Celebrations of Valletta 18 and the driving force behind the success
Valletta; capital city of the Malta and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Valletta was established by the Knights of St. John on Monday, 28th March 1566 following the Great Siege of the islands by the Ottoman Empire and named after Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette. To this day the city retains it Mannerist/Baroque style and the vast majority of the architecture remains unchanged from the day it was built. The city is one of the island's principal cultural centres and has a vast collection of churches, palaces and museums. When Benjamin Disraeli, then future British Prime Minister, visited the city in 1830, he described it as "a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen … “and remarked that "Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe”. While much of the original city predominantly remains intact, there was considerable damage to Valletta during the Second World War. Several significant buildings were destroyed including the Royal Opera House, the Auberge d’Auvergne and the Auberge de France; however, post war Valletta remained the administrative centre for the islands.
Fast forward to the 21st century and today our capital city is vibrant and, with numerous regeneration projects already completed, we have a city to be wholly proud of. Valletta keeps a firm hold on her heritage whilst hosting first class restaurants, chic hotels, contemporary international shops, cool cocktail bars and a growing arts and cultural scene.
The European Capital of Culture programme is an annual event organised by the European Union, whereby two European cities are appointed to design and host a series of cultural events.. Valletta was appointed in 2012 and has had five years of preparation for the yearlong programme.. This preparation time provided the opportunity for considerable regeneration and restoration r throughout, and Valletta has benefitted enormously from this investment.
At the centre of the project has been Mr. Jason Micallef, Chairman of the Valletta 2018 Foundation and in charge of overseeing every aspect of the project to completion at the end of next year. In a brief interview with him at his offices on Republic Street, close to the Grand Master Palace, he stated. “When I was first appointed it was evident to me that there were four areas in which we had to excel to make Valletta 2018 a success. Firstly, and most importantly that the cultural program on offer throughout the year is something unforgettable. Secondly, to ensure private sector investment and involvement. Thirdly, that we had a wide array of stakeholders involved on the board of governors to guarantee an holistic project; this had to include educators. And finally, we had to consider what kind of legacy we wished to leave behind, including the urban regeneration of the city.”
It is clear that the majority (if not all) of his goals have been successful. The urban regeneration of the city has been incredible. Almost every aspect has been affected by the work that has been undertaken: the magnificent gate and parliament building by acclaimed international architect Renzo Piano; ,the return of the city’s public spaces including St George’s Square; the pedestrianisation of Merchant Street; the restoration of The Triton Fountain and much more. The development of small business has also been remarkable especially in the hospitality and dining sectors. From a serious deficiency in accommodation, there are now twenty-one boutique hotels of various sizes throughout the city. Today it is difficult to find a street where there isn’t at least one restaurant or bar brightening up an evening streetscape. Likewise, the impact of the Cultural Program is that there has been a broad range of new influences on entertainment and activities on offer. And this is where we reach the really exciting part … highlights of what to expect throughout Valletta 2018.
What to choose from the over two-hundred-page Cultural Program? All are excitingly representative of Maltese culture from various eras and perspective. They focus upon: Community, Visual Arts, Design, Children and Young People, Performance, Opera, Music Festivals, World Sounds, Film and Encounters. Many of the events shine an interesting and fresh light on the city and those that walk through its streets. Below are a few of the more unusual activities we think you really cannot miss.:
European Eyes on Japan – 30th March to 29th April 2018, Spazju Kreattiv Upper Galleries: Led by artistic director Mikiko Kikuta, European Eyes on Japan is a visual arts project that has toured over thirty European Capitals of Culture since 1999. The exhibition features work of two photographic artists, both of whom will live and work in Japan, looking to capture the country’s lifestyle through a European lens.
Valletta Green Festival – 4th to 6th May, St. George’s Square: The Valletta Green Festival introduces a green and colourful element to an otherwise urban area such as Valletta. A main attraction this year will be the secret gardens at the Archbishop’s Palace and the cloistered monastery of St Catherine, which will be open to the public for the first time in 400 years.
Science in the City – 28th September 2018, 18:00 – 00:00, Various Sites around Valletta: Valletta comes alive with all sorts of installations and exhibitions linked to science – street art, science busking, music, children’s puppet shows, live experiments, talks, theatre and much more. With scientific encounters lined up all the way from City Gate to St George’s Square, the festival is sure to surprise and delight visitors of all ages.
Star of Strait Street, 15th May, Phoenicia Hotel: A new musical play by Philip Glassborow, which retells a true-life love story from the Second World War. Christina Ratcliffe is the singer who came to Malta to entertain the troops and met Adrian Warburton, daredevil air ace. Christina stayed on in Malta and became an aircraft plotter in the underground Lascaris War Rooms. She was awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to the Royal Air Force.
Ever popular events including the Valletta Baroque Festival, Carnival, Malta Fashion Week, Notte Bianca, the Valletta Film Festival and other staples are also taking place throughout the year. It is well work taking a look through the programme to find what meets your tastes.
Valletta 2018 is a celebration of island life and draws out the exuberance, brightness, enthusiasm and flair of the Maltese people. Make sure that throughout 2018 you enjoy this exceptional city to the full, through all the spectacular experiences on offer, we certainly will!
Copyright: Temple Magazine 2017/18
Images Copyright: Valletta 18 Foundation