On 28 March 1566, the Grand Master of the Order of St John, Jean de la Valette, accompanied by the Grand Crosses, various Knights and distinguished personalities, and a multitude of Maltese, assisted to the laying of the foundation stone of Valletta, the new city of Malta. Officially the city was called Citta Umilissima Valletta; however, it must be said that the city was part of a European effort. The Order had immediately informed all the monarchies, princes, the nobilities and the Pope of their successful defence of Malta during the Great Siege of 1565. They requested as much help as possible in order to remain in Malta, but at the same time pointed out the need for a new, fortified city.
The military engineer, Francesco Laparelli da Cortona, was sent by the Pope to help the Order with their plans. The various plans that were suggested by Laparelli showed his interest in making sure that the city would be built. Eventually the plan was accepted, and the building started with the tracing of the walls of the city. Laparelli was assisted by the Maltese architect Glormu Cassar. The latter was to be the person responsible for the completion of the fortifications, and the design of the various main buildings of the Order in Valletta.
The new city immediately became a building site. Palaces, churches, and other important buildings started to be erected; the city had been well planned. Building blocks were planned with uniformity in mind. Building regulations were issued, which everyone was to follow. Within a few years, the city had the main buildings erected. In March 1571, the headquarters of the Order of St John was transferred from Vittoriosa to Valletta.
With the passage of time, the city continued to be built over. New architectural styles were introduced, and these were to influence any buildings that would be erected during the different times. With the introduction of Baroque, the 17th and 18th century was to see a number of important buildings being decorated in this style. Towards the end of the 18th century, the city was to have its first Neo-Classical buildings. This style was to become the predominant one with the arrival of the British in Malta. The 19th century buildings reflect this trend.
The next stage of building was to be seen after the end of World War Two. Many buildings had been destroyed or heavily damaged, and therefore new buildings needed to be built. Modernism took over, and this was to continue to be the common style of architecture used, with some exceptions.
The latest development was near the main entrance of Valletta. The internationally renowned architect, Renzo Piano, was commissioned to redesign the entrance to city, and to build a new Parliament House.
For this reason Valletta, the only capital city in the world which has a UNESCO World Heritage status, can be considered a living city. Its diverse architecture attests to this.
Happy Birthday Valletta, my home town.
VALLETTA – at the entrance of Valletta, one can notice buildings from different periods. Starting from our right we see the new House of Parliament (21st century); behind it there are the fortifications of the late 16th century; a house which is believed to have been built during the first years of the building of Valletta; the bell tower added to the Church of Our lady of Victory in the 18th century; the Auberge of Castile (the present-day Office of the prime Minister) an 18th century baroque building; the dome of the 16-17th century church of St Catherine of Alexandria and the ruins of the 19th century Royal opera House and the 21st century interventions. Truly, Valletta is a living city.
Article by Vincent Zammit
Tourist Guide, History and Cultural Consultant
MA (Baroque Studies), BA (Mediterranean Studies), PGCE