Monday, 23 November 2009

Lighting up the streets of Valletta

Flying into the tiny island of Malta, I am immediately struck with it’s similarity to Greece with it’s rocky dry landscape and white classically styled houses that can be seen perched on the largely treeless hillside. This is not totally surprising because although there are greater geographic connections to Sicilian Italy, there are also strong historic and cultural links to Greece. However, that is where it ends, as the islanders remain proudly Maltese, forged from an eclectic collection of influences that also includes North Africa and colonial Britain. As a result of more recent historical connections, English has joined Maltese as the dominant languages spoken throughout the island, which subsequently attracts hordes of sun seeking visitors from the UK each year. This has been terrific for the local economy, but tourism has come at a price. Over time it has transformed sleepy fishing villages such as St. Julian’s into garish centres for nightlife, with countless clubs, bars, casinos and restaurants lining the narrow streets. While this further enhances the attraction of the island to the young crowd, for me the nearby capital of Valletta remains a far more appealing place to explore, with its wonderfully stylish Baroque and Neo-classical architecture. Being a world heritage site, it is justifiably a beautiful and historic city; despite the every increasing demands of tourism that is constantly threatening to change it’s character (with three times more visitors to the island each year than actual residents). The fortress and waterfront area of the city is particularly attractive with views of the harbour that can be admired while eating delicious Mediterranean cuisine at the numerous cafes and restaurants that line the docks. However, the old town remains the most appealing, with its grand buildings and historic laneways of residences that overhang the streets with their ornate wooden balconies.

As the sun set on a brisk November night in Malta (well outside the regular tourist season), music could be heard in the distance as bands began to rally in the streets to join an annual parade that would celebrated the Christmas lights being switched on. This was quite a unique experience for a visitor, as within no time at all local folk had emerged from their houses to line the route and follow the parade. The music and enthusiasm of the crowd swept everyone along. They clapped and cheered enthusiastically as they walked through an impressive pathway of lights that were strung overhead leading toward the centre of town. The normally quiet streets of Valetta had suddenly been transformed into a celebration of light, music and Maltese tradition, set against some pretty unique architecture…quite special!

No comments:

Post a Comment