Last Thursday, I acted as a Tour Guide to two of my friends from the States. Rocco and Keith were both bewildered with the amount of history and culture that is packed in this little island of Malta.
The day dawned somewhat dismal at first and I actually packed three umbrellas as it looked as though it would rain, but at 9am whilst in the taxi going to Valletta, the sun came out to shine up on us, as though it wanted our American guests to enjoy the splendour of the City to its fullest.
Our first stop was the Upper Barrakka Gardens from which vantage point one can admire the splendour of Grand Harbour and looking at the Three Cities on the opposite side of Valletta. They were both mesmerised with the view. ‘I came here often as a little boy’, I said to them. ‘Have many beautiful memories of this place, today I add another as I share the experience of this garden with you both.’
Next on our itinerary was . Reputed to have the most beautiful floor in the world, Rocco and Keith were constantly taking photos with their iPads of just about every inch of this sacred place of worship. Completed in 1577 and dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Order, the place oozes opulence and splendour. The interior is truly a celebration of Baroque art and famous masterpieces by notable masters such as Bernini, Preti and Caravaggio adorn the church; namely, ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’ and St. Jerome, both by the latter artist who embraced the harsh realism of the chiaroscuro technique.
From St. John’s we made our way to the President’s Palace. There in the State Rooms one can admire the ‘Les Teintures des Indes’ which are the only complete set of the famous 18th Century French Gobelins tapestries in the world. The visual narration of the Great Siege of 1565 painted by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio can also be seen here as well as the Portrait Gallery of the various rulers of Malta.
From the State Rooms we went down to the Palace Armoury which is in the same building. Rocco sat down as he felt overwhelmed by the many arms and armour that are collected here making this collection, the largest in the world still housed in its original building. Looking at the suits of armour owned and worn by the Grandmasters Wignacourt and La Valette as well as other such weapons and suits used by the Knights from 1530 to 1798 as well as a modest collection from the Ottoman Empire during the Great Siege of 1565 is no small wonder that Rocco felt such awe.
An electric cab picked us up from the Palace and took us for a nice short ride down to the foremost tip of the peninsula of Valetta. Our last stop for the day before we would go for a lavish lunch at Da Pippo’s was to be Fort St Elmo, the home of the National War Museum.
Built in less than six months, the Fort which by the time of the first attack in May 1565, had been extended and further fortified from its original star-shaped design in time to be better able to withstand the imminent attacks from the Turks.
Museum pieces from the First and the Second World Wars can also be seen here. Most notable is the original George Cross that King George VI awarded the island of Malta in April 1942 for her gallantry.
Rocco, Keith and I stood at the Chapel of St. Anne inside the Fort and imagined the battles that must have raged in there as the Knights fell for the last time on the 23rd June.
‘If only the walls could talk’, I said to my friends. We would probably hear the pain and anguish of hard fought battles if they did.