Dark Tour of Valletta
On Friday, 24th March 2017, FAA members enjoyed an evening guided tour of Valletta led by the very knowledgeable Vincent Zammit. Mr. Zammit gave an introduction outside the Parliament building, during which he said that he would recount some of the many stories associated with Valletta’s historic buildings, gruesome tales of murder, hangings, people (knights, nuns, slaves). Mr. Zammit related a total of 14 stories, summaries of which can be found below;
- Parliament building: Mr. Zammit’s related his first story of the first murder of a British serviceman in Malta, who frequented a tavern in Republic Street but had no money to pay his bill. The waiter (Ġanni Vassallo) ran after the serviceman and knifed the person, but the waiter was never caught for his crime.
- Wignacourt fountain: (built in 1615) alongside the site of the Royal Opera House, Mr. Zammit related its’ history, citing problems with initial plans and construction; extensive damage of its’ interior by fire in 1873; its’ rebuilding and restoration by 1877; and finally its’ destruction by Luftwaffe aerial bombing in WWII.
- Same location: Mr. Zammit spoke of the need for water in Valletta, that Grand Master Wignacourt (in 1610) initiated a project to convey water to Valletta via aquaducts and underground pipe channels from the natural water springs in Rabat and Dingli. He enlisted Vittorio Bontadini, a Bolognese hydraulic engineer, who designed and oversaw the construction of the aquaducts.
- Near Castille / St. James Cavalier: FAA members heard accounts of Grand Master Pinto bankrupting Malta, his successor saving money by making people redundant; banning hunting of rabbits; public protests by priests and clerics; heads cut off and displayed; some Maltese sent to prison, some were exiled.
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Palazzo Parisio) in Merchant Street, where Napoleon spent a week (in 1798 on his way to Egypt); issuing new laws such as a water tax; uprising by Maltese who had the run of the island; island blockaded by British and Portuguese ships.
- Merchant Street in front of St. James Church which was used by the Langue of Castille, Grand Master Verdala gave the artist Filippo Paladini an undecorated chapel to paint frescos. His titular painting depicted St. James the Greater at the entrance of a cave holding a stick and an angel holding a palm leaf symbolizing his martyrdom. Below the titular painting is an oval painting depicting Our Lady of Sorrows, which is a copy of a Spanish painting found in Madrid. In 1663 a stolen chalice from Bir Miftuh church was found some days later inside St. James church, after a note was left on the door of St. John’s Co-Cathedral.
- Merchant Street Ministry of Health formerly Castellania or Law Courts is a former courthouse and prison, where Mr. Zammit related several stories of punishments meted out here.
- Merchant St / St. Lucia Street, where many criminals found sanctuary in St. Lucia church.
- Merchant Street, Public Registry now Ministry of Investment, Economy and Small Businesses. Building where Napoleon slept on his first night in Malta in a property owned by a Baron.
- Merchant Street, near the Old Market where people could relieve themselves, and where slaves could congregate to sell goods to earn money to buy their freedom.
- Merchant Street / Archbishop Street corner, near a pub where the English actor Oliver Reed died. His bar bill (not paid) is now framed in the pub. Oliver Reed was in Malta filming ‘Gladiator’.
Nearby is the Jesuits church and Jesuit’s College set up in 1592 to prepare candidates to the priesthood. The College became known as Collegium Melitense. The Jesuits taught higher educational studies until their expulsion from Malta by Grandmaster Manuel Pinto da Fonseca in 1768. The old Collegium Melitense then became the old University of Malta.
- St. Pauls Street corner with Archbishop Street. A characteristic in Valletta is that the corners of buildings are decorated by means of rustication or stone statues. Here four statues are seen, one on each corner, with a candle in front to give light.
- St. Ursula Street: The Church of St. Ursula has a convent, where there was early morning mass, in which prayers were said for success of the Knight’s corsairs to go out and seize a lot of ‘booty’ which was very often confiscated Turkish Ottoman merchandise.
- St. Ursula Street: Church of St. Rocco built in 1592 after the end of the first plague in which 4,000 died out of a population of 27,000. The Great plague followed in 1675-1676 when a merchant bought infected cloth, without telling the authorities, from a galley quarantined in Manoel Island. The merchant sold the infected cloth from which 11,000 people died out of a population of 70,000.
Not far from here, a slave market was held every day in St. George’s Square.
Mr. Vincent Zammit ended his guided tour here and was thanked by FAA members for his interesting and colourful stories.