Often skipped on the way to Valletta, Floriana has the largest number of public gardens anywhere on the island.
Floriana is often overlooked as visitors rush past it on their way into the capital city, but this ancient town offers a wealth of heritage. Its buildings, churches and monuments reflect Malta’s political history from the time of the Knights of St John to the present day. However, its public gardens are the real attraction, and there are no fewer than nine to explore, plus two more re-opening later this year.
The oldest garden in Floriana, it was originally built for the exclusive use of the Knights of St John. Stretching 365m along the length of the granaries, the name of this promenade garden derives from the Knights’ favourite game of Palla a Maglio, which involved pushing a large wooden sphere by a heavy mallet along a path, golf style, the winner being the one who reached the target with a pre-determined number of strokes. Look out for the nine monuments commemorating prominent Maltese personalities.
Reaching up to the border with Valletta at the foot of the newly restored Triton Fountain, this rectangular stretch of garden derives its name from the humble plain biscuit which it, apparently, resembles in shape. It is dominated by the statue of Christ the King, a monument designed by celebrated Maltese sculptor Antonio Sciortino, commemorating the Eucharistic Congress of 1913.
Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial
Next door to il-Biskuttin is a small grove featuring a monument commemorating members of the Commonwealth Air Forces who died while serving the British Empire. The golden eagle perched on top of the 50 foot marble column symbolises those who died in flight. At the foot of the monument are engraved the names of 2,301 victims of World War II.
Sa Maison Garden
Hidden away as it is, this beautiful if unusual garden remains largely unfrequented and you may very well be the only visitor there. Laid out over five levels and set in the fortifications overlooking Marsamxett Harbour, the garden is crowned by a gardjola, a sentry box which gives you a wonderful panoramic view. It once served as an observation and defence post by various regiments of the British army, and several regimental crests have been engraved into the rock face. Look out for the miniature model of a castle dedicated to the second Battalion of the Essex Regiment.
Herbert Ganado Gardens
Originally part of the grounds of the King George V hospital for British servicemen, the gardens used to be known as Kalkara gardens not, as many assume, because they face the town of Kalkara across Grand Harbour, but rather due to the lime kiln that used to be found there (in Maltese Kalkara tal-gir).
Msida Bastions (The Garden of Rest)
A cemetery is probably the last thing you would want to visit on your holidays, but make an exception for this one. Used as a Protestant cemetery from 1806 to 1856, this award-winning garden features a small museum of Maltese burial practices. It is the final resting place for 528 people, mainly British servicemen. Mikiel Anton Vassalli, the “father” of the Maltese language, who died on 12th January 1829, was also buried here, because he was not on good terms with the local Catholic Church after translating the New Testament into Maltese against the church’s wishes. The Garden of Rest is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and the first Sunday of the month from 9:30am to noon.
And there's more...
More of an expansive terrace than an actual garden, this belvedere site was created in 2000, on the initiative of the Floriana Local Council. Go there for magnificent views of Grand Harbour.
Sir Luigi Preziosi Gardens
Named after the celebrated Maltese ophthalmic surgeon Sir Luigi Preziosi (1888-1965) who lived in the area, the gardens are perched on top of the bastions commanding an unparalleled view of Grand Harbour.
King George V Recreational Grounds
This was Malta’s first ever playing field and would later house the headquarters of the Malta Playing Fields Association which was created in 1951. Today the grounds’ facilities include a tennis court and a football pitch.
And yet more...
As if that were not enough gardens already, there are two more to discover on your next visit to Malta. Argotti Botanic Gardens and St Philip Gardens are currently closed for refurbishment, but should be back in full bloom by late 2018.