Little Bits of History

Valletta

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 28, 2015
Mural in Valletta showing city's construction *

Mural in Valletta showing city’s construction *

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

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Maltese Father

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 17, 2015
Father Xerri's execution

Father Xerri’s execution

January 17, 1799: Dun Mikiel Xerri dies. Born Mikael Archangelus Joseph in 1737, he was a Maltese patriot. He was educated at various universities in Europe. He lived under the Knights of St. John and French rule when Napoleon Bonaparte took over the island nation in June 1798. The Knights of Malta had become increasingly oppressive and at first, the locals welcomed the French. Then the French stripped the nobility of their rights and decided to stand against the Maltese church. As churches were being plundered, the tiny nation faced a financial crisis. As most of the cash was drained away, a rebellion began on September 2, 1798.

The locals rose up against the French at their garrison in Notabile. Both islands were in full rebellion when they formed a National Assembly. The French forces retreated to the fortified cities surrounding the harbor while the Maltese asked for help from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and Great Britain. A blockade kept food out of the cities and hundreds of people were starving. Inside the fortresses, some risked their lives to help resolve the situation. Among these was Father Mikael Xerri, whose role as leader of a failed plot led to his demise. Their plans for attacks against the French forces in Valletta and in Cottonera were discovered and 49 men were captured, including their leader.

On this day, they were led to Palace Square from Fort Saint Elmo. There was a platoon of French soldiers awaiting their arrival. Father Xerri encouraged his companions on the way from fort to execution site and asked for time at the square to speak with the men. They prayed together and made their peace with God. Xerri gave a silver watch to the official and asked to be shot in the heart. The men were ready and shouted in unison, “May God have pity on us! Long live Malta!” and then they were shot but not all were killed. They were removed from the square and taken to the chapel of Saint Rocco, where they were finished off. They were buried on the side of the church of Saint Publius.

Malta is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia, and north of Libya. The entire county covers only 121 square miles and it is the ninth smallest country in the world. It is also one of the most densely populated with nearly a half million people living there. They gained their independence from the UK in 1964. Malta is classified as an advanced economy. In the past, agriculture and shipping were major contributors to the national economy. Today, limestone is one of their major resources. They are dependent on foreign trade for much of their food and have little potable water supply. Malta is currently led by President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. The capital is at Valletta and Birkirkara is the largest city with about 22,000 people living within the one square mile city limits.

Enjoy yourself, for there is nothing in the world we can call our own. – Maltese proverb

When a miser dies, the heirs feel as happy as when they kill a pig. – Maltese proverb

Money begets money, and fleas beget fleas. – Maltese proverb

At night all women are alike. – Maltese proverb

Also on this day: Heading for the Hills in Minnesota – In 1950, the Great Brinks Robbery took place.
Strong to the Finnich – In 1929, Elzie Crisler Segar’s Popeye first appeared in a comic strip.
Fore – In 1916, the US Professional Golfers’ Association [PGA] was formed.
Our Loss – In 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was arrested.
Bombing Spain – In 1966, The US dropped nuclear missiles on Palomares, Spain.