From its humble beginnings as a Phoenician watchtower upon the island’s peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean, to the incredibly ornate city of Valletta, the location of the Maltese capital has long been recognized by subsequent conquerors for its strategic vantage overlooking the adjoining sea routes. Named after the Order of St. John of Jerusalem’s grandmaster after having successfully led their order in defending the island from an Ottoman invasion in 1565, laying Valletta’s foundation stone himself in March of the following year and binding the knights to Malta and the defense of the Christian kingdoms until their defeat over three centuries later in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte. Unlike other medieval Maltese architecture that exhibited irregularly winding streets and alleys Valletta was designed by the city’s principal designer Francesco Laparelli on a rectangular grid with wide streets running from the City Gate to Fort Saint Elmo overlooking the sea which would even serve in more recent history as a powder magazine for training World War II Allied anti-aircraft gun crews. Thankfully the majority of the sixteenth century buildings would manage to survive the Axis bombardment and in 1980 would be officially recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its distinct Baroque character.

Today with a modest population of approximately seven thousand it is the second southernmost capital of a European Union member state after Nicosia and serves as the country’s principal cultural centre thanks to a unique collection of churches, palaces, museums, not to mention Europe’s third oldest working theatre, it is unsurprising Valletta was selected to be the E.U.’s Capital of Culture for 2018.