Valletta
Don’t miss these 8 stunning squares in Malta’s capital
Valletta is brimming with stunning open spaces which pump life into the cityscape.

Rebecca Anastasi

Valletta was made for walking: its 16th-century urban planners made sure that the design which established the city’s street grid also incorporated open spaces where the community could come together, move, breathe and cool down on a hot summer’s day. Public space was not only a concept; it was a philosophy and a way of life. And today, the capital’s squares form part of the fabric which make up its identity and allow locals and visitors alike to enjoy a little piece of urban paradise.

1. Triton Square

After months of anticipation and public works, the curtain was raised on this open public space which crowns the entrance of Valletta. Standing imposingly in the centre of it, the newly restored Triton Fountain has become an iconic symbol of the capital and its regeneration. Consisting of three bronze Tritons holding a bronze platter over their heads, this landmark, which stands as testament to the city’s indomitable spirit, was created by one of Malta’s most acclaimed Modernist artists, the celebrated Vincent Apap, and designer Victor Anastasi.

This new lease of life has also been injected into the square itself: the Phoenicia five-star hotel, an architectural gem consisting of glorious gardens and art-deco detailing on the façade, also reopened last year to acclaim and rave reviews. Moreover, the lush gardens surrounding the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial, right in front of this prestigious lodging, rest the body and mind. In front of the fountain and the Phoenicia hote lies a strip lined with fanned palm trees and wooden benches, an area known as il-Biskuttin in Maltese. This avenue, flanked by wide shaded streets, anticipates the grid design of the capital and is similar to the linear perspective afforded by the Tuilleries Gardens in Paris, which overlook the Champs Élysées.

2. Freedom Square

The former Freedom Square arcade, a relic of the 1970s which was more reminiscent of Communist architecture than reflective of the style and tone of a Mediterranean island, is long gone, and in its stead stands the ambitious Parliament building. This dominates the smaller tract of open space, officially still known as Freedom Square, just inside City Gate, and was the subject of much controversy when initially designed by Renzo Piano.

The final result has transformed the area and given it back to the public, despite the shadows cast by its monument to the powerful. The pedestrianised area now commences from the foot of the imposing steps flanking the entrance to the capital, and spreads right to Palazzo Ferreria, built in the 19th century but recently restored to its 21st-century glory. Its green timber balconies, the earliest examples found on the island, overlook Pjazza Teatru Rjal, an open-air theatre which rose from the ashes of Malta’s National Opera House, bombed during World War II, and which has now become the pumping heart of culture in the area.

3. Pjazza Jean de la Vallette

Walking up from the open-air theatre, the new Pjazza Jean de la Vallette, after the eponymous founder of the capital, pays tribute to the legendary Grandmaster, who never lived to see the city he envisioned become reality. His statue adorns the small enclosure, situated beside the 16th-century church, St Catherine of Alexandria, which sits on the crossroads with Merchants Street. Make it a point to stop inside: the ornate cupola was painted by famed Italian Baroque artist Mattia Preti, as was the titular painting which depicts the final moments of the saint.

4. Castille Square

Fanning out from the tip of Merchants Street, Castille Square overlooks the majestic Grand Harbour and is the site of the Auberge de Castille, a dignified building situated at the highest point of the capital, and which, today, is the seat of the Prime Minister’s office. Its ornate windows and curved crevices imbue the public space with a sense of drama, emblematic of the ebb and flow of history on these islands. St James Cavalier, the city’s most accessible and innovative artistic space, also known as Spazju Kreattiv, also sits along the cobbled square, and affords visitors the opportunity to experience a different view of Maltese art and culture.

5. St John’s Square

This bustling part of town, with its outdoor lounge bars and casual dining joints, seems to encapsulate what Valletta has come to mean to locals and tourists: great food, even better drinks, and a lot of history. It is home to St John’s Co-Cathedral, formerly the Conventual church of the Knights of Malta, and its plain yet imposing façade tells stories of a military might with a religious soul.

The arcade which frames the square shelters stores selling anything from jewellery and shoes to medicines. A sense of reprieve from the lively square can also be found here as trees cast their shade over the bitumen, which has experienced the pounding of thousands of tourists who walk up the smooth steps and disappear into the dark annals of the Cathedral.

6. Independence Square

This small, charming square is one of the prettiest spots in the capital. Situated just behind the Manoel Theatre and to the side of St Paul’s Anglican Church, its abundance of terraces and traditional Maltese homes has created a little haven away from the chaos of the main thoroughfares.

It’s a bit of a difficult find at first, but well-worth the effort, despite the cars which are frequently parked right within it. Indeed, it is the fully-functioning quality of the square which gives it its charm, for it is here that some of the city’s better-heeled residents live, and where you can find lawyers’ offices and carpenter workshops existing side by side. Nothing overshadows it more, however, than the Palladian exterior of St Paul’s, a pro-cathedral commissioned by the Dowager Queen Adelaide during a visit to Malta, and a relic of the days when Malta was part of the British Empire.

7. Republic Square

Yet another British dowager benevolently lords over Republic Square, just in front of the National Library, though with all the activity going on here, it’s easy to miss her. Queen Victoria – or, rather, a statue representing the monarch – sits bang in the middle of this busy, vibrant space, dominated by the chairs and tables of some of Malta’s most famous watering holes and cafés.

Prime among these is Caffe Cordina, a family business founded in 1837, and bound to be on every route map, guide book and tourist information brochure that has ever existed about Malta. But, this is not only a place for tourists: their more-ish pastries and luscious ice-creams means there is always a crowd of locals wanting an extra bite. And, tucked away under the arcade (look up for some of the most beautiful ceilings you’ve ever seen), the National Library is the pride and joy of many a bibliophile. 

8. St George’s Square

Gastrobars, bistros and burger joints may flank this grand urban space, but it’s the stately Main Guard, which formerly housed the guards of the British Governor of Malta, and the magnificent Grandmaster’s Palace, which command the most attention.

Both are still working buildings: the former now the office of the Attorney General while the latter is the office of the President of the Republic, and also houses some of the most impressive tapestries and armoury on the island. Moreover, a changing of the guard ceremony takes place here every last Friday of the month.

However, the centre of the square is what will grab the attention of the young and young-at-heart, with water jets spurting up, soaking whoever dares run across them, and proving that you don’t need to go to the beach to cool down in summer in Malta!

9th January 2021


Rebecca Anastasi
Written by
Rebecca Anastasi
Rebecca has dedicated her career to writing and filmmaking, and is committed to telling stories from this little rock in the Mediterranean.

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