The Upper Barrakka Gardens are situated near Castille Place and possess unsurpassed views across the Grand Harbour over to the Three Cities.
The origins of the Upper Barrakka Gardens go back to 1661, when it was a private garden of the Italian Knights, whose inns of residence (auberges) lie close by. It was not before 1824 that it was opened as a public garden and during WWII the garden suffered much destruction. The paths are lined with and the busts, statues and plaques that chart various personalities and other significant events in Maltese history.
Of special interest are the bronze group, known as ‘Les Gavroches’ (street urchins), by an early 20th century Maltese sculptor. Depicting three children hurrying forward, the idea behind this statue was the extreme hardship faced at the turn of the 20th century.
Guarding the approaches to both Grand and Marsamxett Harbours is Fort St Elmo. It was the scene of a heroic defence during the Great Siege of 1565.
When the Knights arrived in Malta, Mount Sceberras, on which Valletta was later to stand, was a rocky promontory with a small fort built in 1488 during Aragonese rule of the Islands. The Knights set about reinforcing the fort’s defences to the extent that this once small fort managed to repel a month of attack from the Ottomans at the outset of the Great Siege. It was eventually captured with the loss of 1500 Knights and local defenders. But testimony to the Fort’s strength is the fact that the attackers lost four times that number of men in taking the St Elmo. When the siege was over, the victorious Knights rebuilt Fort St Elmo and strengthened further its defences.
The Fort has seen continuous use over the centuries, right through to World War II and the present day. In 1940, at the start of the War, Italian airmen led the first aerial attack on Malta with Fort St Elmo as the main target. Today, part of Fort St Elmo houses the War Museum with the rest of the Fort serving as the Maltese Police Academy.
The Fort is the scene today of the `In Guardia’ and ‘Alarme’ historical re-enactments – full-scale military parades in period costume held throughout the year except during peak summer months.