Founded in 1566, Valletta is Malta’s capital city and is one of Europe’s smallest (and southern-most) capital cities, with many buildings having a strong Baroque character.
Ever fancied yourself exploring what feels like one huge open-air museum? Valletta might just be the perfect place for you.
Built on a peninsula between two natural harbours (Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour), the city sits perched on higher ground. Its streets were aligned in a grid-like layout, being wide and straight, which is said to have been chosen to allow the sea breeze to provide respite from Malta’s hot summer weather.
Valletta is Malta’s administrative and commercial hub, with several government departments occupying some of its historical buildings and several financial and logistics companies having their offices here.
Despite its small size, Valletta is packed with sites of historical significance, with buildings dating back to the 16th century. So much so that it’s been an officially listed UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980.
That’s right, the city of Valletta as a whole is recognised by UNESCO for its historical and cultural value. That doesn’t mean the place is swarming with tourists however, although tour groups aren’t an uncommon sight, particularly during the summer months.
Intrigued? In this article, I cover the basics of what you need to know about Valletta, what makes it so special and what’s worth seeing and experiencing when you decide to pay Malta’s capital a visit.
Besides being one of the smallest capitals in Europe, it’s also one of the youngest, having been founded a little over 450 years ago. The city was built by the Knights of the Order of St. John (also known as the Knights of Malta or the Knights Hospitaller), on a peninsula with large natural harbours on both of its flanks.
Having survived The Great Siege by successfully warding off an attempt by the Ottoman Empire to invade the Maltese islands, the Knights strategically chose Valletta’s location for its highly defensible position.
With funding from the Vatican, amongst other benefactors, the Knights built Valletta to fortify Malta as a stronghold for Roman Catholicism. Despite its small size, Malta had a significant military advantage due to its location and was the perfect location for the Knights to accommodate the sick and injured, which was (and still is!) their core mission (as opposed to being a military order as such).