Valletta
From brothel to theatre: Behind the doors at The Splendid on Strait Street
Perhaps, a sordid murder?

Melanie Drury

splendid Flickr Marilyn DiCara

Flickr/Marilyn DiCara

What amazing stories would the walls of Strait Street in Valletta tell us? Malta’s original red light district was home to bars and brothels teeming with British sailors out for a good time. There was alcohol - lots of it. And there were prostitutes - many of them. Both were in high demand. The Splendid, the Silver Horse, the White Star, the Egyptian Queen and many other notorious places have been boarded up for years, but oh, if only those walls could speak!

Strait Street’s sleazy history

Flickr Marilyn DiCara

Flickr/Marilyn DiCara

In the earlier part of the last century, Lower Strait Street was known as The Gut. Its colourful and neglected history has only recently been revived and honoured as an intrinsic part of Malta’s heritage. Bang in the heart of the capital city, the street was then renowned for its buzzing nightlife that attracted every sailor in Malta, which ran into the thousands in the 1950s. Former British sailors remember it as their top entertainment mecca in the Mediterranean, with bars, clubs and dance halls concentrated in a small area. Hard to imagine when experiencing Valletta’s rather subdued nightlife today, which was overtaken by Paceville in St Julians.

Flickr Marilyn DiCara

Flickr/Marilyn DiCara

A hub for art and music

But let’s turn back time to the very beginning. The Knights had conceived of Strait Street as the artists’ quarter of their new city due to its proximity to the Manoel Theatre. In line with this initial vision, in more recent years, Strada Stretta represented a hub of Maltese popular culture from which jazz music, cabaret, bar and music-hall culture emerged on the island.

Flickr Marilyn DiCara

Flickr/Marilyn DiCara 

Fondazzjoni Temi Zammit is working to regenerate the neglected Strait Street and restore its artistic and cultural flavour. For those who don’t know, the EU funded project is conceived as “an incubator for cultural and artistic enterprises” supported by many prominent local artists and cultural operators.

The Splendid’s story

Flickr Marilyn DiCara

Flickr/Marilyn DiCara

Which brings us to The Splendid. The venue is now being used for anything from fund-raising pop-up markets to unorthodox Shakespearean plays. It is also a space for creativity, theatre and art exhibitions by such renowned names such as Comic Con.

But this neglected Strait Street hotel began its life as a brothel. And it was no ordinary brothel - it was also the scene of a gruesome murder.

The story goes that one night, an escort and her client had an argument, but she never lived to tell of it. Her life was taken. The victim was found stabbed to death in the bathroom of a room on the first floor.

Flickr Marilyn DiCara

Flickr/Marilyn DiCara

Naturally annoyed by this incident, the woman’s restless spirit is said to roam the empty hallways of the hotel and hurl furniture violently across the rooms! Oosh!

Valletta’s most haunted

But let this not deter you from enjoying events at the Splendid. After all... the rest of Valletta is also haunted!

Flickr Marilyn DiCara

Flickr/Marilyn DiCara

A mysterious shadow often sits in Box One at the Manoel Theatre, blowing plumes of smoke. Further afield, the MCC - Malta’s largest theatre which was once the Knights’ hospital - is also a well-known haunt. Back in the '90s, Elizavetta Zolina, then director of the Russian Cultural Centre, told The Times about the mysterious banquet sounds in the house at night, keeping even the neighbours awake!

So, judging by the stories told, the ghosts still enjoy a good party! Have a good one!

25th July 2019


Melanie Drury
Written by
Melanie Drury
Melanie was born and raised in Malta and has spent a large chunk of her life travelling solo around the world. Back on the island with a new outlook, she realised just how much wealth her little island home possesses.

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