The peninsula was previously called Xagħret Mewwija (Mu' awiya – Meuia; named during the Arab period) or Ħal Newwija. Mewwija refers to a sheltered place. The extreme end of the peninsula was known as Xebb ir-Ras (Sheb point), of which name origins from the lighthouse on site. A family which surely owned land became known as Sceberras, now a Maltese surname as Sciberras. At one point the entire peninsula became known as Sceberras. (See also)
The building of a city on the Sciberras Peninsula had been proposed by the Order of Saint John as early as 1524. Back then, the only building on the peninsula was a small watchtower dedicated to Erasmus of Formia (Saint Elmo), which had been built in 1488.
Order of Saint John
In 1552, the Aragonite watchtower was demolished and the larger Fort Saint Elmo was built in its place.
In the Great Siege of 1565, Fort Saint Elmo fell to the Ottomans, but the Order eventually won the siege with the help of Sicilian reinforcements. The victorious Grand Master, Jean de Valette, immediately set out to build a new fortified city on the Sciberras Peninsula to fortify the Order's position in Malta and bind the Knights to the island. The city took his name and was called La Valletta.
The Grand Master asked the European kings and princes for help, and he received a lot of assistance, due to the increased fame of the Order after their victory in the Great Siege. Pope Pius V sent his military architect, Francesco Laparelli, to design the new city, while Philip II of Spain sent substantial monetary aid. The foundation stone of the city was laid by Grand Master de Valette on 28 March 1566. He placed the first stone in what later became Our Lady of Victories Church.
In his book Dell’Istoria della Sacra Religione et Illustrissima Militia di San Giovanni Gierosolimitano (English: The History of the Sacred Religion and Illustrious Militia of St John of Jerusalem), written between 1594 and 1602, Giacomo Bosio writes that when the cornerstone of Valletta was placed, a group of Maltese elders said: "Iegi zimen en fel wardia col sceber raba iesue uquie" (Which in modern Maltese reads, "Jiġi żmien li fil-Wardija [l-Għolja Sciberras] kull xiber raba’ jiswa uqija", and in English, "There will come a time when every piece of land on Sciberras Hill will be worth its weight in gold").
De Valette died from a stroke on 21 August 1568 at age 74 and never saw the completion of his city. Originally interred in the church of Our Lady of the Victories, his remains now rest in St. John's Co-Cathedral among the tombs of other Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta.
Aerial view showing the exterior and interior outlines of Valletta
Francesco Laparelli was the city's principal designer and his plan departed from medieval Maltese architecture, which exhibited irregular winding streets and alleys. He designed the new city on a rectangular grid plan, and without any collacchio (an area restricted for important buildings). The streets were designed to be wide and straight, beginning centrally from the City Gate and ending at Fort Saint Elmo (which was rebuilt) overlooking the Mediterranean; certain bastions were built 47 metres (154 ft) tall. His assistant was the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, who later oversaw the construction of the city himself after Laparelli's death in 1570.
Ufficio delle Case regulated the building of the city as a planning authority.
The city of Valletta was mostly complete by the early 1570s, and it became the capital on 18 March 1571 when Grand Master Pierre de Monte moved from his seat at Fort St Angelo in Birgu to the Grandmaster's Palace in Valletta.
Seven Auberges were built for the Order's Langues, and these were complete by the 1580s. An eighth Auberge, Auberge de Bavière, was later added in the 18th century.
In Antoine de Paule's reign, it was decided to build more fortifications to protect Valletta, and these were named the Floriana Lines after the architect who designed them, Pietro Paolo Floriani of Macerata. During António Manoel de Vilhena's reign, a town began to form between the walls of Valletta and the Floriana Lines, and this evolved from a suburb of Valletta to Floriana, a town in its own right.
In 1634, a gunpowder factory explosion killed 22 people in Valletta. In 1749, Muslim slaves plotted to kill Grandmaster Pinto and take over Valletta, but the revolt was suppressed before it even started due to their plans leaking out to the Order. Later on in his reign, Pinto embellished the city with Baroque architecture, and many important buildings such as Auberge de Castille were remodeled or completely rebuilt in the new architectural style.
In 1775, during the reign of Ximenes, an unsuccessful revolt known as the Rising of the Priests occurred in which Fort Saint Elmo and Saint James Cavalier were captured by rebels, but the revolt was eventually suppressed.
French occupation and British rule
In 1798, the Order left the islandsFrench occupation of Malta began. After the Maltese rebelled, French troops continued to occupy Valletta and the surrounding harbour area, until they capitulated to the British in September 1800. In the early 19th century, the British Civil Commissioner, Henry Pigot, agreed to demolish the majority of the city's fortifications. The demolition was again proposed in the 1870s and 1880s, but it was never carried out and the fortifications have survived largely intact.
Eventually building projects in Valletta resumed under British rule. These projects included widening gates, demolishing and rebuilding structures, widening newer houses over the years, and installing civic projects. The Malta Railway, which linked Valletta to Mdina, was officially opened in 1883. It was closed down in 1931 after buses became a popular means of transport.
In 1939, Valletta was abandoned as the headquarters of the Royal Navy Mediterranean Fleet due to its proximity to Italy and the city became a flashpoint during the subsequent two-year long Siege of Malta. German and Italian air raids throughout the Second World War caused much destruction in Valletta and the rest of the harbour area. The Royal Opera House, constructed at the city entrance in the 19th century, was one of the buildings lost to the raids.
In 1980, the 24th Chess Olympiad took place in Valletta.
The entire city of Valletta has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980, along with Megalithic Temples of Malta and the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni. On 11 November 2015 Valletta hosted the Valletta Summit on Migration in which European and African leaders discussed the European migrant crisis. After that, on 27 November 2015 the city also hosted part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2015.
Valletta has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2018.