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.
Photos © Tomoko Goto, 2011