day, Valletta was a fine example of modern city planning. Designed on a grid system, now common in the United States, the city was carefully planned to accommodate water and sanitation and to allow for the circulation of air. Most towns and cities evolved over centuries, but Valletta, in contrast, was one of the first European cities to be constructed on an entirely new site.
Valletta will be hosting the title of European Capital of Culture in 2018 with a partner Dutch city, Leeuwarden. The ECoC includes all the Maltese Islands, with an aim to spread its impact throughout the whole Maltese territory.
Cospicua, Vittoriosa, Senglea
The Three Cities offer an intriguing insight into Malta and its history. Left largely unvisited, these cities are a slice of authentic life as well as a glimpse into Malta's maritime fortunes.
The Three Cities can rightly claim to be the cradle of Maltese history, as Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua have provided a home and fortress to almost every people who settled on the Islands.
Their harbour inlets have been in use since Phoenician times: the docks always providing a living for local people, but also leaving them vulnerable when Malta's rulers were at war. As the first home to the Knights of St. John, the Three Cities' palaces, churches, forts and bastions are far older than Valletta's.
The history of Mdina traces back more than 4000 years. According to tradition it was here that in 60 A.D. that the Apostle St. Paul is said to have lived after being shipwrecked on the Islands.
Lamp lit by night and referred to as "the silent city", Mdina is fascinating to visit for its timeless atmosphere as well as its cultural and religious treasures. Mdina's Main City GateMdina has had different names and titles depending on its rulers and its role but its medieval name describe it best - ‘Citta' Notabile': the noble city. It was home then, as now, to Malta's noble families; some are descendants of the Norman, Sicilian and Spanish overlords who made Mdina their home from the 12th century onwards. Impressive palaces line its narrow, shady streets. Mdina is one of Europe's finest examples of an ancient walled city and extraordinary in its mix of medieval and baroque architecture.
Mosta lies at the heart of Malta, along the Great Fault that runs east-west across the Island.
The town's name derives from the Arabic 'musta', meaning centre. It was only a hamlet in medieval times, but began to develop at the turn of the 17th century after the Great Siege. Today it is a busy market town. At its centre is a magnificent domed church (completed in 1860), the Mosta Rotunda, said to be the third largest unsupported church dome in Europe. It was built to imitate the Pantheon in Rome, by Maltese architect George de Vasse. In World War II, the Church took a direct hit from a German bomb during mass. The bomb pierced the dome, but failed to explode. This event is now regarded as miraculous intervention. You can see a replica of the 200kg bomb in the sacristy. The building of the church was revolutionary in its day: the Mosta Rotunda was constructed over the old church which was only demolished at the last.
Within the limits of Mosta there are also prehistoric remains such as catacombs under Fort Mosta, and Bronze Age dolmens. Mosta also lies on the Victoria Lines, the British fortifications built along the Great Fault.
St. Julian's is now a major residential and tourist centre, and home to some of Malta's newest hotels.
It is now an extension of Sliema although it started life as a small fishing port based on Spinola and Balluta Bays. St. Julian's merges with Paceville, Malta's main nightlife centre where there are clubs, casinos and numerous restaurants, cafes and bars.
Picturesque Spinola Bay is still used by fishermen whose traditional boats are housed just below the restaurants. The bay is particularly attractive at night and as a venue for open-air dining. The elegant Spinola Palace, built in 1658 by an Italian knight, Giovanni Spinola, is the landmark historic building on the bay. Another fine building with superb sea views is Villa Dragonara, now a casino, on the headland of St. George's Bay.
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