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looking at a distance on repubblika ta’ malta and from its capital il-belt valletta

What country in the European Union is the smallest?

What country was ruled in succession by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French, and British?

What country has a capital–Valletta–that will be the European Capital of Culture in 2018 and is itself an UNESCO World Heritage site?

The answer, of course, is Malta, a small island on the Mediterranean Sea that is not far from Sicily and the boot of Italy. Within a short time after arriving on Malta and seeing Valletta for the first time, I wondered why I had not visited sooner.

Valletta, or Il-belt Valletta in Maltese, is a small capital sitting on a peninsula and is clearly surrounded on three sides by water. The Mediterranean Sea is to the northeast.

The Grand Harbor is located at the south eastern side of Valletta and has been a harbor since Roman times. It has several docks and wharves, as well as a cruise liner terminal. A terminal at the Grand Harbor serves ferries that connect Malta to Pozzallo and Catania in Sicily, too. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Standing on any southern promontory of Valletta, one can look across the Grand Harbor to the fortified Three Cities of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. Birgu was founded in the Middle Ages, and the other two were founded in the mid-1500’s by the Order of Saint John(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Marsamxett Harbor is located on the western side of Valletta and accommodates a number of yacht marinas. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Like on the northern side of Valletta, standing on a promontory and looking across the water, one will see the towns of Sliema, Gżira and Ta’ Xbiex. The harbor then extends inland to the southwest to Pietà and Msida. Off Gżira lies Manoel Island and its large fortification.

As obvious as it is, it should be noted that the towns of Sliema, Gżira and Ta’ Xbiex are much more modern than either Valletta or the Three Cities, at least along their waterfronts.

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