The Port of Valletta is the capital city of Malta. Located on the island's northeast coast about nine kilometers northwest of Malta Freeport at Marsaxlokk and some 50 nautical miles southwest of the Port of Pozallo in Sicily, the city is built on an arm of Mount Sceberras that divides the bay. The Grand Harbour is to the east of the promontory, and the Marsamxett Harbour is to the west. In 2007, over six thousand people called the Port of Valletta home.
The Port of Valletta is a city of history and of churches. The Church of Our Lady of Victory holds the foundation stone of the Port of Valletta. St. Paul's Shipwreck Church memorializes that event. The octagonal St. Catherine of Italy's church is beautiful and cared for with love and devotion. In addition to this spiritual heritage, the Port of Valletta is an important administrative and commercial center for Malta. With a combination of historic and artistic gems, the Port of Valletta is also a very popular tourist attraction.
Recognizing the Port of Valletta's importance as a historic treasure with ties to the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, UNESCO designated the 55 hectare area of the Port of Valletta as a World Heritage Site in 1980.
The first inhabitants on the islands most likely came in prehistoric days from Sicily on rafts or simple canoes. In the Bronze Age, inhabitants created linens and fine cloth that early traders crossed the sea to get, bringing with them pottery from the Aegean. Phoenicians eventually settled colonies there, and the islands were an important place to stop during their long east-west sea voyages.
When Carthage became the major naval power in the Mediterranean, the islands were important to north-south trade. Romans conquered Malta during the Punic Wars, and the islands enjoyed prosperity from maritime trade and local textiles. During the Byzantine period, it was a stop-over for their navy and trade.
Arabs pushed the Byzantines aside and occupied the island for a time. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Port of Valletta was important to Mediterranean trade routes. Archeological finds both underwater and from the land attest to the islands' frequent use.
The Port of Valletta was named for Jean Parisot de la Valetta, head of the Hospitalers (or Knights of St. John of Jerusalem), who stopped advancing Ottomans in the 1565 Great Siege of Malta. In 1566, construction began on the first bastions for the new city of Valletta. The Order ruled for over two centuries until Napoleon came in 1798.
The Grand Master did not live long enough to see the new structures completed. By 1571, building was sufficiently advanced for the Knights to move to their new capital city. In the following years, many new grand buildings arose: Sacra Inferma, the Magisterial Palace and the Auberges, St. John's Church, and the Inns of Residence of the Knights.
Over the course of the 16th Century, the Port of Valletta had become a relatively large city. People from across the island sought the protection of the fortifications. Newer buildings became more lavish. The new Port of Valletta, with deep moats and strong defenses, became even more important strategically. The streets were even designed to support the defenses.
Much later, when the Maltese revolted against the Napoleon's French rule, the British seized it in 1800. The Port of Valletta became a British military and naval base.
World War II brought great destruction and hardship to the Port of Valletta. It was bombed heavily, and the marks of the damage are still visible, particularly where the old Opera House stood. Still of strategic importance, the Italian fleet surrendered to the Allies in 1943 in the Port of Valletta.
After the war, the Port of Valletta lost many residents, and the population shrank to about nine thousand people. Even though the Port of Valletta is the European Union 's smallest capital city, it is Malta's most important financial and commercial center. Every day, it hosts tourists who want to explore this historic city.