The most interesting places are those that retain a sense of mystery. And even the most decorated and historically signposted of cities, like Valletta itself, can hide its own unique ‘gems’. Apart from the quaint streets and the curiosities contained within them — inevitably snowballing throughout the centuries, that brought with them various rulers and peoples — there are places in Valletta that, although they may be loved for and documented by historians and conscientious residents, might not strike you as all that well-known.
For me, the prime example of such a place in Valletta would be the treacherous but beautifully enigmatic area surrounding the Marsamxett Harbour. Several disclaimers to follow here: I’m not even sure that ‘Marsamxett’ is the most accurate geo-location for the place. And I would also advise those of you willing to take the plunge after reading this, to go when natural light is generously present, and to ‘wear comfortable shoes’ — as the adventuring adage would have it. Luckily, the place in question isn’t too far away from our very own Carafa Residence, so you can treat this as a low-maintenance trek if nothing else.
With that in mind, let’s hop on down.
The easiest way to reach the area in question would be through a tunnel that’s a mere minute’s walk way from the Residence itself – a dip right next to the Jews’ Sally Port Snack Bar. This is a portal from the ragged grid of the city and into a stranger world.
It’s a place that feels both vast and abandoned — like a slice of the coast that leaves plenty of space for people but never invites large crowds and noise.
Walking ahead, you can turn a corner and find a shanty town; green doors caked with dirt and chipped with age. The water assumes the shape of a canal now. Below the shanty town it’s an emerald green, almost as if to mirror the doors.
But the further you walk, the less ‘human’ it all becomes. There’s a kind of stone clearing; where ahead you’ll be faced with bridges or staircases, here you can get a level, clear view of the sea.
Ahead, the sea-and-weather beaten soft stone is shaped in undulating, irregular bumps and curves. The remains of metal features, structures, now so completely rusted they look more like rancid fauna than a man-made imposition on the landscape.
The man-made features that do retain a discernible function – the staircases connecting the haphazard, treacherous space – are almost a parody of themselves. The entire area is so precarious that you feel stairs shouldn’t be there in the first place – walking through it shouldn’t be encouraged.
Another testing staircase leads you back to the city. Surpassing it, to your right you’ll find the ‘Malta Experience’ site (though it’s likely I don’t need to point you to THAT particular tourist trap), with the Mediterranean Conference Centre – aka the old ‘Sacra Infermeria’ – right in front of you.
From where you’re standing, you can return to Valletta’s core from various angles. Whichever direction you choose, be sure to look to the right before you step forward. The majestic view of the Siege Bell memorial shouldn’t go unnoticed.