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Published: June 30th 2019
As mentioned in the last blog entry we decided to leave Gozo and head over to the island of Malta. We had been told by friends of ours where there was a good place to anchor that was close to chandleries (boat supply stores), a grocery store that has everything and the bus stop so we headed to Marsamxett Harbour and then to the head of Msida Creek to the anchorage. We were surprised to see SV Grateful anchored there as we had been in touch with them and learned they were leaving today. Soon after we put our anchor down and got settled in a dinghy came by with Niki and Jamie from Grateful in it. They were just coming back from the customs/port office as they needed to check out first. They stopped by for a few minutes to say hi and then they were on their way. We were sorry our paths didn’t cross for longer, but hopefully they will somewhere down the road.
There were a couple other boats anchored at the same location and another American boat was there. They stopped by to fill us in on where to take the dinghy to
shore, where the chandleries were located and other practicalities of the area. It is always great to learn from others that were there before you. Malta has its own language but fortunately for us most speak English as well. It will definitely make it easier when we go to the chandleries to buy some supplies we need for Tsamaya. We have managed in other places, but with technical questions it is always easier in English than with the aid of goggle translate which does not always do the best with its translations we have learned.
That first afternoon we just took the dinghy to shore, checked out a couple of the chandleries (this is definitely the place for them as there are plenty here and went to the grocery store. One thing that we have really been missing in Tunisia was cheese. They have cheese, but not of the type we particularly liked so we went “wild” with getting a few varieties. That evening we thoroughly enjoyed some wonderful cheeses with our wine! We even found a cheese that we fell in love with in the UK – cheddar with caramelized onion!! It is funny what things
you miss when you can’t get it for a long time. The rest of the evening we just enjoyed seeing the surroundings lit up for the evening, the music coming from the various restaurants around and tried to plan out what we want to see while here.
The first full day at anchorage was one of those days that cruisers many times say about cruising – “it is fixing your boat in exotic places” Well, Valletta may not fit the bill as being exotic, but it was definitely a day for Bob to do what he calls “boat yoga” and get into small spaces to fix the solar controller. He had noticed that the controller wasn’t registering the current correctly so needed to see what was causing the problem. Fortunately found it was fixed with re soldering a few connections so another problem solved.
One of the major attractions we kept reading about was St. John’s Co-Cathedral so figured that was a good place to start our touring of Valletta now that we are anchored here. There is a bus that runs regularly from where we put our dinghy into the central bus station
so caught that early in the morning. We went through the gate into the city which leads to a few modern buildings that caused some controversy, but it did not seem to be overpowering or distract from the rest of the old town. These buildings were completed in 2014 and one of them houses the Parliament, another the Opera House and the modern City Gate.
There is a very long history of fighting here due to its very strategic location in the Med. It has been said that whoever has control of Malta, has the control of the Mediterranean. Before the Great Siege of 1565 the peninsula that Valletta is located on had been uninhabited and unfortified except for Fort St. Elmo. After Malta won during the Great Siege with the Turks, there was a fear that the Turks would try again so the Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette of the Knights of St. John decided to build a new city. Valletta was the first planned city of Europe. It was to have buildings tall enough to shade the streets from the hot sun and straight streets to allow the sea breezes to help circulate through the
town. A huge ditch 59 ft deep, 65 feet wide and more than a half mile long was dug across the peninsula to protect the landward side and massive fortification walls were built around the perimeter of the city. With the fear of the Turks attacking again, this was all accomplished in 5 years – quite an accomplishment. As a result it is easy to get around the city with its very straight streets, however due to the topography this includes going up and down hills and includes plenty of staircases!
St. John’s Co-Cathedral was built between 1573–1578 as a place of worship for the Knights. In the 17th
C. the interior was redone in the baroque style which is quite a contrast from the very plain exterior. As soon as you walk in the door you are hit with the very rich and extensive ornamentation of every inch of the interior. The floor is covered in marble tomb slabs and the vaulted ceiling is painted with scenes illustrating the life of St. John the Baptist. Even though it was heavily decorated the Cathedral still had a feeling of warmth – we aren’t sure how that was
Valletta Is Well Fortified
Everywhere you turn there are signs of fortification
accomplished but it may be due to the fact that it was not made up of soaring heights, but has eight smaller chapels off the main nave. The nave is long, but low again giving a feeling of warmth. In the oratory they also have the privilege of having two paintings by the well known artist, Caravaggio. You can go up a staircase to the balcony area which we did giving us a chance to view the whole nave and a closer look at the painting on the ceiling. It was well worth the time to visit and it was wonderful that there was excellent signage throughout in English providing us more details of what we were seeing.
