MalDia Maltas majestic Grand Harbour

MalDia Maltas majestic Grand Harbour

 

ALBERT FENECH

 

e/mail – salina46af@gmail.com

 

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/jerome.fenech

Malta’s picturesque Grand Harbour in the capital city Valletta is a magnificent natural port. It is rated to be one of the largest natural ports in Europe, as well as the world. Naturally, it has a central role in the history of the Islands, highlighted more when the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem began their sojourn in Malta in 1530.

MalDia The French Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette founder of the city of Valletta

The French Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette founder of the city of Valletta

By then, various habitations had already taken root on the inner rim of the Harbour and later became known as the Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua (not then known by those names) and Kalkara, as well as Marsa (from the Arabic word that means ‘port’) which was generally known as the landing stage of the harbour.

MalDia Grandmaster Jean de la Cassiere

Grandmaster Jean de la Cassiere

Although at the time the capital city was Mdina, this was well inland and the Knights decreed Vittoriosa to be their new headquarters.

The Ottoman Great Siege revolutionised the life of the harbour area. After the Ottoman invaders were vanquished and driven off on the 8th of September of 1565, the changes were dramatic. Victory had been achieved under the bravery and genius of the leadership of the Order’s Grandmaster, Jean Parisot de la Valette.

MalDia Grandmaster Nicholas Cotoner

Grandmaster Nicholas Cotoner

He wisely figured that having repelled the Ottoman invaders once was no guarantee they would not invade again. Thus he decreed the island should have a new capital city, built on the harbour’s outer rim and straddling two harbours, the Grand Harbour and the port of Marsamxett.

MalDia The Middle Ages hospital today known as the Mediterranean Conference Centre

The Middle Ages hospital today known as the Mediterranean Conference Centre

On 28th March 1566, la Valette laid the city’s first foundation stone (today the site of the Chapel of Our Lady of Victories). The Grandmaster was certainly not a man to let the grass grow under his feet. The building labour force resource at the time was not enough to ensure speedy construction, so 4,000 Sicilians were engaged to come to Malta to supplement the construction force.

Maldia The Great Ward of the Sacra Infermeria at the time one of the largest in Europe

The Great Ward of the Sacra Infermeria at the time one of the largest in Europe

On 18th March 1571 the new city was officially inaugurated as Malta’s capital city. Sadly, Grandmaster la Valette did not survive to see his new gem but appropriately the city was named after him and became Valletta and the Knights transferred all their langues (these were palaces of residence for the Knights from different areas i.e. Bavaria, Italia, Castile, Aragon, France etc) as well as administrative palaces, including the Grandmaster’s Palace.

MalDia As it is today

As it is today

Two important points have to be made. Although the Order of the Knights had a reputation of war and conflict their basis was medicine and hospitaliering … in fact the proper name of their Order was the Hospitalier Order of The Knights of St John of Jerusalem – with origins from The Crusades (and later the originators of the St John Ambulance Brigade and the Red Cross). The Knights were normally relatives of Europe’s royal houses.

MalDia A gala dinner evening in the Great Hall

A gala dinner evening in the Great Hall

This enabled the Islands to become famed as a centre of professional medication which later spread over the two World Wars – particularly the First when Malta became known as The Nurse of the Mediterranean for the medication of British and ANZAC wounded victims of WW1.

MalDia The length of the Great Hall

The length of the Great Hall

Following the death of Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette he was succeeded by Jean de la Cassiere who ordered the construction of a large infirmary to care for the medications of the Knights and their galley crews involved in various marine conflicts with the Ottomans around the Islands.

MalDia An international locality for concerts

An international locality for concerts

One of the building’s main attractions was a hall measuring 155 metres in length, referred to as the ‘Great Ward’. Known as the Sacra Infermeria, it was at the time considered to be one of the best hospitals in Europe capable of accommodating around 900 patients.

Later, under the reign of Grandmaster Nicholas Cotoner, the School of Anatomy and Surgery was established in the infirmary, and was the early precursor of the Medical School now at the University of Malta in Msida. When the Knights left the island in the late 1700s and the French took over, a number of structural changes were implemented in order to improve the hospital’s sanitation.

MalDia Splendour and history

Splendour and history

Between 1800 and 1918, the hospital was used by British military forces as a station hospital, particularly suitable due to its proximity to the Grand Harbour, where the sick and wounded were brought in from their ships. It was after the end of WWI that the Sacra Infermeria stopped being used as a hospital, and instead housed the Police Headquarters until the start of WWII, during which time the building sustained disastrous damage.

MalDia The Grand Harbour

The Grand Harbour

Gradually and many years later, the old hospital was reconstructed and restored, and inaugurated as the Mediterranean Conference Centre in 1979, as it is known today. Its various halls, stages, equipment and facilities have made it a top venue for local and international events, surrounded by remarkable views of the Grand Harbour within a truly historic setting. 

MalDia The expansive roof affording magnificent views now converted into a restaurant

The expansive roof affording magnificent views now converted into a restaurant

Now on an investment of €2.5 million the large and spacious roof with an area of 1,300 square metres has been renovated and converted into a large open air bar and restaurant, fronted by the magnificent views of the Grand Harbour. This complements a larger project that includes a virtual museum and updated technology.

Last year conferences staged at the Mediterranean Conference Centre attracted 15,000 persons and overall, 167,000 visitors visited to appreciate the grandeur of the whole building. It is a venue for large and major events including international conferences and concerts but this year has sadly suffered from lack of patronage because of the pandemic,

ALBERT FENECH

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MALTESE SAYING

“We are all in one sea”

An expression to signify that all people and all countries are facing the same problems and challenges – without exception.

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