Sunday, May 31, 2015

Last day in Valletta

 Winds were strong again from the WNW to W so we delayed our departure from Malta for another day.  This provided us with an extra day for more sight-seeing at Valletta.  Maybe we would actually get to see the three main tourist sites -- St. John's Co-Cathedral, the National Museum of Archaeology and the Grand Master's Palace.

NOT the St. John's Co-Cathedral. Some other cathedral

By now we were familiar with the bus terminus at Valletta.  During our bus change for our trip to Mdina a few days earlier we had FINALLY seen the main entrance to old Valletta. Once we found it, it was impossible to imagine how we had managed to miss it the other times we were at the bus terminus.

Big wooden thing in unknown cathedral
But, being me, I still managed to mess up.  We had passed a cathedral several times on the bus and I thought it was St. John's Co-Cathedral.  It certainly was large enough!  So we got off the bus at that cathedral.  Only it turned out not to be St. John's.  I still am not certain of the name of this first cathedral we visited that day.  It was right next to the Piazza San Publiju.  Directly in front of the cathedral were the remnants of a very large plaza that belonged to a villa owned by someone named Publius back during Roman times.  At one time there had been dozens of enormous columns in that plaza.  The diameter of each column was about 5-ft., so those had to be some enormous columns. The cathedral was built on top of where the villa once stood. 
Should look very familiar to any
member of the Rouse family.
It was a pretty church inside (as they all are) and Bill noticed a large wooden structure that had exactly the same wooden ornamental trimming on top as what is on an antique armoire that has been in his family for quite some years and is currently in our younger son's home.  What a coincidence.

Interior of the cathedral that is NOT
St. John's Co-Cathedral

We quickly exited this cathedral because they were setting up for a funeral and mourners were starting to arrive.  It was less than 2 blocks walk to the main gate entrance to Valletta.

Just inside that gate on the right side stood the ruins of the Royal Opera House.  This building of 206-ft by 112-ft was constructed of stone and officially opened in October 1866.  But it did not last long.  In May 1873 the building was destroyed by fire.  The exterior remained undamaged but the intense heat caused the interior stonework to calcify.  It was rebuilt and reopened in October 1877.  Some 65 years later, tragedy struck the Royal Opera House again when on the evening of April 7, 1942 the theater was devastated by Luftwaffe bombers.  Malta was heavily bombed during WWII.  More about that later.  The remaining structure was levelled as a safety precaution.  All that remained of the Opera House were the terrace and parts of the columns.  After much discussion with various governmental departments over many years, an open-air theater was officially inaugurated in August 2013 on the same spot within those remaining partial columns.  The theater was named Pjazza Teatru Rjal (Royal Theater Square) after the original structure.  Concerts are held there frequently during warmer months.

A few blocks down the street we found St. John's Co-Cathedral.  It was so crowded that we decided not to bother.  It was jammed packed in there; we could see from the doorway where we stood in line to buy tickets.  No church is worth being packed in that tightly.  

Note jousting lance support on
right chest area

We walked farther down that main street and found the Grand Master's Palace.  The crowds has not yet arrived here, so we bought tickets and toured the armory.  That was interesting.  We learned that armor had supports built onto the chest area to hold the jousting lance.  Neither of us knew about this.  We always thought the knight had to hold that lance by sheer muscle power.  

An air gun from early 1700s

We also learned about the first air guns from the 1600s.  Had no idea that air guns were developed that long ago.  Apparently these were very popular and also quite powerful for guns of that period.

Powder flasks.  Made from cows' horns which are heated
and flattened.  Little valve on tip provided accurate
amount of powder needed for each shot.

Also learned about the rocket launchers used back in the 1200s by the Mongols.  The Knights of St. John regularly used rocket launchers for communication, especially at sea.  In 1799 the British experienced the effective use of rocket launchers in India.  (I assume used by the Indians, not by the British; but the literature in the armory was not specific on that point.)  Around 1790 a version was developed to be fired from the shoulder.  And that is still done today.
Rocket Launcher from 1700 A.D.

The crowds had arrived (tour groups) by the time we finished viewing the armory.  Rather than deal with the crowds to see the palace State Rooms, we walked over to the Saluting Battery for the noon canon salute.  Then enjoyed lunch at a sidewalk cafe before returning to the Grand Master's Palace.  By now the crowds had departed (probably at lunch since most people eat late lunches), so we had the State Rooms almost all to ourselves.  

