The Building of Valletta
the Great Siege of 1565, the Maltese people found all their fields ruined. When they left
their fortifications in the Grand Harbour and at the fortified old capital city Mdina, where they had taken refuge
during the fighting, they had to see to the damage left by the Turks and rebuild the ruined buildings. The words
"Melita Renascens" (meaning the rebirth of Malta) found on the new coin symbolised the
hope for the future and the need of reconstruction after the three month long siege.
European kings and princes, and even the Pope himself acclaimed the courage shown by the knights in holding Malta during the siege. Their success meant they had not let the Turks continue to win more lands in the Mediterranean. Therefore, Malta was the Fortification that was defending Europe from the onward movement of the Turkish Infidels. So the European Kings were ready to help the victorious Grandmaster Jean Parisot de La Vallette in reconstructing damaged fortifications and fortify the Maltese Islands even more.
During the Great Siege an important lesson had been learnt because the experiences of the Great Siege had shown that if any attacker got hold of the "Sciberras" Peninsula (as the Turks did in 1565), Malta would be lost. Therefore, La Vallette decided to eliminate this threat by constructing an entirely new fortified city on the "Sciberras" (also known as "Xebb ir-Ras") Peninsula. Thus the land behind Fort St. Elmo, that is that on "Sciberras" Peninsula, had to be fortified. At the same time La Vallette's wish to have a new centre or city for the Knights of Malta would be accomplished. So his idea was to have a new fortified city on this Peninsula which could protect better the entrance to the Grand Harbour where the Turks had found shelter for their galleys.
La Vallette, a cultured man with vision, decided that the new city should not only serve as a powerful fort, but should also become a strongpoint of culture, economy and politics in the world. He therefore decided that Valletta should become "a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen." In honour of its founder, it was to be known as Valletta. It was to become Malta's capital city instead of Imdina and Malta's chief town for the Knights instead of "Birgu". Encouraged by Gabrio Serbelloni, one of the most caapble military strategists and engineers of his time, who was sent to Malta by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, La Vallette decided to go ahead with his great plan.
Pope Pius V sent his military engineer Francesco Laparelli (one of the best in Europe at the time) to help in the design of the new city and gave the Knights a great deal of money for the building of their new city. King Philip II of Spain and the King Sebastian of Portugal also sent money. Other princes sent weapons. However, since all this help was not enough to pay for the new project, La Vallette asked for more help.
Laparelli designed the bastions surrounding the new city. At first he was going to have winding streets. The idea was abandoned and instead he chose to have parallel streets crossing each other in the form of a grid. Work started immediately as soon as the Council of the Order approved the plan. This is because the Knights wanted to have the city ready as soon as possible for it was rumoured that the Turks were preparing another army to attack Malta again.
On March 28th 1566, the foundation stone was laid in position by Grand Master La Vallette himself. Donations flowed in from all over Europe and the city of Valletta soon began to take shape. Thousands of slaves together with specially chosen workers from Sicily and day labourers from the surrounding villages crowded the hills of "Sciberras" Peninsula. The area was levelled and drainage was built. The work proceeded under the direction of the famous and great Italian architect, Francesco Laparelli of Cortona, who had already drawn up the first plans of the city before the Great Siege. Never before, had a completely new city been built in Europe straight from the drawing board, since before, towns had grown without any planning.
Laparelli built a garbage disposal and a drainage system. The city was laid out on a regular grid-plan with broad underground ditches and channels. This meant that the inhabitants could simply throw their garbage into a pit in their courtyard and every morning an army of slaves would come round to collect and dispose of the waste. Twice a day, the ditches were flushed with fresh seawater while drain water was directed into remote parts of the sea by a separate pipe system, thus saving Valletta's inhabitants from the suffocating decay, which infested most other European cities.
The Grid Design
Also unique, was the "grid-iron," street alignment, planned to allow the breezes free entry to the city, in order to lower the heat during the summer time. In the previous capital, "Birgu", the Knights of Malta had suffered greatly from the soaring heat of those summer months.
Just like today, Valletta had its town-planning department, which closely monitored and regulated all construction activities. Buildings were not allowed to jut out into the street, so as to narrow the passageway. Front gardens and gaps between houses were forbidden. Every building had to have a sculpture on each corner, preferably a saintly one, and each house had to be equipped with a well to collect rainwater. Most important, every house had to be connected to the public drainage system. Upon the acquisition of a site, construction had to begin within ten months and be finished not later than three years later.
The fortification of Valletta had top priority. The most important element of this was the huge ditch, which ran between the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour, separating Valletta from the mainland. Almost 1,000 metres long, 20 metres wide and 18 metres deep, this would afford Valletta the greatest protection. Within the short space of 5 years, the workers, often more than 8,000 a day, managed to complete the imposing fortifications and bastions around Valletta that can be seen nowadays.
The Maltese Creators of Valletta
After Laparelli left Malta in 1570, his able Maltese assistant, Girolamo Cassar, continued the work. He is responsible for most of Valletta's magnificent palaces, Auberges and churches. Cassar's name, rather more than Laparelli the planner, is associated with the city. As a masterpiece of construction, Valletta became a centre of political, economic and cultural life in Europe, in which trade, handicrafts and the arts flourished.
Magnificent Buildings in Valletta
· St. John's Co-Cathedral
· The Auberges
· "The Sacra Infermeria"
· The Grandmaster's Palace
· The Manoel Theatre