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Valletta is the capital of Malta and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city (Il- Belt) is nothing short of an open-air museum, a monument donated by the Knights of St John nearly five hundred years ago. Throughout the years, Valletta has welcomed emperors, heads of state, artists and poets and is now the permanent seat of the Maltese government.
Valletta is named after the Grandmaster of the Order of St. John, Jean Parisot de la Valette, who successfully defended the island from an Ottoman invasion in 1565. The official name given by the Order of Saint John was ‘Humilissima Civitas Valletta’ — The Most Humble City of Valletta. The imposing bastions, along with the beauty of its Baroque architecture, gardens and numerous churches, led the ruling houses of Europe to give the Valletta its Italian nickname ‘Superbissima’ - 'Most Proud'.
Immediately in the aftermath of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, the Order of The Knights of St. John decided to found a new city on the peninsula (known as Xiberras) to strengthen the Order's position in Malta, thus binding the Knights to the island. The foundation stone of Valletta was laid by Jean Parisot de la Valette on 28 March 1566, but he died on 21 August 1568 at age 74 without seeing the completion of his city.
At the turn of the 17th century, the city had grown into a sizeable city for those days’ standards. Valletta was a popular place to settle in considering its safe fortifications, while former capital Mdina had lost much of its allure after the Great Siege.
Following the departure of the Order and a brief French occupation under Napoleon, the building of Valletta resumed under British rule. Various projects included the widening of gates, the demolishing and rebuilding of new structures and installing civic projects. Air raids throughout World War II by the Nazi and Fascist air forces caused a lot of destruction. One of the buildings, The Royal Opera House constructed at the city entrance of the city in the 19th century, was lost to the raids. What remains of the structure is now being converted into an open-air theater.
After the war, due to the destruction, many of its former citizens moved out to more modern housing in other localities. Valletta had lost its popularity as a locality for new families to settle. Fortunately, over the past 20 years, interest in living in Valletta has increased considerably. Living in Valletta has become trendy, especially amongst the younger generation and foreigners that seem to appreciate the old architecture and are willing to invest in converting the old Valletta houses into magnificent homes.
The city serves as the island's principal cultural centre. Dotted with quaint cafés and wine bars, Valletta's streets and piazzas contain architecture ranging from the early 16th century to Modernist in design. It hosts a unique collection of churches, forts, palaces, museums a treasure of priceless paintings. The majestic St John’s Co- Cathedral, The Magisterial Palace of the Grand Master, Auberge de Castille, The Upper Barrakka gardens, and the stunning Grand Harbour, often described as the most beautiful in the Mediterranean, attract visitors from around the globe.
The city’s unique setting plays host to a series of cultural events, from theatre (The Manoel Theater being Europe's third-oldest), to concerts by leading opera singers, the Jazz Festival, Carnival and the recent Notte Bianca.