Named after Grand Master La Valette, the city was built shortly after the Great Siege in 1565, when the Grand Harbour was used by the Turks as shelter for their galleys. La Valette wanted a fortified city to protect the entrance to the Grand Harbour, especially as it was rumoured that the Turks were planning another attack. At the time, Valletta was bare except for Mount Sceberras and Fort St Elmo - which is found at the tip of the peninsula.
On 28th March 1566, the foundation stone was laid by La Valette. The work was deemed so urgent that the large fortifications around Valletta took about 5 years to build, usually with over 8000 workers per day. Unfortunately, the Grand Master did not live to see its completion, and died in 1568. It became Malta’s capital city instead of Mdina, and replaced Birgu as the chief town for the Knights of St John.
The roads of Valletta run parallel to each other in a grid like fashion, unlike the former capital city where the streets are winding and narrow. One of the reasons for this was to ensure that fresh breezes passed through the city to cool it down during the hot Summer months. As the city was built on a hill, several streets are somewhat steep, with steps forming part of the pavements. These steps do not follow normal dimensions, and are fairly low. This was purposely done so as to assist the Knights in heavy armour to climb the steps.
Similar to today, the city had a planning department which laid down several regulations regarding constructions in Valletta, many of which are still noticeable today. The buildings all had to be in line and level – they were not allowed to jut out into the street; each corner of the building had to be adjourned with a sculpture, preferably a saint; and each house had to have a well installed to collect the rainwater. Once the site was acquired, construction had to start within ten months and take no longer than three years to complete.
By the 16th century, it became clear to the Maltese that Valletta could offer better protection, and several flocked to live within its majestic walls. However, the city suffered a few blows a few centuries later during World War II, the most notable of which was the damage done to the Royal Opera House. Since then, several citizens have left Valletta to search for more modern homes. Today, many with a flair for Maltese architecture have trickled back into the city, bringing the population to an estimated 9000. At present, the city is one of Malta’s most commercial and financial centres. Numerous tourists visit the city on a daily basis to experience its rich history, ensuring that the city is constantly bustling with activity.
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