Just outside Birzebugga you can find the Ghar Dalam cave, Malta’s oldest prehistoric site. Evidence of human habitation dating back more than 7,000 years was found here, as well as the fossilised bones of extinct creatures such as pygmy elephants and hippos.
The museum is basically a large collection of bones and skeletons of deceased animals. For me, one ancient femur starts to look pretty much like another after a while, but the skeletons of baby hippos and elephants are pretty impressive.
As is the cave itself, when you make your way down there from the museum. Only about 50 metres is accessible for visitors, but that is enough to give you a real sense of the place, especially if you are lucky enough – as we were – to have the place to yourself in between coach-tours.
Built in 1610, this impressive tower occupies a prominent position along the coast of St Paul’s Bay. Despite that, and despite the fact that I’ve lived in the area for a couple of years, we had never ventured inside before now even though we’ve walked past the place countless times.
The tower underwent some refurbishment recently, but now it is open for business, and at only €2 a head it’s well worth popping inside to take a look. When the tower was constructed this would have been regarded as a remote and dangerous posting for any soldiers sent out here to guard against the ever-present threat of raiding pirates.
In order to make this life-threatening post rather more appealing to the average soldier, the fort was kitted out with all the mod-cons that only the wealthiest of early seventeenth century householders could imagine. An indoor latrine! (well, a hole). Indoor cooking facilities! Beds!
Hopefully such swanky accommodation did not turn the guards too soft, as they were still expected to be on guard against those pesky pirates, who had a habit of swooping down to Malta to nab an unsuspecting farmer or two and sell them into slavery. From the roof the soldiers would have had a good view of any advancing corsairs and the cannons would act as something of a deterrent too.
There is a small display on the ground floor featuring an overview of Maltese history, and the gentleman manning the desk really knew his stuff. After a quick look around you then go up a rather tight spiral staircase to the soldiers’ living quarters. Up another flight and you are on the roof, from where you get a very nice view of the surrounding area. Like I said earlier, you can’t go far wrong for €2 in this day and age so take 20 minutes to pop in and have a look.
Valletta is the smallest capital city in the European Union, but it manages to pack a surprising amount inside of those sturdy city walls. Good things in small packages, that sort of thing. And Valletta crams a whole lot of culture and history into very little space. I mean, the entire city has been designated a World Heritage site. So other than the fact you won’t have to wear out too much shoe leather traversing the 0.8 km2, what else does Malta’s capital offer the discerning traveller?
I’ve picked out five different locations which allow you to take a step back in time and appreciate the rich and varied history of Valletta.
Caravaggio Was Here
On one of his not infrequent diversions to avoid the long arm of the law, master painter Caravaggio ended up spending a few years in Malta, under the protection of the local knights. He paid for his protection with paintings for his benefactors, and today St John’s Co-Cathedral hosts the stunning ‘Beheading of St John’ on one wall of its incredibly ornate interior. He was also held prisoner in Fort St Angelo in Birgu, which you can get a great view of from the Barakka gardens although I don’t think you are allowed to go inside the fort yet.
http://stjohnscocathedral.com – St John Street