Monday, August 03, 2020

Valletta: A Maltese Breakfast, Visit to the Palace Armoury, Stunning Saint John's Co-Cathedral and Upper Barrakka Gardens

Travel Period: November 2018
Destination: Valletta, Malta

I thought I have seen the most lavish and ostentatious interiors of churches in Vatican City and Bella Italia, but Malta proved me wrong in this holiday. Saint John's Co-Cathedral is the most flamboyant of them all churches. See the evidence in this post.

Our Maltese (fast food style) breakfast!

The Saluting Battery below the Upper Barrakka Gardens looking over to the Three Cities:

So we are now on our second day in Valletta, Malta.

We will be visiting a couple of touristy places in the old fortifies city of Valletta before heading over to the Three Cities with the public ferry. We will be spending the rest of the day at the Three Cities. Come join me!

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As we wanted to experience a bit of the local Maltese life, we have decided not to take our breakfast at the hotel, but instead, explored the local cafe scene of Valletta. We went back to Is-Suq Tal-Belt, the indoor food market that we visited the other day. We spied some delicious-looking pastries there that we want to try for today's breakfast.

We ordered 4 different types of savory Maltese pastries to share. 

The almond-shaped phyllo pastry is called "pastizzi" and we tried 3 different varieties namely, ricotta cheese, ground (beef) meat, and mushy peas. Interestingly, I just read that pastizzi in the local lingo is a euphemism for vagina, which as you can see does have an uncanny resemblance to its shape. Ther term does also refer to someone as an idiot. Oh dear, from vaginas to being an idiot and a delicious pastry? It's complicated! 

We also tried this round pastry called Qassatat and it's filled with spinach.

I can definitely see why these savory pastries are popular in Malta. They are delicious, easy to eat on the go, and very filling. Indeed a great idea for our first breakfast in Valletta. It's not just breakfast we were having here but we were tasting the culinary treasure of this small country!

They say that these are Malta's fast food, and true enough, they can be found everywhere on the streets. 

And voila! We are prepared for the day. 

Our first stop is the Grand Master' s Palace (or The Palace) on St. George's Square. It is the palace of the Order of St. John who ruled Malta in the 16th to 18th centuries. The palace nowadays also houses the President of Malta's office and the rest is a museum managed by Heritage Malta.

The heritage production is not complete of course without the guards who steal the show every now and then with their outfits. I mean, check out that chain that rests perfectly on the chin and cheeks. What's it? Function or fashion?

We entered into Prince Alfred's courtyard which is nice with the tall trees and foliage in it.

Then we quickly noticed that all the rooms open for the public, except for one, were closed. Since we were already there, we decided to check out the Palace Armoury. We will have to come back another time to see the rest of the rooms in the palace.

The Palace Armoury shows the history of the Knights of St. John. The knights originally came from Rhodes (Rhodes Island in Greece) and when they were expelled following the Ottoman Empire siege on the island, they were given by the Roman Emperor Charles V the island of Malta as their home.

Trivia: Did you know that Valletta was named after Jean Parisot de Valette? He was a French nobleman and the Grand Master of the Order of Malta. He was a knight himself who fought against the Turks. He commissioned the construction of the city which was named after him. Sadly, like most legendary stories of this scale that go down in history, he never saw the completed city of Valletta.

Our second stop is the amazing Saint John's Co-Cathedral. The church is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and I must repeat that this church is AH-MAZING and will leave you speechless.

Just literally wow. I was bedazzled and awed. Appreciating the interior of this church will give you neck spasms as you will definitely spend the first half of the hour gazing at the tall brightly gilded walls and spectacular frescoes on the ceilings. I have been to many churches around the world, and the Saint John Co-Cathedral tops my list as the best. It is so far the most impressive.

This church is a must-see when in Valletta, Malta.

Just look at all this gold! I mean gold color in abundance.

The interior of the church is designed and styled in Baroque. Its decors are extremely ornate and there are a million things hanging from the walls such as these embossed symbols. It is one of the exquisite examples of Baroque that has managed to survive the years. I am really awed at this beautiful grand display of art and architecture. Very happy that we did not miss the visit!

The main altar of the sacristy.

And the magnificent frescoes on the ceilings depicting scenes of the life of Saint John the Baptist were painted by Italian artist Mattia Preti.

Another souvenir photo of us with all the gold around us.

In the Oratory of the cathedral, we found the most famous piece of artwork in the church, the painting called "The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist" by Caravaggio, considered to be one of his masterpieces. It is a sadly beautiful art.

A little bit of history: 

John the Baptist was put in prison by Herod Antipas because he castigated him for divorcing his wife and taking Herodias the wife of his brother unlawfully. On Herod's birthday, Salome, the daughter of Herodias danced for him. He was so pleased that he offered Salome anything she wanted even up to half of his kingdom. Right, Herod was drunk for sure. Salome went back to her mother asking for advice, in which Herodias told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. It is her retribution to John's admonishment of their relationship. Herod had no intention of killing John but he had to fulfill his promise.

We discovered a stairwell near the Oratory leading to the mezzanine at the back of the church. The view from there has a great vantage point giving impressive panoramas of the whole interior. It gives you an up-close and personal view of the frescoes too which shows what a day in the life is of John the Baptist.

After all that Baroque and gold heavenly immersion, we were ready to go back down to earth and hit the streets of normalcy. 

We are heading to the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

The streets in the upper part of Valletta are mostly steps. Somehow I was having a deja vu of Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

For some reason, the whole setting and atmosphere of Valletta are interestingly similar to Dubrovnik, even the color of the limestone used on the buildings, the fortifications, and streets. Perhaps the reason why the Game of Thrones has both cities in their scenes?

And we have arrived at the Upper Barrakka Gardens. 

As you can see, the weather hasn't been very well on our side. If there is a big annoyance whilst travelling, it would be rain showers for me. But, it is what it is and we have to make the most of what we have to enjoy the day.

The Upper Barrakka Gardens offer a majestic panoramic view of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities. You can just imagine the vibe here if the weather is good. Those cafe terraces below will be brimming with activity and people.

The lower tier of the wall contains the Saluting Battery with artillery canons. 

A glimpse of the Three Cities across the Grand Harbour.

The Saluting Battery in the lower part of the bastion.

The next on our agenda is a visit to the Three Cities. 

There is a lift in the Upper Barrakka Gardens which is heaven-sent because it short cuts the process of going down to the ferry for us. We do not have to go around the walls and walk down because the lift will bring us to the lower part of the wall. The public ferry to the Three Cities is just across from this side of the bastion. 

We are quite excited for this journey to the Three Cities. We plan to stay there for the rest of the day. Now we just need to take this lift down to the ferry crossing. 

Close up of the Barrakka lift (elevator):

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