Valletta Architectural Landmarks Tour, Valletta

Valletta Architectural Landmarks Tour (Self Guided), Valletta

Following the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, the knights of the Order of St John set about creating a city ‘built by gentlemen, for gentlemen’. The end result saw the island's capital become home to an array of elaborate Baroque buildings, some reflecting Mannerist features borrowed from neighboring Italy.

Many of these architectural monuments have proudly withstood the test of time since the 16th century, adding great elegance to the streets of Valletta, fit to impress even the most well-traveled visitor. Here is a rundown of some of the most awe-inspiring architectural landmarks not to be missed during your time in Valletta:

St. John's Co-Cathedral – a fort-like temple built by the Maltese knights in 1573-1578 shortly after the Great Siege.

Our Lady of Victories Church – designed to commemorate victory over the Ottomans during the Siege of Malta.

Auberge d'Italie – a former hotel built in the late 16th century to house knights of the Order of Saint John from the langue of Italy; now home to the National Community Art Museum.

Auberge de Castille – another ex-hotel; currently Office of the Prime Minister of Malta.

Manoel Theatre – reputed to be Europe's third-oldest working theater and the oldest working theater in the British Commonwealth.

Grandmaster's Palace and Armoury – officially known as The Palace, built between the 16th and 18th centuries as residence for the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, the then ruler of Malta.

Fort Saint Elmo - National War Museum – the star-shaped Fort, one of the most prominent and iconic features of Malta.

To acquaint yourself more closely with an assemblage of marvelous architecture found in the Maltese capital, check out this self-guided walking tour.
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Valletta Architectural Landmarks Tour Map

Guide Name: Valletta Architectural Landmarks Tour
Guide Location: Malta » Valletta (See other walking tours in Valletta)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: gene
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • St. John's Co-Cathedral
  • Auberge d'Italie - National Community Art Museum
  • Our Lady of Victories Church
  • Auberge de Castille
  • Auberge de Provence - National Museum of Archaeology
  • Courts of Justice building
  • St. Augustine Church
  • Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
  • Manoel Theatre
  • Grandmaster's Palace and Armoury
  • Mediterranean Conference Centre (The Knights Hospitallers)
  • Fort Saint Elmo - National War Museum
1
St. John's Co-Cathedral

1) St. John's Co-Cathedral (must see)

St. Johns Co-Cathedral was built by the Knights of Malta between 1573-1578, having been commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière as the conventual church of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John, known as the Knights of Malta. The Church was designed by the Maltese military architect Glormu Cassar who also designed several other prominent buildings in Valletta.

The exterior of the Cathedral, built shortly after the Great Siege of 1565, is reminiscent of a military fort.

The interior, in sharp contrast with the facade, is extremely ornate and decorated in the height of the Baroque period. Preti designed the intricately carved stone walls and painted the vaulted ceiling and side altars with scenes from the life of St John. Interestingly, the figures painted into the ceiling next to each column initially appear to the viewer as 3-dimensional statues, but on closer inspection, we see that the artist cleverly created an illusion of 3-dimension by his use of shadows and placement. Also noteworthy is the fact that the carving was all undertaken in-place rather than being carved independently and then attached to the walls.

Tip:
Get there early! This is a very popular attraction and the groups and cruise ship passengers are already starting to descend by 10:30 or so.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9:30am–4:30pm; Sat: 9:30am–12:30pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
2
Auberge d'Italie - National Community Art Museum

2) Auberge d'Italie - National Community Art Museum

The Auberge d'Italie is an auberge in Valletta, Malta. It was built at various stages in the late 16th century to house knights of the Order of Saint John from the langue of Italy, and it originally had a Mannerist design by Girolamo Cassar and several other architects. The building continued to be modified throughout the course of the 17th century, with the last major renovation being carried out in the 1680s during the magistracy of Gregorio Carafa, giving the building a Baroque character.

After the Order was expelled from Malta in 1798, the auberge was used for a number of purposes, housing a military headquarters, an officers' mess, a museum, a school of arts, a courthouse, the General Post Office and various government departments. Until recently, it housed the Malta Tourism Authority, and there are undergoing works of restoration. It is now converted to host the national collection (previously at National Museum of Fine Arts). In 2018 it became the new National Community Art Museum, MUZA (from the Maltese acronym Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Arti).

