The secrets of Malta are best revealed on a small-group tour like this
The pace of the tour suited Anna perfectly. âI’m a little lame,â she said. âI don’t want to get up at dawn to change hotels. I want more free time, so it feels like a vacation â.
And indeed, he did. A rhythm was set during our first day of exploring Valletta, built from scratch by the Order of the Knights of St. John in 1571. The bastions, palaces and churches, made from colored limestone calamine, tell a thousand stories. However, Agnes focused on just two buildings: a private palace and Valletta’s iconic Baroque masterpiece, St. John’s Co-Cathedral, begun in 1572. The interior bears the mark of the Knights everywhere – eight-toothed Maltese crosses representing the eight languages ââ(linguistic divisions) of the knights, each with its own opulent chapel.
The interior decorated with floral bas-reliefs painted in gold under a ceiling recounting the life of Saint John by the Calabrian Mattia Pretti, seemed to be overzealous. Even the drab black painted doors of the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament were silver underneath. âThey disguised them to prevent Napoleon’s troops from pinching the money in 1798,â AgnÃ¨s explains. The same year, the Knights were expelled.
âBy then, they had become decadent and unpopular,â Agnes told us. “They took a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, but abandoned them all when the French drove them out.”
Without haste, it was time to soak up the brilliance of the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio, who, between brawls and murders, found time to paint the masterful Beheading of Saint John here in 1608, his signature scribbled in the oozing blood of St. Paul.
And who knows? Perhaps the brooding maestro once visited Casa Rocca Piccola, where the Marquis Nicolas de Piro d’Amico Inguanez, ninth Baron of Budach, took us on a personalized tour of the ancestral trinkets contained in his palace of the 1580s. He told us about everything from papal slippers to an 18th-century portable altar and lacquered chinoiserie – which he opened to reveal a cross, relics, and a tabernacle. âIf we have a drink, we make sure the doors are closed,â he laughed.