Valletta By Notte


It was Notte Bianca this past Saturday in many European cities. An all-night street party where the centre of town is turned into one massive public art display, and where buildings that aren’t normally accessible to the public throw open their doors in a late night architectural peep show. Everything’s free — and it feels like everyone in the country comes out to take advantage of it.

The tradition started in France in 1984, and it gradually spread to other European cities. Today you can attend similar all-night arts extravaganzas in Paris, Brussels, Rome, Madrid, Riga, Bucharest and more.

I thought you might like to see what it looked like this past weekend in Valletta.

It took half an hour to push through the crowds at the bottleneck of City Gate. Inside the walls, the main avenues were no different.

Every street in the city had a stage of some sort, with everything from jazz bands and heavy metal to folk dancers and fire twirlers. Where you didn’t have a stage you had stalls selling fast food that reeked of saturated fat and sweaty gastric nightmares. I saw people dislocating their jaws boa constrictor style, bolting it down with a strange desperation as they walked from one display to the next.

I didn’t touch the food of course, but I did take time out for a quiet glass of midnight wine in my favourite bar off Old Bakery Street. It took hours to find a place with an empty seat.

In my opinion, the best part of the night was the opportunity to get inside buildings like the Palazzo Ferreria — built in the late 19th century on the site of the Order of St. John’s arsenal, today it houses the Ministry of Education.

The Palazzo Parisio was another highlight. Once the home of a nobleman — and temporary home to Napoleon Bonaparte during his brief stay on the island — today it’s the overly resplendent offices of the Ministry of Foreign affairs. Filled with antique furniture and valuable paintings, it’s exactly the sort of place to swell the heads of government ministers with delusions of their own importance.

I was also able to tour the Auberge de Castille, built in 1574 as the official seat for Crusading knights of the Langue of Castille, León and Portugal. Today it’s the Prime Minister’s office. I could care less about the government officials of course, with their glossy pamphlets and pompous back-patting. I just like seeing old palazzos.

On Merchant Street, thinning crowds disperse among the ragged edges…
Wine-soaked alleys crammed with makeshift tables and wooden plank bars…
In the cellars beneath the Auberge de Castille…
A shop that sells picture books… nothing there for me
Republic Street hung with traditional festa decorations…
Alone in a crowd…

Photos © Tomoko Goto, 2011

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Last year was the first time I went to Notte Bianca and most probably the last. Ryan, things have changed somewhat in Valletta.. City Gate is gone. The wide access to Valletta is being narrowed to its original. Seems all is on schedule to finish the Parliament building and the open air theater. Both have been very controversial but then everything new or different seems to be in this country. Usually along political divide. You should visit again and Ill take to some more open spaces, not as large as what I was used to in the Lower Mainland of B.C. After all Malta is about the size of Langley, B.C., my last place of residence in canada..

    • Hi John,

      Last year was my first Notte Bianca, and we didn’t go back this year either. It was interesting to go once, but too many people for me. I love walking around Valletta though – we had some visitors from the US last week, always a good excuse for a drive over. That new parliament looks like an eyesore. City Gate was still here when I moved to Malta, but they ripped it down not long after and it’s been under construction ever since.

      It’s a bit like Notte Bianca here tonight actually. There’s an olive festival in this village so the streets are packed and lots of old churches and buildings are open.


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