I’m writing this on a simply beautiful day here in Malta; I just finished a day trip to Birgu aka Città Vittoriosa and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Valletta. Birgu is ancient and has been inhabited since Phoenician times. It’s on the other side of the Grand Harbour and the round trip cost of getting there is only 2.80 euro! It’s one of the three ancient cities on the other side of the harbour and I soaked in the street scenes, visited the Inquisitor’s Palace, Fort St. Angelo as well as the Maritime Museum; good times!
Getting to Birgu from Valletta is really easy and all you need to do is go to the Upper Barrakka Gardens and take the lift down. The lift will give you a good idea of how massive the 16th century bastion walls are. To call them massive is actually an understatement; need to see them to believe them really. Once down at sea level you simply walk across the street and wait for the ferry; the schedules are different in winter and summer but they will come at least every half hour and the view while you wait is the Grand Harbour so it’s all good.
The streets of Birgu are a sight in themselves. You can tell that this city was built long ago. Also, it used to be the base for the knights until Valletta was completed in 1571 after the Great Siege of 1565. The streets are oozing with character and it’s quite slow if you visit in winter as it’s not high season for tourism so you get to taste a slice of life on a random Thursday as I did today. Everyone I spoke to though was quite nice and more than willing to help answer my many questions.
There are a few main streets which lead to the center square and lots of local shops lining them. The really old parts I believe are the small streets if you want to call them that which resemble alleys or lanes which jet from the square. The buildings are also ancient and if you do go, I suggest you try and get lost for a bit and just explore. Lots of construction going on right now and I believe it’s because Valletta will be the 2018 European Cultural Capital; must be!
The Inquisitors Palace is the spot where all the inquisitors would stay and was a serious palace as it hosted the real powers of the island. You can wander around to get an idea of the opulent lifestyles these gents used to live. You also get to see the prisons where they held people. I was in awe at the quarters but also got some shivers as I strolled through the prisons. Whenever I hear the words inquisitor or inquisition images come to mind and well, we all know what types those are.
There are tours but I just wandered on my own and I spent a good 30-45 minutes reading up on different things and using my imagination to travel back in time to when the place was inhabited. I do believe there are routine organized tours if that is more your style. Much like the streets, it is also under heavy construction for the anticipated flood of tourists who will start visiting in 2018.
The Maritime Museum was a good time and filled with information of interest to anyone keen on boats and the history of them; particularly in this region. Besides the history of boat construction and propulsion engines they also had all sorts of old relics. Some included massive anchors, old canons used in battle, uniforms and lots of models depicting vessels from yesteryear. They also had a room dedicated to old engines and the like. The longer I live on an island; the more interested I’m becoming in sailing, naturally. That said, sailing takes a lot of work and concentration and is by no means a joy ride but I digress…
I was under the impression that I could go in and look around but that is not the case. Fort St. Angelo is situated on a point right across from from Valletta and played a major role in the Great Siege of 1565 when the Ottoman Turks attacked the Grand Harbour with a fleet of 40,000 men against only 8000 defending. The fort fended off the siege because the walls held and the Turks ran out of time and had to return or be stranded. Following the seige, the Maltese fixed things up and it was then that the decision was made to move the capital and stronghold across the harbour to what is now Valletta.
Valletta is named after the Grand Master Jean de la Vallette who lead the troops when they successfully fended off the Turks. Supposedly it only opens once a year on September 8th which is the day that the Ottoman Turks packed up their artillery and were preparing to leave aka the siege was over. That said, it should be open in 2018 so if you’re coming then; do go inside as it looks incredible. I was unaware that it was closed and a little sad when I realized I couldn’t go in; I love forts and used to build lots as a kid.
Other then that, I missed my ferry back by a minute; they were leaving as I approached. I walked around further and took some photos of other beautiful churches before heading to a bar which was the recommendation of the ferry captain. I walked in and ordered a pint; I was handed two bottles of Cisk. This large and potentially intimidating gent was eating snails and offered me some; please I replied. They were actually delicious and I eat them all. I only had 10 minutes until my next ferry to polish off the “pint” if you want to call it that so I made great haste.
As I was about to leave; the same gentleman with the snails bought me a beer and who would I be not to accept? I drank it at a shocking speed before buying him one in return and jumping on the ferry. There I met a Maltese couple who immigrated to Ontario, Canada 55 years ago and we talked about life. He told me that he is here for 6 weeks and that nothing has changed but everything has changed. When he was a kid there were Maltese, some Brits and a few Italian but now Malta is truly worldwide and he’s all for it.
Here are some more photos and stay tuned for the video!
Tonight I’m off to dinner at Gululu Restaurant in St. Julians and excited about it!
This post was made possible as a result of the Blog Island Malta campaign which was created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Malta Tourism Authority and the support of Air Malta. As always, I’d like to thank them for putting this initiative together and including Stop Having a Boring Life in the action; obviously all opinions are my own.
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