City of Valletta (1980)

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The capital of Malta is inextricably linked to the history of the military and charitable Order of St John of Jerusalem. It was ruled successively by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John. Valletta’s 320 monuments, all within an area of 55 ha, make it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. The Republic of Malta, which consists of Malta, Gozo, Comino and two very small uninhabited islands, is situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, 93 km south of Sic8ily and 200 km north of North Africa. 

United Nations (Geneva) 1984. View of Valletta. Malta 2004. World Cultural Heritage. Europa stamp with view of Valletta. Malta 2003.  Castle of St. Angelo, Valletta. 

Archeological investigations have given some indication that the first settlers came from nearby Sicily towards the end of the 5th millennium B.C., bringing with them domestic animals, grains and impressed pottery.  These people were in a Neolithic stage of culture and followed an agricultural way of life.  In time the descendants of the first inhabitants developed a unique culture of their own.  During the third millennium, while in many parts of Europe copper was in general use, they erected vast and complex megalithic sanctuaries, like Tarxien and Magar Qim in Malta, and Ggantija in Gozo, working the local soft stone with nothing but hard stone tools. 

In 1530 the Emperor Charles V ceded the Maltese Islands to the Order of St. John, which had become homeless since its eviction by the Turks from Rhodes in 1523.  Malta soon became a militant naval base and later a bastion of Christianity. The foundation stone of Valletta was laid in 1566, and in 1571 the Knights transferred their headquarters from the town of Vittoriosa to the new city. 

Malta 1980.  St. Elmo Fort.

Malta 2004.  St. Angelo.

Malta 2004.  St. Elmo.  

After the Ottoman sea-power was broken at the Battle of Lepanti in 1571, the importance of Malta declined.  Also, towards the end of the seventeenth century, Turkey entered into diplomatic relations and made commercial treaties with various Christian powers, and the militant role of the Order was thus rendered difficult.  
At the end of the eighteenth century when a very considerable part of the Order's estates in Europe was confiscated, discipline within the Order had become lax and disaffection had spread amongst the Maltese. 

Napoleon, who saw the Island's significance as a vital link in a route to the East and for his own designs on Egypt and India, landed in Malta in 1798l.  The Knights handed over the islands to the French without any serious effort to defend it. 

  • UNESCO (France) 1981. Fort St. Elmo at Valletta. 

UNESCO (France) 1981. Fort St. Elmo at Valletta. 

At first the islanders seem to have welcomed the French, but later, angered by the conduct of the troops who pillaged the churches and other institutions, they rebelled against them.  Aided by the British and their allies who blockaded the islands, the Maltese forced the French to surrender on 5th September, 1800. 

The many ancient monuments and remains on Malta attest to the great age of its civilization. Remains from Stone Age and Bronze Age peoples have been found in subterranean burial chambers. The islands became a Phoenician colony about 1000 bc. In 736 bc they were occupied by the Greeks, who called the colony Melita, and later the islands passed successively into the possession of Carthage and Rome. At the division of the Roman Empire in ad 395, Malta was awarded to the Eastern Roman Empire. The islands were occupied by Arabs in 870. A Norman army conquered the Maltese Arabs in 1090, and Malta was later made a feudal fief of the kingdom of Sicily. In 1530 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted Malta to the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, who ruled the islands until the 19th century. After a famous and unsuccessful siege by the Ottoman Empire in 1565, the Knights fortified Valletta so strongly that it became one of the greatest Mediterranean strongholds. 

Sources and links:

Many thanks to Mr. Tony Vella (Canada) for all help and research. 

Other World Heritage sites on Malta (on this website). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Malta-section, for further information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 21 jul 2006  
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