Valletta Old Town

Valletta, Malta

Valletta, the capital of Malta, is inextricably linked to the history of the military and charitable Order of St John of Jerusalem. It was ruled successively by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John. Valletta’s 320 monuments, all within an area of 55 ha, make it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. The city was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.

Malta’s capital Valletta is a fortified city located on a hilly peninsula between two of the finest natural harbours in the Mediterranean. The Siege of Malta in 1565 captured the European imagination and mobilised the resources needed to create the new city of Valletta, founded soon after, in 1566. The Knights of St John, aided by the most respected European military engineers of the 16th century, conceived and planned the city as a single, holistic creation of the late Renaissance, with a uniform grid plan within fortified and bastioned city walls. Since its creation, the city has witnessed a number of rebuilding projects, yet those have not compromised the harmony between the dramatic topography and the Hippodamian grid. The fabric of the city includes a compact ensemble of 320 monuments that encapsulate every aspect of the civil, religious, artistic and military functions of its illustrious founders. These include the 16th century buildings relating to the founding of the Renaissance city, such as the cathedral of St John, the Palace of the Grand Master, the Auberge de Castile et Léon, the Auberge de Provence, the Auberge d’Italie, the Auberge d’Aragon and the Infirmary of the Order and the churches of Our Lady of Victory, St Catherine and il Gesù, as well as the improvements attributed to the military engineers and architects of the 18th century such as the Auberge de Bavière, the Church of the Shipwreck of St Paul, the Library and the Manoel Theatre.

The city is built on a narrow peninsula surrounded by water. As a result, the perimeter of the city has remained largely unchanged since the departure of the Knights of St John, unencumbered by more recent development. It is of sufficient size and includes all elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value. In spite of some rebuilding projects during the 19th century and severe damage during World War II, a high proportion of the original monuments and the surrounding urban fabric has been preserved intact or carefully restored. The massing and materials used during these later interventions have blended homogenously with the earlier fabric, simultaneously respecting the original urban form. However, the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is vulnerable to impacts on its setting, form and fabric, deriving from the demands of a living city.

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The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

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In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.