MUZA is an art museum located at Auberge d'Italie. It was formerly located at Admiralty House between 1974 and 2016, when it was known as the National Museum of Fine Arts. It houses a collection of works by Maltese and foreign artists mainly representing the major European artistic styles.

The permanent display included the largest collection of paintings by the Southern Italian Baroque artist Mattia Preti (1613–1699), an Italian Knight of the Order of Malta who also contributed to the transformation of the interior of St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta. This, together with a fine and rare collection of antique maps, represented one of the strengths of the collection.

The collection also included the works of two outstanding Maltese sculptors, Melchiorre Gafà (1636–1667) and Antonio Sciortino (1879–1947), and a noteworthy group of Maltese landscapes.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
3
Our Lady of Victories Church

3) Our Lady of Victories Church

This church was the first building built in Valletta. Its purpose was to commemorate the victory of the Knights of the Order of St. John over the Ottomans during the 1565 Siege of Malta.

In 1566, a ceremony was held to lay the foundation stone of the city of Valletta, and the church was the first building built in the new city to express the Malteses' gratitude.

The church was dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin. Later, the Order of Saint John dedicated it to Saint Anthony the Abbot. It was damaged in various conflicts over the years, the latest being bombings during World War II.

The remains of Grandmaster Jean Parisot de Vallette, who ordered the construction of the church, were originally interred in the church's crypt. While they were later moved to St. John's Co-Cathedral, a statute of Jean de Vallette sits across the street in the plaza bearing his name.

A complete restoration of the church was begun in 2000 as part of a city-wide rehabilitation project. The exterior was completed in 2002, but interior restoration work is on-going.

Like most Maltese churches, this one is lavishly appointed with priceless works of art and treasures. Paintings above the altar depict Saint Anthony of Egypt and Saint Anthony of Padua. They were brought to Malta in 1530.
4
Auberge de Castille

4) Auberge de Castille

The Auberge de Castille is an auberge in Valletta, Malta, that now houses the Office of the Prime Minister of Malta, Robert Abela. The auberge is located at Castile Place, close to Saint James Cavalier, the Malta Stock Exchange, and the Upper Barrakka Gardens. It sits at the highest point of Valletta, giving it a unique view unsurpassed by any other building in the city.

Built in the Baroque style under the magistracy of Manuel Pinto da Fonseca in the 1740s, it replaced a 1574 building erected to house knights of the Order of Saint John from the langue of Castile, León and Portugal. The auberge has been called "the finest building in Malta". Both the exterior and the interior, especially the ornate façade and the steps leading to the doorway, were designed to be imposing.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
5
Auberge de Provence - National Museum of Archaeology

5) Auberge de Provence - National Museum of Archaeology (must see)

The National Museum of Archaeology is housed in the Auberge de Provence, in Republic Street, Valletta. The building, an example of fine Baroque architecture, was built in 1571 and followed a plan by local architect Ġilormu Cassar. The Auberge de Provence was house to the Knights of the Order of St John originating from Provence, France and displays beautiful architectural features. Of particular note is the Grand Salon, with its richly painted walls and wooden beamed ceiling.

The Museum exhibits a spectacular range of artefacts dating back to Malta’s Neolithic period (5000 BC) up to the Phoenician Period (400 BC). On display are the earliest tools used by the prehistoric people to facilitate their daily tasks and representations of animal and human figures; elements which not only show the great artistic skills of the first dwellers of the island but also gives us an insight of their daily lives.

Highlights include the ‘Sleeping Lady’ (from the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum), the ‘Venus of Malta’ (from Ħaġar Qim), bronze daggers (recovered from the Bronze Age layers at Tarxien Temples), the Horus & Anubis pendant and the anthropomorphic sarcophagus, both belonging to the Phoenician Period.

Why You Should Visit:
Malta is just so rich in history that dates back to 5000 BC and it is important to have a base of information before you go sightseeing.
The temples prove to be a whole lot more captivating after a visit to this museum.

Tip:
An audio guide that provides good insights and explanations is included in the ticket but you have to pay a refundable deposit.
The museum can be crowded with the tour parties from the oversized cruise ships: try to go early or late to avoid them.

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 9am-5pm (Jan-Sep); Monday to Sunday: 9am-6pm (Oct-Dec)
Last admission 30 mins before closing
Closed on 24, 25 & 31 Dec, 1 Jan & Good Friday
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
6
Courts of Justice building

6) Courts of Justice building

The Courts of Justice building is a courthouse in Valletta built in the neoclassical style between 1965 and 1971. The Courts of Justice is built to the designs of architect Jo Tonna in the neoclassical style, and its main feature is a portico with six columns. The building has seven floors, three of which are below the main front street level. The building occupies an entire block of the city, except one corner which is occupied by the Savoy Building.