A hallway inside the
Grand Master's Palace

Only a few rooms are available for public view.  These rooms are quite large.  The highlight of the public rooms are huge frescoes covering the unsuccessful siege of Malta by the Ottoman Empire from May to September 1565.  These frescoes were by Italian artist, Matteo Perez d'Aleccio around 1600.  We did not realize these were frescoes while we were viewing them.  These appeared to be cartoons -- large fabric panels mounted on walls in sequence which tell a story.  I was surprised when finally read the handout given to us with our tickets and learned that these actually are frescoes.  They sure appear to be fabric when standing right in front of them.  

Frescoes depicting the Great Siege by the Ottomans.
Sure look like tapestries / cartoons to me.
The Grand Master was the man in charge of the Knights Hospitaller, who also were known as the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, or the Knights of Malta, Knights of Rhodes, Knights of St. John, and the Chevaliers of Malta.  The Knights Hospitaller arrived in Malta after Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire defeated them at Rhodes and everywhere else the knights attempted to make a stand for Christianity during that period when Islam swept the region.  The Knights needed a new home it became Malta.  They had about 30 years to fortify Malta before the Great Siege occurred.

Entry door to Grand
Master's Palace. Bill's
height is 6-ft so that
provides scale as to
how tall these doors.

The story is that the Turks attacked Malta (Valletta) with a total of 48,000 soldiers in 1565 and were defeated after a prolonged battle by the 6,100 people on Malta.  The Turks fled with about 5,000 survivors and never attempted to take Malta again.

One of several courtyards at the
Grand Master's Palace

Because of its location in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta has always been considered of importance.  Whether attempting to move an empire east to west or south to north, or vice versa, Malta is most important because of this central location.  As I stated earlier in this blog, Malta was heavily bombed during WWII.  One reason for this was the strategic geographic location, both for arms movement and sheltered harbor.  Another reason is that General Dwight Eisenhower had his war planning bunkers located here in Malta.  The Germans did all they could to destroy those bunkers but did not succeed.

Mock-up of the Hypogeum.  We
never made it to the actual site.

There was a line of visitors almost a block long for admittance to St. John's Co-Cathedral.  No way we were going to be able to see the interior.  It is supposed to be beautiful with gold covering almost every surface.  I'm sure there are plenty of photos and information online if anyone is interested. 

The Sleeping Lady of Malta

Next we visited the National Museum of Archaeology.  I had recently read a book written by an archaeologist about sites of interest here in Malta and this museum was mentioned numerous times, not always in a favorable tone.  There were some pieces on display that I wanted to see, especially The Sleeping Lady.  This tiny carving was found at the Hypogeum.  This archaeological site is very, very interesting.  More information can be found here:  Worth taking a look.  I have read too much about it to be able to write a description in just a few sentences.  I found it very, very interesting.  One thing to note, however, is that this museum had 2,000 skulls which were removed from the Hypogeum in the early 1930s.  By 1996 they had only 6 skulls left.  And no one has any idea what happened to the other 1,994 skulls.  This is just one example of what can only be called a history of mismanagement over decades.  According to the archaeologist author of the book I read, there are many more examples of significant losses of archaeology on Malta.  What a shame.

A Phoenician sarcophagus.  Very different than
any other sarcophagi that we have seen thus far. 
The other really interesting thing on Malta are the Cart Ruts.  Malta is the only place on earth where these have been found until recently.  With the help of the internet more have been found at other locations as people learned what to look for, but all are still a mystery. These parallel ruts cut into stone as much as three feet deep are found all over these islands.  It is known by carbon dating items found above the level of these ruts that the ruts were made long before man is known to have inhabited these island.  These parallel ruts run in straight lines and intersect with other parallel ruts.  Then there are curved parallel ruts that intersect over and among the straight lines.  It is really weird.  No one yet has conceived a plausible idea as to how these ruts were made or why or by whom or when.  Rock cannot be carbon dated so there is no way to know how old these are, except that carbon dating items found above the ruts indicates that these are very ancient.  It is a mystery.  More info and photos:

We cleared out of Malta for Tunisia and had our passports stamped out of the EU.  Then received an email from the air-conditioner repairman in Marina di Ragusa that our a/c unit had been received back from Climma and was ready to re-install.  So, off back to Marina di Ragusa we went.  That air conditioning unit is for the main saloon and summer will be here before we know it.

1 comment:

  1. Actually glad to read that you headed back to Sicily....had heard there was some unrest recently in Tunisia! See you later this season!


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