For years, Valletta felt a touch unloved, the main land route into Malta’s tiny capital little more than a glorified bus station. But the completion of a sometimes controversial regeneration programme and progressive social policies, along with an influx of envelope-pushing millennials, has done much to overturn its staid image, and has resulted in Valletta being crowned 2018’s European Capital of Culture. The coming year will be one of Valletta’s liveliest in decades, with 1000 artists taking part in 400 events.
At first glance all this seems far removed from the grand baroque city built from scratch by the Hospitaller Knights of Saint John in the sixteenth century, it’s easy-to-navigate grid pattern encompassed by massive bastions. Yet somehow Il-Belt, or ‘The City’ as it is known by Maltese, manages to effortlessly blend ancient and modern.
The City Gate (Bieb il-Belt)
The City Gate is the perfect place to begin an exploration of the capital. Covering just 0.2 square miles (0.6 km2), Valletta’s miniature stature makes it best (and most easily) explored on foot. Once not much more than a large open-air car park, the whole City Gate and Freedom Square area has been redesigned with the help of feted Italian architect Renzo Piano, perhaps best known for The Shard in London.