New research shows that some street names in the capital have changed up to four times in 400 years.
New research published in the international journal Rivista Italiana di Onomastica recently shed light on the etymological and political history behind the names of some of Valletta’s most iconic streets. Indeed, the capital has seen waves of change overcome it over the centuries, resulting in street names changing to reflect the priorities of the successive rulers of these islands.
1. Triq ir-Repubblika - Republic Street
Probably the most famous of the capital’s thoroughfares – and the most perused – the nomenclature for this street has changed several times over the years, in a perfect example of the ways in which naming and categorizing a place can have political consequences. It began life as Strada San Giorgio but became Rue Nationale once the French landed on these shores. With the British came another change: first to Strada Reale, echoing the island’s Italianate influences, and then, in the midst of the language question, in which English and Italian competed for superiority, to the Anglophile name, Kingsway. In 1964, Valletta’s spine became known as Republic Street, reflecting the new independence celebrated throughout the island.
2. Pjazza San Gorg - St George’s Square
A vibrant lung in the middle of the capital, St George’s Square, known in Maltese as Pjazza San Gorg, offers a large open space surrounded by several landmark sites such as the 16th century Grandmaster’s Palace and the neoclassical Main Guard. During the time of the Knights, this was known as Piazza San Giorgio, and was later changed to Place de la Liberté under the French, echoing the focus on their revolutionary ideals. It came full circle ultimately, with today’s name reflecting the original and harking back to a time of knights and knaves.
3. Triq Sant’ Ursula - St Ursula Street
This narrow road running parallel to the main artery of Republic Street may not have changed much in four centuries, but it has been known by many different names. Initially called Strada San Pietro, it was referred to as Strada della Chiesa di San Rocco more informally, due to the presence of the small 17th century Baroque Church of St Roque built following the plague of 1593. Later on, this changed to Rue de la Barraque and finally to St Ursula Street, and its Maltese equivalent, during the time of the British and following independence.
4. Strada Stretta - Strait Street
The name of the infamous red-light district, frequented by many a navy man – and call girl – right up until the 20th century, did not experience the vagaries of change like it’s neighbours. Maybe it has something to do with its notoriety, but the shape and size of this spindle is encapsulated in its nomenclature. The language of the name did change, however: from the original Italian Strada Stretta to the French Rue Etoile and finally the English Strait Street.
5. Pjazza Regina / Pjazza Republikka – Victoria Square
Standing proud, the statue of the dowager Queen Victoria guards the National Library and is a permanent reminder of the island’s colonial past. And, though the name of the square today reflects this heritage, it was – predictably – not always the case. Initially known as Piazza dei Cavallieri, later transformed to Place de l’Egalite, this open space was finally renamed Piazza Regina, the Queen’s Square; a name which has pretty much stuck, even following independence.
Featured image: www.viewingmalta.com / Battery Street from St Ursula Street