Writing from Malta about the good, the bad, the quirky and the downright sublime moments of life on a small island.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Valletta: Five more quirky facts

As promised last month, I am back with 5 more quirky facts about Valletta. If you missed the first five, you  may find them here.

Quirky fact number 6: It has a street that used to be known as ‘The Gut’

‘The Gut’ is a nickname given by British servicemen to Strait Street (Strada Stretta). At not more than 4 metres wide, Strait Street is the narrowest street in Valletta and is said to have been built so narrow so that a part of it would be in the shade at all times. During the British era, Strait Street gained notoriety as bars, dance halls and brothels sprouted next to each other and brawls, prostitution and drunkenness were the order of the day (and night).

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The street was so mired in sleaze and seediness that visiting servicemen nicknamed it ‘The Gut’. The name stuck for many years until societal changes and the departure of the British forces forced it into natural decline. By the mid-1980s ‘The Gut’ became the haunt of stray cats that made their home in the abandoned, crumbling buildings. Strait Street remained in this sad state for many years but is slowly being rehabilitated and is now, once again, becoming a thriving part of Valletta – minus the notoriety.

Valletta (81)

Valletta (78)

Quirky fact number 7: The Maltese never call it by its name

When speaking in Maltese, Valletta is never called by its name but is known as il-Belt. ‘Belt’ is the Maltese word for town or city and Valletta seems to have captured the national imagination to the point that, over 450 years after its foundation stone was laid, we still call it ‘the city’. So in Maltese, we never go to Valletta but always go to il-Belt.

Quirky fact number 8: No river runs through it but one street is spanned by several bridges

In the area behind Victoria Gate, several iron foot-bridges cross East Street. This is one of the lowest points of Valletta and also one of the most photographed as the buildings built on the higher ground tower above the street. The bridges act as elevated pedestrian walkways that allow easy access from one side of Valletta to another without having to walk down to street level and all the way up to the other side.

Valletta (25)

Valletta on Victory Day (2)

Quirky fact number 9: Napoleon stopped for a short stay

After Malta, or rather the Knights of St John led by German Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch, capitulated to the French, Napoleon landed on the island on June 13, 1798. He stayed at Palazzo Parisio in Merchants’ Street for 6 days before continuing southward to proceed with his conquest of Egypt. During his short stay he emptied the Maltese treasury and, it is said, his soldiers also helped themselves to gold and silver objects from some of the churches.

Quirky fact number 10: it had some strict building regulations

The Knights wanted to ensure that Malta’s new city would be both modern and visually appealing. So they came up with a number of regulations that anyone building an edifice in Valletta had to follow. For example, all houses had to have at least one water cistern or reservoir to collect rain water; stone for all the buildings had to be obtained from a specific area known as the Manderaggio; street corners had to be decorated – usually with sculptures of saints.

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Furthermore, unlike most European cities of the time, each house and palace in Valletta had a sanitation pit that was connected to a sewer system. This complex network of pits and tunnels still survives underneath Valletta’s streets and has given rise to a number of legends, the most common one being that they served as an escape route. I suppose it’s feasible but it would have been rather stinky and messy.

I hope you have enjoyed these ten quirky facts about Valletta. It amazes me that it is so small but has such a variegated history. It is for this reason, coupled with a concentration of 320 monuments packs into its Lilliputian area, that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1980.

4 comments:

  1. Your quirky facts (and photos) are so interesting. THANKS! I always enjoy your blog.
    Farm Gal in VA, USA

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. I am glad to hear that you find my posts interesting.

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  2. One of these days I will travel to Malta……on my bucket list!

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    1. I think you will like it Amanda. Malta is very similar to the smaller Greek islands that you love so much.

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