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The Grand Harbour Valletta

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by Margaret Waters (subscribe)
A former teacher and charity worker from the North East of England, I love people and places and like to try out new experiences wherever possible. Capturing that 'perfect pic' is all part of the pleasure. Access issues are a particular interest.
Published July 20th 2013
Grand Harbour has Maltese Pride Woven into the Fabric
Any visit to Malta would be incomplete without seeing the Grand Harbour. World famous for its role in European and international history, the Grand Harbour surrounds the capital city of Valletta, guarding it on three sides while grand walled defences are like sheer cliffs rising from the sea to protect the fortified city from invaders.
Fort St Elmo from the sea
Fort St Elmo from the Sea

Once through the city gates you'll find that virtually the whole city is pedestrianised with roads for vehicles on other levels.
c & m take a walk to the harbour
Margaret with husband Colin take a walk down to the Harbour

Take a walk along Republic Street, which runs the length of the capital city while other streets are set out in a grid formation, making it easy to navigate your way around. Steep steps on one side of the city lead down to the Grand Harbour, a beautiful place with St. Angelo's fort at the mouth of the harbour.
St Angelo's Stronghold on the Grand Harbour
St Angelo's Stronghold on the Grand Harbour

I like to imagine the Grand Harbour like the palm of a hand with several outstretched fingers; the fingers being the land and the gap between being deep seawater harbours, with many smaller inlets leading off, creating enough natural berths to accommodate a naval fleet – a natural shelter in a storm, or a stronghold to guard massively.
Topographical map of Grand Harbour Malta
The 'Fingers' of the Grand Harbour as seen on Map

Indeed, its very location has made it a prime strategic position for many invading armies or friendly forces since Roman times, including Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 during his ill-fated Nile Campaign and the British. Although Napoleon banished slavery and the aristocracy, the French were deeply unpopular with the people of Malta. After almost two decades of French rule, the invaders were ousted, with the help of the British in 1814.

At a time when 'Britannia Ruled the Waves', it made sense to have a 'big friend', especially with Barbary Pirates on your doorstep, while the advantages were obvious for the Royal Navy; so Malta's entry into the British Empire was mutually beneficial.

Bomb Damage 1942
Maltese People Clear Up Bomb Damage 1942 (Wikimedia Commons)
And this is where the bravery of the Maltese people played a huge part in helping the Allies to win the Second World War. The island was relentlessly bombed and besieged by enemy planes as it was indeed used as a naval and air base by Allied forces during this time, British warships limping into the Grand Harbour after doing battle in the Mediterranean alongside her allies. HMAS Sydney gained her battle honours in 1941-42 patrolling the area from Alexandria in the east to Gibraltar, the gateway to the Atlantic, intercepting supply lines to the North African battlefront. Why not find out more here.

George Cross Presented to the People of Malta
George Cross Presented to the People of Malta (Wikimedia Commons)
The island was fighting for its very survival and yet remained a staunch ally. Their valiant efforts began to turn the tides of war and in 1943 the whole island was awarded the George Cross, a proud part of the Maltese identity, which is sown into the Maltese flag.

If you're a history buff, the WW2 museum, housed in Fort St. Elmo, at the end of Republic Street, is the place to be.

Hubby Colin Aboard Harbour Cruiseboat
Hubby Colin Aboard Harbour Cruiseboat

It's hard to imagine these scenes when you experience the peace and tranquility of a harbour cruise, which we took from The Strand on Sliema promenade with local company Luzzu Cruises. The crew members were very cheerful and helpful throughout the journey and there was a small bar on the lower level of the boat.

luzzu cruiseboat
Sliema Creek forms part of the Grand Harbour although you have to leave the creek past Tigne Point and enter the main body of the Mediterranean Sea to navigate around the 'fingers' of the harbour. Some of the magnificent battlements are best seen from the sea, including Fort St. Angelo.
Flags of Malta Fly Over Fort St Angelo

On the way back I was very glad of my seafarer husband's calmness as we hit cross-currents at the entrance to the Grand Harbour and our pleasure cruiser was pitching as the seawater surged up several times over the top deck where we were sitting.

I wasn't the only one worried but hubby seemed to know what the captain was doing – apparently he needed to hold a steady course (being buffeted all the time) before choosing his moment and aiming the bow straight into the next wave.

While I held on for dear life, he was standing behind me holding on lightly to a handrail and providing me with a running commentary. I think this calmed several of the other passengers down too. Suddenly the skipper steered hard-a-port and seconds later we were back in the blissfully calm waters of Sliema Creek. If nothing else it places into context the seamanship skills of all the ships and sailors who use these waters. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Various boat companies such as Captain Morgan Cruises operate from the promenade in Sliema, including round the island cruises and you can just pay on the day or get your tickets in advance at one of the ticket booths along the promanade, the choice is yours.
Sliema Valletta ferry

There's also a regular local ferry service across Sliema Creek, which is about a kilometre wide, to Valletta. Again, you can buy tickets on the day but be aware that there are some steep climbs on the other side once you reach Valletta.

Of course local people also enjoy their national asset and we witnessed a regatta held in celebration of Malta's National Day in September when we were there a few years ago. Crowds gathered around the harbour, enjoying their Bank Holiday, while the boat race was quite a spectacle. And it was all free.

Crowds Gather to watch Regatta on Malta's National Day
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Why? Great day out
When: Throughout the Year - Several times a day
Where: Grand Harbour Malta, boats from Sliema
Cost: 16 Euro - Adult. 13 Euro - Child
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