The rest of that day we actually took a bus out to a nearby hospital as I needed to have a follow up ultrasound that my Dr. back in the US wanted me to have. Niki from SV Grateful had to have some surgery here so I found out the name of where she went. I called on Tuesday afternoon just to see if I could get an appointment and surprisingly I was told I could come the next
Great Balconies in Valletta
as well as places to eat tucked in every lane
afternoon. We easily got to the hospital, checked in, had the ultrasound done by the Dr. himself, waited about 15 minutes and received the written report from the Dr.! It was excellent service and only cost 125 Euros ($142). It was great to get it done so quickly in Malta where my discussions with the Dr. were all in English! As an aside, everything checked out great so no problem.
The next day we again went into town and wandered around for a while in the morning. The crowds were much bigger and when we got to the Upper Barrakka Gardens we could look over at the Grand Harbour and see why the crowds. Yes, two cruise ships were in town! We enjoyed wandering through the garden which was created in the late 16th
C. for the Knights to enjoy as well as walking around parts of the wall where we could look over and see Tsamaya safely at anchor. Always nice to see her safely at anchor when we are away from the boat.
We took a wander over to Fort Elmo which now houses the War Museum. This is located in a
Some Days On Tsamaya Means Work
and as Bob says "boat yoga"! Solar Controller today
position to guard the harbors on both sides of the peninsula, Grand and Marsamxett Harbors. It was built in four short months by the Knights in 1552 and it is what bore the brunt of the Turkish fighting in 1565. Now housing the National War Museum it covered the long wartime history of Malta up through WWII. One aspect that was highlighted was the difficulty of an island country to get supplies during the German bombing that was fierce. It took an overwhelming amount of effort and sacrifice of both manpower and ships to accomplish the delivery of food to this area. Even though Malta is not that large of an island, it is very strategically located and as a result it has suffered much over the centuries.
On our forth full day in Valletta we visited the Inquisitor Palace as well as took a water taxi (using a traditional style boat) over to Fort St. Angelo in the neighboring town of Vitttiosa. The Inquisitor Palace was built as a civil law court for the Order of St. John’s in 1530. It was used for this purpose up until 1571. In 1574 it became the official residence
of the Inquisitor and subsequent years the gardens, the prison, private quarters for the Inquisitor and the Chapel were added. As the sign stated, in the period of enlightenment, the last Inquisitor left a few weeks before the French took control in 1798. The French used this building as the residence for their commander for the 2 years they were in control. From 1800 to 1926 the British were here and first used it as a military hospital and then later as a mess house for their officers. In 1926 the building was turned over to the Department of Museums. During WWII the bombing destroyed the convent and church of the Dominican friars so they were provided this space from 1942-1954. In 1966 it reverted back to a museum and in 1981 they added a folklore museum. Quite a long history just like so many of the buildings we see here in Europe.
It was interesting to learn more about the Inquisitor and their role. It has been thought that they used torture extensively but at least here it was stated that it was not used much – it was more as a last resort to attempt
to get the truth out of people that they suspected of withholding information. The purpose of the Inquisitor was to communicate the truth, fight ignorance and to convert people to the Church doctrine. People were to voluntarily self denunciate that they committed a religious transgression in front of the Inquisitor. Some did not realize that they were transgressing so sometimes the Confessor insisted that they tell the Inquisitor of their transgression. Others were turned in by Catholics that were bound to inform the Inquisitor about any transgressions by their friends or family. Once any of these were done the person would stand trial. They and any witnesses would be questioned by the Inquisitor who then would pronounce his verdict. If innocent the person was released. If found guilty the punishment had a wide range – everything from simply fasting on bread and water all the way to a death sentence which was rare. The list of punishments included having to do regular confessions, going on a pilgrimage, whipping, imprisonment, social work, public humiliation or exile. We had a chance to tour the prison cells, the residence area of the Inquisitor and see a few of the methods used for torture.
