A visit to our capital city may now be enhanced by experiencing Underground Valletta, a newly-launched Heritage Malta site which sheds light on the different uses of the passageways beneath Valletta along the centuries while enabling visitors to admire the marvellous engineering entailed in the construction of this city.
The underground spaces now open to the public consist mainly of the tunnels that provided sanitary facilities for the new city built by the Knights on Mount Sciberras; the wells and cisterns where water was stored hundreds of years ago; and the shelters dug out in the Second World War, where Valletta residents sought refuge during air raids.
The Knights used Valletta’s underground spaces for military purposes and for grain storage, but the tunnels were also essential for two other crucial reasons: water and drainage. Both were vital for the city’s survival under siege, but also in times of peace. Valletta’s water supply was used only once during a siege – when the French were blockaded inside the city by the Maltese, who immediately cut off the water supply from the aqueduct but could do nothing to prevent the French from using the millions of gallons of water stored in Valletta’s underground cisterns.
Many years later, during the Second World War, the last important chapter for subterranean Valletta unfolded with the increase of its tunnels and their use as shelters. Thousands spent nights crammed down there, deprived of decent sanitary facilities and sufficient food supplies, spurred on by the hope that another raid raid would soon be over and that they would manage to get out safe and sound.
Underground Valletta was officially launched in the presence of Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, José Herrera, and Heritage Malta’s top management.
Minister Herrera said that Valletta, a World Heritage Site, cannot be fully appreciated without experiencing that which lies beneath it. Thanks to Heritage Malta, the public now has the opportunity to experience the capital city more completely and appreciate some of its facets that previously may have been overlooked.
Heritage Malta’s Chairman, Anthony Scicluna, said that through Underground Valletta, Heritage Malta will be exploring the use of a subterranean resource across two distinct periods – the Knights’ rule and World War II during the British rule. The curatorial aim is to garner as much knowledge as possible so as to disseminate it in various ways to different audiences.
Mario Cutajar, Heritage Malta’s Executive Director, said that for today’s generations Underground Valletta represents inaccessibility itself due to its very nature, and they can barely imagine that in the early 1940s the Maltese made use of this inaccessible place to shelter from the bombings of the Second World War. Heritage Malta is giving new meaning to accessibility by putting within reach what was previously out of reach. Accessibility is not just ramps and exhibitions but also delving behind the scenes of our history to make it available for all. Mr Cutajar remarked that those who built our capital city wasted no resources but created cisterns and passageways out of quarries that became the foundations of a city destined to be a world heritage site.
Heritage Malta’s Chief Executive Officer, Noel Zammit, spoke of Heritage Malta’s constant commitment towards increasing public accessibility to Malta’s heritage. He said that by opening this unique site beneath Valletta, Heritage Malta is offering visitors a more holistic and satisfactory experience of the historic sites within the capital city, as envisaged in the agency’s strategy for Valletta.
The entrance to Underground Valletta is in St John Square. Guided tours of the site will commence as of next Sunday, 7th November. Tours will be offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. More information about tickets and opening hours may be found HERE and at https://shop.heritagemalta.org/
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