The Courts of Justice building stands on the site of Auberge d'Auvergne, a 16th-century building which housed knights of the Order of Saint John from the langue of Auvergne. The auberge was converted into a courthouse in the 19th century, and it remained so until the building was severely damaged when it was hit by a German parachute mine on 30 April 1941, during World War II.

The law courts moved to another location outside Valletta, but in 1943 they returned to the part of the auberge which was still standing. They remained there until 1956, when the premises had to be vacated due to their dilapidated state. The ruins of the auberge were subsequently demolished, and construction of a new courthouse on the same site began on 5 May 1965.

The present courthouse was inaugurated on 9 January 1971. The first case in the new building was held two days later on 11 January 1971. The courthouse also houses the Civil Courts Registry, the Court Archives, the police lock-up and a car park. The Valletta Police Station was formerly also housed within the building. Some buildings, opposite the Law Courts building on Strait Street, are an extension of the courts.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
7
St. Augustine Church

7) St. Augustine Church

St Augustine Church is one of the churches built during the creation of the new city of Valletta. The foundation stone was laid in 1571 according to the plan and guidance of Geralomo Cassar, architect of the Knights of St John.

A number of the artefacts found inside the church are originals from the first church. One of these is an important sixteenth century painting of the Augustinian Nicholas of Tolentino depicted by the famous artist Mattia Preti.

The church is renowned for the statue of St. Rita. Her feast is celebrated in May with a procession with her statue in the streets of Valletta.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
8
Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

8) Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Built in 1570, this church was severely damaged during the Second World War and re-built to compete successfully with its nearby Anglican rival. Fortunately, much of the contents of the original survived, including Maria de Dominici’s late 1670s Beato Franco, high up in the middle on your left.

This marvelous building is often wrongly assumed to be a cathedral because of its huge 42-meter dome that can be seen from all over the city. Like other Maltese churches, its interior design is also impressive and one can observe the exquisite marble floor as well as the beauty of the huge oval dome construction from the inside.

Why You Should Visit:
You can't really grasp the size of the place until you get inside. Even for the non-religious, it's a good quiet spot to come and rest in between travels and enjoy some cool air.

Tip:
While at it you can also visit the Anglican cathedral across the road – a quite simple but also lovely church.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7am-7pm
9
Manoel Theatre

9) Manoel Theatre

The Manoel Theatre is reputed to be Europe's third-oldest working theatre and the oldest working theatre in the Commonwealth of Nations. Now Malta's National Theatre and home to the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, the theatre is a small, 623 seat venue, with an oval-shaped auditorium, three tiers of boxes constructed entirely of wood, decorated with gold leaf, and a pale blue trompe-l'oeil ceiling that resembles a round cupola.

Hidden behind an austere facade that is fully in keeping with Valletta's Mannerist architecture, is a richly adorned, glorious Rococo interior. Despite numerous alterations over the years, it retains many of its old architectural features, such as the white Carrara marble staircase, shell-shaped niches, and Viennese chandeliers. Two water reservoirs beneath the floor create an acoustic environment that is so precise, that the hushed page-turnings of an orchestra conductor can be heard clearly throughout the auditorium.

Why You Should Visit:
Once you are in this theatre, it seems you flew back in time. There is also the theatre museum just next door which is worth a visit.

Tip:
You can get a good view from almost every position – just avoid the gallery seats as these are not very comfortable and are often behind some column. The boxes, however, are very good.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
10
Grandmaster's Palace and Armoury

10) Grandmaster's Palace and Armoury (must see)

The Grandmaster's Palace, officially known as The Palace, was built between the 16th and 18th centuries as the palace of the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, who ruled Malta, and was also known as the Magisterial Palace. It eventually became the Governor's Palace, and it currently houses the Office of the President of Malta. Parts of the building, namely the Palace State Rooms and the Palace Armory, are open to the public as a museum run by Heritage Malta.

The main façade of the Grandmaster's Palace is built in the simple and austere Mannerist style, typical of its architect Cassar. The façade is asymmetrical due to the extensive alterations carried out to the building over the centuries. There are two main entrances on the façade, and they each consist of an arched doorway surrounded by an ornate portal which supports an open balcony. Long closed timber balconies wrap around the corners of the main façade. Both the portals and the balconies were added to the building in the 18th century. The building's exterior was originally painted in red ochre, a color used by the Order to mark public buildings.

