MALTA DIARY: VALLETTA’S GRAND HARBOUR – turned into a spectacular of sea pageantry and fireworks
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The Grand Harbour has always been the raison d’etre for Malta’s capital city Valletta. It’s natural width and depth and a number of inlets and creeks have always been a great attraction and when the Knights of St John came to Malta early in the 16th Century they handily found the Three Cities of Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea (four actually because there is also the off-shoot Kalkara) built around the northern shores of the harbour, as well as Marsa on the eastern shore.
The Knights made Vittoriosa their headquarters at a time when Mdina in the northern part of Malta was the actual capital city of the island.
However, after the epic Grand Siege of Malta by Ottoman forces in 1565, Grandmaster Jean Parisot de La Valette decreed the need to build a new city on the Sciberras Promontory on the north western and south western parts of the harbour because it handily snuggled between two ports, the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett and this would facilitate the island’s defence. The city was named after him, Valletta, although sadly he did not live to see its inauguration and it automatically became Malta’s capital city henceforth, replacing Mdina.
This year, Valletta has been designated as the European Capital for Culture with a planned 400 cultural events throughout the year and one of the main events was a Valletta Pageant of the Seas spectacular, held aptly enough on the afternoon and evening of Thursday, 7th June, a National Day holiday commemorating the uprising of the Maltese against the British colonialists 99 years ago, in 1919.
The activities started with an enactment by the In Guardia group, a troupe dedicated to traditional uniforms and costumes worn at the times of the Knights and giving enactments of various historic events. The 2018 “Grandmaster” sailed into the harbour, ironically enough on a Turkish gullet!
This was followed by a regatta – as Malta’s traditional 8th September Regatta stretches back to the Great Siege and was commissioned by the Knights to commemorate the victory over the Ottoman forces. This was succeeded by a race on rafts made from recycled materials in which 25 teams participated under the rules that oars and engines could not be used.
There was another historic commemoration when a number of swimmers swam across the harbour from Fort St Angelo to commemorate the heroic and legendary Maltese swimmer Toni Bajada who at the time of the Siege swam across the harbour to carry messages between the defending Knights as these could not be conveyed by land because of the Ottoman forces stationed at Marsa.
A show of powerboats followed as they zoomed and zig-zagged across the harbour, while brass bands played traditional festive marches around various parts of the Grand Harbour.
As the late afternoon darkened into evening, 28 illuminated yachts left the Kalkara Marina carrying the flags of all the EU Member countries and surrounded a stage built on barges in the middle of the harbour.
Audio-visual projections on the water produced a giant water curtain and then the Barcelona acrobatic troupe La Fura Dels Baus, together with Maltese acrobats, gave a performance of a luminous tree being split open and a giant figure representing the Venus of Malta (the famed and portly Neolithic woman) rose out of the sea and was lifted in the air.
The night was rounded off with a spectacular display of fireworks from various points around the Grand Harbour.
It was undoubtedly, a night to remember and undoubtedly a glowing tribute to Malta’s capital city in which over 1,000 different artists participated.
“A fool is he who dismisses me as a fool”
Does not really have to be explained – self-explanatory!