Anyone For a View for Dinner?
Yes, that is people having dinner hooked to a crane!
Thank goodness that period is over! The folklore portion of the museum included everything from the types of dress that were worn, the crops that were grown and many of the household items used over the years. We did notice that they had a display of bobbin lace which reminded us of our time while in Spain watching the women making bobbin lace. Always interesting to see the similarities in various areas that you travel.
Another Fort helping to protect the Grand Harbor of Malta in Valletta was Fort St. Angelo. It is located in a neighboring town that borders the Grand Harbor. To get there we could have taken a bus, but we decided to take a water taxi. They have an option of going over using a traditional boat for 2 euro each so decided to do that which was an enjoyable way to get there.
At the fort they had an excellent display that told of the importance of this location and why it has been fought over by so many. The harbor here is prized due to its being an all weather, spacious, deep water port with docking facilities. As
Always Need To Keep Your Eyes Open
to capture numerous figures in stone
mentioned earlier, anyone that controlled this, had control over the Mediterranean.
In the 16th
C. the Order of St. John transformed this area by putting large amounts of time and money into creating highly defended towns around the perimeter of the harbor. In the 19th
C. the British modified and modernized this same area. The British military base did not close here until 1979. What was definitely unique here was that this Fort was taken over by the British Navy in the early 20th
C. and was commissioned as a stone frigate and named HMS Egmont. Later in 1933 it was renamed HMS St. Angelo. Interesting to think that a stone fort was officially a ship! During the period from 1940-1943 it took 69 direct hits. The Royal Navy left Malta in 1979 and turned it over to the Malta government.
We have enjoyed learning about the importance of Malta and its strategic location in the Med, but we figured that we had our fill of visiting forts for a few days so wanted to do something different on the last day we were going to be in Malta. The weather forecasts
are telling us that it is good for making our jump to Sicily next. There is plenty more we could see on Malta, but the weather and the calendar is telling it is time to move on.
We decided to take a bus trip out to Rabat to see St. Paul’s Catacombs. This would be something very different for us to visit as well as give us a chance to see a little more of the island of Malta. There are numerous catacombs on the island that are open to the public, but this is known to be the largest as it encompasses 2,000 square meters and over 20 tombs. It is thought to have started during the Phoenician-Punic period (around 700 BC) and just like the Romans that followed they buried their dead outside the city walls. It is thought that it started with a few smaller tombs and then later some of these were joined creating the network of underground catacombs that exists here now. They were used through the 4th
C. AD and then after a period of dormancy, they were used again for burials in the 13th
C. There is evidence that Christians,
An Interesting Doorknocker But How About
those keyholes too - Imagine the Key to Open It!
Pagans and Jewish were buried here but that there was no real visible distinction between areas that they were buried and many would have been buried side by side. Over the years these underground areas were re-used for other purposes. Some of these were used for storage of animals, water cisterns and during WWII they were used as air raid shelters. It was quite interesting to learn more about the catacombs and the customs surrounding them. One of the most interesting was the addition of stone tables in some of them. It was used as a place for the family to have a last meal with the departed – it is thought that it is somewhat similar to what has now become the tradition of having family and friends having a meal together after a funeral.
I know I have mentioned the Knights of the Order of St. John a few times but never really explained who they were. They were actually a Catholic military order established in 603 when Pope Gregory commissioned a hospital to be built in Jerusalem. They were to take care of the sick and injured pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land. The Knights were
Modern Architecture Among the Old
some like it and some don't we heard
given Malta in 1530 by the King of Sicily, Charles I of Spain. The Knights had been expelled from Rhodes after the Ottoman siege in 1522 and had been wandering around Europe for a few years. The Knights made Malta their permanent home and ruled the island for 250 years. In the 1770’s the Order was declining and finally with French forces under the leadership of Napoleon taking control in 1778 they were able to expel the Knights from Malta.
For a small country made up of islands their history is long with numerous countries in control of them. They finally became independent of Britain in 1964. We could easily have spent more time in these islands as we know there is more to see and learn, but with a late start this season and long distances to go before we reach our winter location for Tsamaya we need to move on.
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