Valletta and the Knights of St John

Valletta JWalking

Trying to get the right mix of exploring and relaxing is never easy for us. The whole plan was to have some “down time” but once we get to any new location, be it UK or abroad, the urge kicks in to get out and explore. Before even arriving in Malta, there were a few “must see” places one of which was the capital, Valletta. If you’re into ticking things off, which I am afraid we are particularly adverse to, it is the southernmost capital of Europe. We, on the other hand, were going for a jolly in the public bus to a very historic and scenic city.

Bargain Buses

We chose a sunny day so we could get maximum views and hopefully get to a couple of al fresco cafes. Like good school children on an outing, we had an early breakfast, had our packed lunch and bottle of water and correct money for the bus. Maltese buses are like Marmite, you love them or hate them. We came to love them. They don’t always run to time, get very full and are slow. Having said that, they are only €1.50 for any length of journey, they do come fairly regularly and we aren’t in a hurry. Then you get to see the size of some of the streets the routes run down and you marvel that they arrive at all.

Valletta City Gate

The large bus terminus stood right at a large plaza outside the City Gate. The Gate is the entrance to the peninsula city that is Valletta.


To be honest, the City Gate wasn’t quite how we pictured it because it was a modern version. Evidently some serious bombing in WWII had flattened the original one along with the adjacent Opera House. On either side of the short bridge and contemporary brick gateway there were impressive fortifications which hinted at what was to come once within the city.



The Knights of St John

I can’t possible right a blog article on Valletta without mentioning these Knights. Briefly, this was a medieval Catholic military group, established in 603 by the Pope, who considered it their holy duty to care for pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land in Jerusalem. They were also known as the Knights Hospitaller and ruled from the 16th to the 19th century. Their main headquarters was Fort St Angelo on the Grand Harbour and two other nearby fortified settlements that are now know as the “Three Cities“.

The Order of St John are synonymous with Malta and part of their legacy is the well known Maltese Cross. Its eight points denoted the eight obligations of the Knights, “to live in truth, have faith, repent one’s sins, give proof of humility, love justice, be merciful, be sincere and whole-hearted, and to endure persecution“. The Maltese Cross seems more prominent than the national flag. In fact if you were a tourist you may think it was the flag of Malta.
Maltese Cross

Upper Barrakka Gardens

First stop was the former recreational area for those Knight when they were enjoying time off from looking after pilgrims. It is now the recreational area for tourists and gives them a stunning overview of the Grand Harbour, Fort St Angelo and the Three Cities.


Valletta harbour

Valletta Harbour

The gardens sit on top of The Saluting Battery. This was a defence position across the harbour from Fort St Angelo, established by those clever Knights, to protect their headquarters. Today it is a museum and the cannons fire from the terrace at 1200 and 1600. Bet it frightens the life out of the selfie seeking tourists on the terrace about. Sorry but I can’t go any further without giving into the need to call this the Holy Order the Knights Who Say Ni (for you Monty Python lovers out there).

A Stroll Along the City Walls

We headed along the edge of the harbour past the very impressive Victoria Gate entrance to the city. Our destination was the Lower Barrakka Gardens but we kept stopping along the way to enjoy more harbour views to the right and the historic city to our left. With it’s winding streets and staircases it truly felt like stepping back in time.




Lower Barrakka Gardens

This shady terrace gave us great views to the entrance to the harbour and of the Siege Bell Memorial. This monument houses the largest bell in Malta and it booms out over the harbour at midday everyday. No doubt competing with the cannons on the Saluting Battery.  It is commemorating what is known as the Siege of Malta during WWII.

At first sight, because it is hard to see the detail, we thought the bronze tomb sculpture you can see to the right of the Siege Bell monument was for the Knights of St John but it is symbolising an Unknown Soldier from WWII who was buried at sea. Its quite unusual that the soldier is lying down which is another reason we thought it was representing a different era, most WWI and II memorials/statues show soldiers standing or kneeling.





Cisk and Coffee

More wanderings along the two main streets on the peninsula, Republic Street and Merchant’s Street took us past the Grandmaster’s Palace and Armoury, St John’s Cathedral and too many small chapels and churches to count. Just as we were beginning to flag, we came across Republic Square and a couple of nice cafes with tempting tables bathed in sunshine.

One bottle of the local brew, Cisk, and one much needed caffeine hit while listening to a very good busker made the perfect end to our day in Valletta. Time for the JWalkers to head out of the City Gates to the bus stop for the very punctual, very sardine like 45 minute ride back to the hotel where a much needed buffet dinner awaits.






  1. I have fond memories of Valletta….. when we arrived the first time, walking through the gates and down one of the steep streets the first view of the harbour and the bright blue sky was something else.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a beautiful and interesting city. Had no idea how historic the place is. It didn’t look too busy either. What’s the accommodation situation like in Valletta? Can you get there by train?

    Liked by 3 people

    • The history is fascinating. Didn’t stay in Valetta but it would be a great place to stay. No trains on the island but it could be done by train through Italy and Sicily then ferry to Malta. Mammoth but interesting. Get planning!


  3. I love the stone the buildings are built from. Do you know what it is Joanna? It’s that lovely sunny cream colour, like sandstone, but I don’t think it is sandstone. My in laws didn’t like Malta at all, so we never considered going there. I can see I was mis-guided! It looks lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great photos!! I really don’t remember much about the island when I was there over 20 years ago apart from the silent city Mdina. But it does look lovely and full of history and def worth a trip back.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Love Valetta – such a charming old city! Your pictures brings back such wonderful memories!
    My husband certainly enjoyed a few (whole lot) bottles of Cisk (remember, we were there in summer time 😊). When we’ve visited Malta in 2011, they still had the very old buses (think it was Bedfords dating back to the 1970’s – and now that I’m thinking about it; was probably manufactured in Britain) … what a treat! Never on time, but we always had a whole lot of fun!


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