I had to wake up at 6 am to get in line to buy last minute tickets for the Hypogeum. Only 20 tickets per day are sold and only for two entries 12 pm and 4 pm, 10 tickets each. The tickets can be purchased much cheaper on the Internet, well in advance but they were completely sold out now, sometimes with 4 weeks in advance. Only if I knew like many others who come here and have no clue of the situation. I will not get in too much detail about what Hypogeum is but for sure is the coolest stuff to visit in Malta being an elaborate underground structure built around at least 9000 years ago. So I jumped in the bus and at 7:15 am I was the first in line. Till 7:40 AM I had three more who joined me, one being Yvette, a Belgian mom of three who was in line the previous day and just missed it. I chat with her till 9 am about many including the dramatic changes that happen in the European work market, when the gates of Heaven opened and for E35 with no discounts I got a printed paper that stated that I paid for the ticket and I can show up at the gates of the ruins on the next business day that would be January 2. So, totally elated, I left and started to explore Valletta, a city built completely by the knights under the Grand Master Jean Pariseau La Vallette regarded here dearly as a sort of a national hero. With more information on hands from the Tourist Office I left for a short visit of the Grand Master Palace that is still used as the main government building. The Armory is worth a visit even if you are not into this. I guess if the knights did not have the right armory nobody had it. The State Rooms were closed so we followed to the Casa de la Rocca owned by Marquis Nicolas de Piro interviewed in a recent article about Malta in the New York Times travel section, a great piece by Elisabeth Warren. The 16th century house is still inhabited by the family and is visited daily on an organized tour every hour. La Madame Marquis offers traditional Maltese cookies with hot wine in the middle of the tour and the Marquis is chatting occasionally with the guests. At 12 pm the gun battery is shooting a saluting canon from the Upper Barrack gardens, a place that used to be an exclusive pleasure ground of the knights that offers stupendous views over Valletta and the Three Cities.
Malta is probably one of the most interesting destination for archeology, its artifacts and sites dating from times well before the known history of Sumer and Egypt. The best place to read and see some of these artifacts is the Archaeological Museum, a place that has many exquisite capitals and column heads dating from 4000-7500BC that display intricate details and a remarkable design. The museum covers all the main archeological sites with models, detailed explanations and photos from the first excavations all beside the ancient stone slabs with intricate details from the sites.
When the knights came in 1530 in Malta, Valletta did not exist. They settled in one of the finger peninsulas facing the place that will become Valletta, in Birgu one of what is called today “The Three Cities”. Their mission houses organized like the today multinational forces, as they did also in Rhodes, are located in Colacchio, a part of town of narrow winding alleys guarded by very tall buildings. Here the eight nations that formed the order had also its main headquarters in the Knights Hall, a large building with many entrances to be able to be supplied easy in case of fight. Out of the eight catholic nations that are symbolized by the eight corner star of the order only five exist today, many of the Iberian peninsula nations being incorporated in the modern Spain. The knights were soldier monks dedicated to the service of God. They evolved in this role from their original mission of Hospitalier Knights that were in charge of aiding and safe guarding the valuables of the pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem. The Inquisitor Palace was an original Court of Law converted in 1530. Out of the numerous inquisitors that ruled from this palace two became Popes and 22 cardinals, showing the great influence of Malta in the Catholic World. However if you visit the museum the way things are presented is way milder than were taught in history all over the world. It looks like the Inquisition got a bad press over times…. The knights’ influence can be better understood when you visit the Maritime Museum, maybe one of the best museums of its kind. The knights were corsairs, each ship being commanded by one of them. These “start-ups” were ventured by the yesterday investment medieval-capitalists who were looking for fortunes in the large loot that ships brought home. The spoils were taken of the Ottoman ships because the Church preached not to steal from Christians but never mentioned Infidels…The other cheek was not turned over as required. Popes convincing them to turn a blind eye to the Malta and its influence. Eventually the Turks got pissed off that after they gave the knights safe passage, their force became so strong that they controlled the entire Mediterranean basin bringing fear to any who they encountered, the cries of “Viva Malta” being the worst to be heard by attacked ships. But Suleiman’s attack in 1565 with 30000 people against only 8000 knights failed and the knights consolidated their rule, The city from where they defended the island, Birgu was renamed Vittoriosa and it remained as such even today.
The Maritime Museum was probably the best resource we visited in Malta about the role of the knights and after a quite walk on the promenade overlooking Valletta we returned to the capital and had a great traditional Maltese dinner in King’s Tavern returning to Gzira before midnight happy that the forecasted rain day stayed only as clouded. Let’s see how it will go tomorrow…