Valletta’s ECoC status has spurred on an artistic renaissance driven by home-grown projects which aim to understand the past, while redefining the future.
1. Is-Suq tal-Belt
This indoor market was originally opened in the 1860s, when Malta still formed part of the British Empire, and today it has become one of the symbols of Valletta’s recent regeneration. Prior to its restoration, it had fallen into disrepair, until Valletta’s title as European Capital of Culture 2018 was regarded by the authorities as an opportunity to restore and invigorate it. This highly-anticipated restored market threw open its doors in January to reveal a decidedly 21st-century look and soul. Fruit and vegetables are still sold here – as they have been for over a century – but, today, food stalls, peddling everything from Asian cuisine, specialist mozzarella-based dishes, as well as Spanish tapas, welcome visitors who can also sit back and find shelter from the sun in the lounge area.
2. Triton Fountain
Denis Maslennikov Mugiwara
For years, Triton Fountain Square was known simply as it-terminus tal-Belt – the capital’s bus terminus – where Malta’s old buses ferried Maltese and tourists alike from Valletta to various parts of the island. As a result, the imposing statue of three bronze Tritons, designed by celebrated local artist Vincent Apap and an iconic symbol of the city, almost disappeared under the weight of collective routines. But, now, recently-restored to its former glory in Florence, the Triton Fountain, beryl and fresh-faced, is spectacular. The whole area around it has also been pedestrianised, creating a palpable feeling of vibrancy. Open spaces such as this are galvanising young and old to discover (or rediscover) the beauty of the capital.
The new National Museum of Art (in Maltese, Muzew Nazzjonali tal-Arti), MUŻA is due to open any day now in the 15th-century Auberge d’Italie in Valletta, and is touted to be a game-changer in the local art scene. The new museum is the flagship project for Valletta 2018 and is being described as a national-community art museum, where cultural enthusiasts and art lovers can be inspired and are encouraged to think about the role of such artistic institutions in this globalised world. The collections which were housed in the former national museum will be exhibited here, but there will also be new, innovative work which will be acquired or commissioned by the museum.
4. The Gut
Strait Street, the spine of the capital, is also receiving its own facelift. The former red-light district, which saw revelry – and then ruin – for many a year, has seen punters slowly return to this narrow street and its rising popularity sees no sign of abating, with new bars and restaurants opening in 2018 as part of a project known as The Gut. Gastropub The Kennedy was the first outlet to launch within The Gut at the end of 2017, while cocktail bar Alchemy threw its doors open to the public in the first quarter of 2018. The White Star, a dining joint where Japanese star chef Toru Imamura will be cooking up a storm, and The 99, a private members club, will also soon join the cast of restaurants and bars lining this strip.
5. Valletta Design Cluster
Work has already commenced on the abandoned Old Abattoir site (known in Maltese as il-biccerija l-antika) to transform it into the Valletta Design Cluster: a platform for creative practices through a range of types of spaces, including studios for creative start-ups, a co-working space, various meeting rooms and conference facilities, as well as a dedicated food space. By mid-2019, the Valletta Design Cluster will provide those working in the sector, such as freelance artists, NGOs and art foundations, the opportunity to network and communicate with other creative hubs. The building itself will have an internal covered courtyard in which events and exhibitions will be hosted, as well as a landscaped area on the roof accessible to all through a public lift.