March 28, 1566: The cornerstone of the city of Valletta is laid. It is the capital of Malta, a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea just south of Sicily, east of Tunisia, and north of Libya. Malta covers just 122 square miles and has a population of about 416,000 making one of the world’s smallest yet most densely populated countries. The capital city of Valletta covers just 0.3 square miles and has a population of almost 7,000. It is colloquially called Il-Belt (The City) in Maltese. The Order of the Knights of Saint John, also called the Knights Hospitaller, were among the most famous of the Roman Catholic military orders in the Middle Ages. They arrived on Malta in 1530 and found the only building, a small watchtower dedicated to Erasmus of Formia (Saint Elmo).
In 1552, they demolished the tower and built Fort Saint Elmo on the site. During the Great Siege of 1565, the fort fell to the Turks, but the Knights eventually won the siege with the help of the Spaniards who sent reinforcements. The victorious Grandmaster, Jean de Valette, immediately set out to build a new fortified city. This would help secure their position as well as tie the Knights to the island. The city would be named for him. He asked European kings and princes for help. Since the Order became famous for this victory, help was forthcoming. Pope Pius V sent military architect, Francesco Laparelli, to design the new city while Phillip II of Spain sent money. De Valette himself laid the foundation stone on this date.
De Valette died on August 21, 1568 from a stroke. He was 74 and did not live to see his city completed. He is buried in St. John’s Co-Cathedral with other Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta. Unlike most Middle Ages city plans, Laparelli built Valletta using a rectangular grid plan, without the winding twisting streets and without a restricted area for important buildings. The streets were wide and straight and began centrally from the City Gate and ended at Fort Saint Elmo. When he died in 1570, Girolamo Cassar finished construction and the city became the capital of Malta in 1571 with the Grandmaster moving into the Grandmaster’s Palace.
Today, Valetta remains the capital and houses the Offices of the President and Prime Minister as well as the parliament, the courthouse, and other government buildings. Alexiei Dingli is the Mayor of the city while Marie Louise Coleiro Preca is President and Joseph Muscat is Prime Minister of the country. The city lies on a peninsula of the island and has two natural harbors. The climate is mild. Valletta has been designated European Capital of Culture for 2018, an honor bestowed to various cities in Europe for one calendar year where the city organizes a series of cultural events. Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the city hosts the Maltese Carnival each year in February, leading up to Lent.
The four cornerstones of character on which the structure of this nation was built are: Initiative, Imagination, Individuality and Independence. – Eddie Rickenbacker
Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness. – Sigmund Freud
What is sacred among one people may be ridiculous in another; and what is despised or rejected by one cultural group, may in a different environment become the cornerstone for a great edifice of strange grandeur and beauty. – Hu Shih
Those who first oppose a good work, seize it and make it their own, when the cornerstone is laid and memorial tablets are erected. – Edgar Lee Masters
Also on this day: Ragnar, the Viking – In 845, Ragnar sacked Paris.
Tornado Outbreak – In 1920, a series of devastating tornadoes swept the US.
Three Mile Island – In 1979, a partial nuclear meltdown began in Pennsylvania.
He Changed the Way We Live – In 1897, Victor Mills was born.
Majestic Theatre – In 1927, the theater opened in New York City.
* Picture by Frank Vincentz