Valetta: the European capital of culture

The jewel in Malta’s crown, Valetta, is the European Capital of Culture for 2018. Admired across the world, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980 and is an architectural gem to be explored by all. Valetta, just 9.5 kilometres from Malta’s International Airport by car, has been described as 'an open air museum.' It’s been described as such due to its stunning historic buildings, unique architecture, inspiring monuments, and statues.

This incredible fortress city, built on the Mount Sciberras peninsula, offers fabulous views of the sea and local harbours. Small shops and traditional cafés line the narrow streets, while you can find premium brands housed on the main shopping street.

Banner image credit: Clive Vella @ Viewing Malta

The city is a fascinating mix of ancient history, modernity, and cultural phenomena. There are hotels, secluded gardens, and epic viewing points spread across this wonderful city.

Standing tall as the capital of culture

The 16th century baroque Cathedral of Saint John emerges above the rooftops of central Valetta, standing proudly as one of the city’s highlights. It is ornately decorated and home to painted masterpieces by Caravaggio and Mattia Preti.

St John’s Cathedral Interior. Image credit: Chen Weizhong @ Viewing Malta

The glorious 16th century Casa Rocca Piccola palace offers detailed guided tours, while the state rooms and armoury of the Grand Master’s Palace are perfect for further exploration. Auberge de Castille is one of the finest architectural sights in Valetta, with a grand façade and currently home to the offices of Malta’s Prime Minister.

Valetta is home to an array of museums preserving its diverse history. The National Museum of Archaeology has artefacts from Malta’s Neolithic period until the Phoenician Period (400 BC), and the National War Museum provides insight to Malta’s wartime past.

As you slowly wind your way through the cobbled streets of Valetta, you’ll find yourself stumbling across modern delights slotting seamlessly in with the city’s ancient architecture. MUŻA is Malta’s new museum of art and a perfect example of this blend between the past and 2018. Located within Auberge d’Italie, which dates back to the late 16th century, this site once housed knights of the Order of Saint John. It is now a self-sustainable and energy efficient museum containing an impressive collection of artwork and sculptures.

Image credit: Viewing Malta

From the beautiful harbour to ancient fortifications

Valetta’s Manoel Theatre, dating back to 1731, is among the oldest theatres in Europe. Performances are still shown and guided tours are readily available.

Another interesting building is the Sacra Infermeria, the Knights of Malta’s former hospital which had over 600 beds and treated people from all classes of society. Today, you can explore the hospital, see the Great Ward – 161 metres long and 11 metres wide – and enter the reconstructed 16th century pharmacy.

Valetta’s coast is beautiful – take a cruise from the beautiful Grand Harbour, enjoy the scenery on foot, or find a waterside café and enjoy refreshments while looking out across the sea.

The city’s 16th century fortifications, built by the Knights of Malta, stand out on a landscape packed with history and heritage. The city has 320 monuments, and some of Europe’s finest baroque architecture. Historic buildings are adorned with statues and coats of arms, there are fountains in the streets, and horses pulling carriages – new delights at every turn!

Image credit: Gregory Iron @ Viewing Malta

Celebrating its status

For 2018, to celebrate its reign as the European Capital of Culture, Malta is running a series of impressive events.

The ongoing programme includes exhibitions, music, visual arts and community projects. Many of these take place in Valetta itself, but some are outside the capital, with some even on the neighbouring island of Gozo.

Cathedral of St Mary, Gozo. Image credit:

A variety of cultural events continue to run throughout the summer and throughout the rest of the year. The eclectic programme covers art, film, literature, music, and talks. An exhibition depicting domestic violence by Raymond Darmanin runs until December 2018 in the nearby town of St Venera. Up-and-coming artists and performers are showcasing their talent at The Beer Cave, Valetta. Art installations, performances, and ‘public interventions’ will continue to pop up at locations across the capital until 1st July.

The Oca Dome Mandala is an art installation designed to be used as a sacred space and described as ‘an ephemeral multicultural temple.’ Participants will be taken on a ‘collective experience’ while engaged in mandala making. This unique event kicked off on the 1st May at Marsamxett, Valetta, and will move to other locations across Malta throughout the coming months.

Between the 3rd May and 5th October, a mobile solar-powered cinema is running in public places across Valetta and the island of Gozo. A collection of short films, documentaries, and animations will showcase diverse issues around sustainable living and the environment. This event is certainly on my wish list!

In a year that celebrates Valetta as the European City of Culture, the city is certainly coming alive and proudly showcasing why it has been chosen. Malta has a unique charm and wonderful history that traverses different cultures across multiples centuries, making it a special country to visit this year – or in years to come.

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