Gruesome Scenes from the Great Siege


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July 11th 2015
Published: May 21st 2017
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Today's our last day in Malta. Our ever reliable relative, friend and tour guide Louis picks us up and we head towards Valletta. As ever, parking's not easy. We pull into a spot with a sign saying it‘s reserved for the head of the department responsible for the collection of parking fines. I hope he doesn't work on Saturdays.

We go into the iconic Phoenicia Hotel which Louis tells us has been here since before World War II. It‘s a classical old style luxury establishment from a bye-gone era, with a magnificent garden, and a great position right next to the bastion. Louis says that his niece Annette used to work here as a waitress, and once served Charlton Heston. Apparently she had no idea who he was. I‘m suddenly feeling very old.

Next stop is the Valletta library. We go into a large room lined with bookcases housing ancient manuscripts, which Louis says are only made available to researchers. Issy says that they look like they should only be handled by people wearing white gloves, but there don't seem to be too many of these in evidence. We see one researcher flicking through an ancient looking tome with his bare hands, and the tome's propped up on a pillow. I'm not sure what the pillow's for, but I’m suspecting that maybe he's a university student who's pulled an all-nighter and he'll need it for his siesta. There are lots of drawings in glass cases depicting details of gruesome scenes from The Great Siege. One of them shows the Turks being a bit unhappy about losing one skirmish and reacting by slaughtering all of their prisoners. The Knights then retaliate by decapitating some of their own prisoners and shooting their heads out of cannons into the Turkish camp.

We move on to the Manoel Theatre. Louis tells us that this is nearly 200 years old, and is one of the oldest working theatres in the world. It has three levels of seating in a U shape, and is made entirely of wood. Apparently this is rare in Malta, where wood is in very short supply and only the very rich have wooden houses.

We have a quick look at St Paul's Anglican Cathedral. The style is very different and less ornate than all the other churches we've seen here which have all been Catholic.

Next stop is The Knights Hospitallers, which was a hospital run by the Order. A guide tells us that Knights themselves were housed in a very long room on the top floor, and they each had their own toilet and two nurses. Other men were on the lower floors, and there were no facilities at all for female patients. The rationale for this was that females couldn't fight. I‘m not sure the Knights knew a lot of females.

We cross the street to the Malta Experience which is a short audio visual presentation on the island's history. Headphones provide a soundtrack in about twenty different languages. Issy's struggling to find the button for English. I ask her what language she's selected. She responds that she's not sure how she's supposed to know if she can't understand it. I think that maybe I should have seen that one coming. The presentation is very impressive, and goes through the history of Malta from ancient times up to the late 1900s. The Maltese must be pretty tough; they seem to have had most empires from the region have a go at invading them at some stage.

Louis drives us back to the hotel and we say our goodbyes. Issy says she's feeling a bit sad, and I am too. Louis and Lily have been great hosts. We didn't realise there'd be so much to see in such a small place, and we wouldn't have seen half of what we did without them. We talk about coming back soon.

We have our siesta, and Issy writes some postcards. I’m not sure she‘s written a lot of these before; when she's finished she tells me she hasn't left any space for the stamps. I suggest she puts them over the least interesting things she’s written, which seems like a good plan until she tells me that these are the recipients’ addresses.

We set out for a final walk. We pass the sandy beach in St George's Bay near the hotel. I remember Louis telling us that this is artificial, and that the sand here is replenished every year from the deserts of Jordan. This seems like a long way to bring sand.

We catch the bus into Sliema for dinner. Issy says that we must have Maltese food on our last night here. Horse meat isn't on the menu, so she settles for ravioli. It occurs to me that she has yet to try horse meat, yet it’s me who’s been feeling guilty about not being able to stomach this apparent Maltese delicacy. I decide to stop feeling guilty and instead contemplate the world of trouble I’m going to be in if our animal loving daughter ever finds out that I even considered trying to eat part of one of these beautiful creatures.

We pack. Tomorrow we head to Marrakech.

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12th July 2015

SAD !!

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