As we walked through the gates of Valetta city I was impressed with the modern design of the enormous and fabulous building that rose up in front of me, what an effect it has on one! We walked over the beautifully paved floor toward a couple of chairs and tables and drank our coffee while taking in the view, it was very pleasing to the eye, first of all the gate itself which you come to by crossing over a bridge, looking down into the ancient surrounds of the city, I felt dwarfed walking through the gates, and then this unusual building on stilts, façade covered in Limestone (sourced from the island of Gozo). I read that the architect of this building, which by the way is the new Parliament building, was Renzo Piano, an Italian architect and engineer, who has designed some other wonderful buildings and projects, among them the Paul Klee Centre in Bern, Switzerland. The building of the Parliament House was part of the City Gate Project, it also included the open air theatre. The stone which was cut in Italy was perfectly smooth and sharply angular. I just loved it, it enticed the eye upwards where the honey coloured construction made a perfect line against the blue sky. What an entrance to a city, I don’t think I have ever seen something like this before.
On the way out of the city, Ian drew my attention to the stone slabs on the floor of the square – I was still looking up – and what we saw there delighted us too, fossils on every single slab, beautifully smoothed to a perfectly shiny surface, but clearly visible.
I’ve added some photos but I don’t think they do justice to the experience one is treated to when actually there, still it is a try.
I got to thinking about these huge structures, the massive high walls made of stone, the amazing way the stone is held together and the buildings are engineered, and I must admit that they give me a feeling of being protected, against what – I do not know, and why we build such huge structures I know even less, I only now realise that they can have a good effect on one, I noticed it at first while we were in Budapest recently and the solid buildings made me feel more grounded, maybe it is something personal, maybe I am in nature so much of the time that I literally disappear in the landscape, maybe a little bit of being among huge man made structure is good for one too. Who knows, all I realise is that it has a good effect on me and for that right now I am very grateful.
When we visited Valletta yesterday St. John’s Cathedral was among the first places that I wanted to see, mainly because of its baroque architecture. The outside of the church is nothing to go by but the inside does provoke strong emotions. I did not expect this as I do not normally go for such ornate style, but for some reason I felt totally overwhelmed, so beautiful, so powerful, such interesting paintings, amazing murals on the ceilings, Arabesque ornamentation on the walls, gilded vaults, and very rich decorations all over. These magnificent or ancient human works of art always fill me up, and I am not a person who cries with movies.
St. John’s Cathedral was built between 1573 and 1578. After the building was finished, the richness was mainly to thank to the Grand Masters and the knights of the order of St. John who donated the funds to employ great artists for this great creation, making it into a gem of high baroque.
During the building of the cathedral, the architect stipulated the use of very tick walls between the side chapels as he was not sure of the strength of the local limestone, this was meant to support the heavy buttresses above. Later on narrow doors were made into these walls connecting the various side altars.
One of the highlights of the visit to the church are the display of the two paintings by Caravaggio, one the beheading of St. John the Baptist, and the other, St. Jerome’s writing, both paintings show an amazing use of light and shade, red being almost the only colour Caravaggio used apart from brown and beige. He used a very realistic style of painting, new to the period and copied by many others after him. He was a most interesting artist and his paintings are special and well worth seeing.
Also one of the highlights of my visit were the Choral manuscripts and the Flemish tapestries, here I was not allowed to take photos but that did not matter, I think I’ve got the illuminations of those ancient score books imprinted on my mind and can see them before me now, very beautiful. The Flemish tapestries were made in Brussels after the great painter Rubens and Poussin. They are massive and it is unbelievable how this sort of art can be actually woven into cloth.
I’m sure much more is to be said about this cathedral, but it is not my intention to write like a guidebook, better to let people discover for themselves the beauties of a place, and to let each one use a proper guidebook for information.
I came out of the cathedral beaming and fulfilled, it is remarkable how much joy true art can bring to humankind.
Well worth to go see, and very interesting during a visit to Malta are the Hagar Qim temples in the SW of the island. It is a well worked archaeological site, some of the features are copies and the originals can be found in the archaeological museum in Valetta.
I always try and get the ‘feel’ of the place when visiting an ancient site, but here I felt nothing special. The site is very close to the sea, and very windy . There is a lot to learn about these megalithic temples, the site consists of a group of monumental megalithic buildings dating back to the late Neolithic period around 5,000 years ago. As stated in a leaflet available at the visitor centre, there is little know about these buildings. I for one wonder why there were altars, what were they used for? Another question is whether the courts had corbelled roofs, which many think, it is suggested that they were made of successive rings of megaliths the way that the roof of the New-Grange passage grave was built back in Ireland. There must be a connection between all these ancient sites. It is so interesting, there is so much to learn about the past! We visited the Mnajdra Temples after this one, but that is for another blog write-up.
Carved altar and slab with spiral motifs
Two mushroom shaped altars, and the other a carved altar
One of the stone slabs forming the wall in this chamber bears two pairs of legs in high relief
On this slab on the photo to the right, the outline of two pairs of legs can be seen, belonging it seems to some obese figures it is thought, perhaps some goddesses?