Malta – past and present
© Hegel Goutier
Malta can pride itself on having the charms of a Mediterranean country and the most eclectic of European cultural heritages. It has beaches and entertainment, a flavour of the east, a Semitic language and unique collections of art. The past, which is evident everywhere, stands side-by-side with the present and promises for the future. These include the work of an architectural genius, Richard England, who is creating magic with the splendid buildings of the knights of the order.
With a total surface area of just three hundred square kilometres, including the adjacent islands of Gozo and Comino, the country’s attractions can be visited within two or three days thanks to its excellent road and sea infrastructure. One way of visiting the island is to opt for the ‘Red Tour’ which takes a day for the south route and another for the north route.
Sights to be seen on the south route include the fortifications of the three cities of Cottonera; inspiring Valetta with its shipyards; the bright fishing village of Marsaxlokk with its colourful boats lined up in the harbour; the beautiful beaches of Bugibba, Qawra and St. Paul's Bay with their entertainment areas and the crystalline waters of the Blue Grotto. The north route features the botanical gardens of San Anton; the faded charm of the former capital, Mdina, “the silent city” with its graceful mixture of medieval and baroque architecture and the twists and turns of its backstreets; the tall cliffs of Dingli near to the Buskett Gardens with its vineyards, orangery, olives and citrus fruit plantations and the luxurious, fashionable districts of Silema and St Julians.
There are also many treasures within easy reach in the capital, Valetta. The Co-Cathedral of St John which houses Caravaggio’s ‘The Decapitation of St John’ is one worth taking time out to visit; the Grandmaster’s Palace and many other palaces as well as wonderful terraced gardens like those at Upper Baraka.
Satisfying the soul
In Valetta, there is also the ancient fortress of St. James Cavalier, which has been transformed into a vibrant centre of culture and creativity by the poet, architect and philosopher Richard England, who brings real soul to the imposing defences of the Knights of Malta, allowing light and dreams to enter into the depths of the military fortifications.
His influences include the mantra of Axel Munthe: “The soul needs more room than the body.”* Indeed, England dreams of giving the whole of Valetta some of the magic of his major works which include the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, the Itehak Rabin Memorial in Tel Aviv, and other major architectural projects in Moscow, Buenos Aires, Wroclaw as well as private homes, churches, theatres and sanctuaries. He would like to give the city “the silence in between”, as he calls it. Something he has achieved in the main lecture hall and the humanities block of the University of Malta.
When his ‘Valetta master plan’, is completed the whole personality of Valetta will be transformed. This is already seen in the work he has carried out at ‘St James Cavalier’ and the ‘Central Bank of Malta’, where – with almost surgical precision – he has created something new while being faithful to the existing structures.
* in "The story of San Michele" 1929