Open to the public as a museum since 1860, the Palace Armory is an arms collection housed at the Grandmaster's Palace. It was the main armory of the Order of St. John in the 17th and 18th centuries, and as such it was the last arsenal established by a crusader military order. Although today only a part of the original armory still survives, it is still one of the world's largest collections of arms and armor still housed in its original building.

The Grandmaster's Palace is built around two courtyards, one of which is dominated by a statue of Neptune. From actual suits of armor found on the battlefields of Malta when it was attacked by the Arabs or Byzantines to swords and cannons, this is definitely a trip back into history!

Tip:
The armory can also be visited on a joint ticket with the nearby Palace State Rooms, which are full of history and beautiful to look at. To get to the rooms, there are four flights of stairs or a lift to take.

Opening Hours: daily: 9am–5pm (last admission: 4:30pm)
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
11
Mediterranean Conference Centre (The Knights Hospitallers)

11) Mediterranean Conference Centre (The Knights Hospitallers)

The Mediterranean Conference Centre's building was built as a hospital in the 16th century by the Order of St. John, and it was known as the Sacra Infermeria or the Holy Infirmary. The Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as Order of Hospitallers or Knights Hospitaller, were among the most famous of the Roman Catholic military orders during the Middle Ages.

The building is over 150 m long and drops down several floors. The top floor was dedicated to the wealthy, the poor were places in the floor below. It was one of the leading hospitals in Europe until the 18th century, and it remained in use until 1920. The building is now used for multiple banquets, exhibitions, international conventions and theatrical shows.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
12
Fort Saint Elmo - National War Museum

12) Fort Saint Elmo - National War Museum (must see)

One of the most prominent and iconic features on the island of Malta is the star-shaped Fort Saint Elmo. It's located on the far end of Republic Street, standing proud at the entrance to the Grand Harbour to the south and the Marsamxett Harbour to the north.

Each of the three points of land guarding the entrances to the two inner harbors has fortifications. Fort Saint Elmo sits on the Sciberras Peninsula between the two harbors.

The fort's location has been used since the first local militias set up watchtowers here in the 1400s. After the Turkish fleet sailed into Marsamxett Harbour unopposed in 1551, it was decided that more fortifications were necessary. So the simple watchtower was expanded into a star fort designed by Spanish engineer Pietro Pardo.

The fort was the scene of intense fighting during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The fort was held for 28 days but was eventually taken by the Ottomans. However, the extended siege of the fort gave the rest of the island vital time to prepare themselves.

Over the centuries that followed, the fort was upgraded and expanded in various ways.

Of particular interest to visitors of the fort is the National War Museum. It's located in the Old Drill Hall of Lower Saint Elmo. Initially, the museum's collection focused on the two World Wars, but since it was refurbished in 2015, the collection now spans from the Bronze Age to today. While the story that the museum tells has been expanded, the most prominent pieces of the collection are from World War II.

Why You Should Visit

Fort Saint Elmo is one of the most impressive fortifications on the island to tour. It's a wonderful place to visit for the history of the place, or simply to take in some stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and Maltese coastline.

The museum collection contains a few pieces worth taking a moment to see. From Malta's early conflicts, there is Ottoman armor and the armor of the Order of St. John. From World War II, you can view a Gloster Sea Gladiator aircraft from the Hal Far Fighter Flight. There's also the Jeep used by American Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Tips

When touring the fort, the views are spectacular. But it does require quite a bit of time outside. So if the weather is less than ideal, remember to bring appropriate clothing. The winds in the winter can be brutal!

Opening Hours: Daily: 9am-6pm (Jun-Oct); 9am-5pm (Nov-May)

Walking Tours in Valletta, Malta

Create Your Own Walk in Valletta

Create Your Own Walk in Valletta

Creating your own self-guided walk in Valletta is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Valletta Introduction Walking Tour

Valletta Introduction Walking Tour

Malta's capital city, Valletta, occupies the strategic peninsula between the Marsamxett and Grand Harbours. It is Europe's smallest capital city.

Valletta was founded in the 16th century. Many of the original buildings were built by the Knights Hospitaller. The city was named for Jean Parisot de Valette, famous for defending the island from the Ottomans during the Great Seige of Malta...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles