Every city has its rhythms and its very own peculiar soundscapes. Valletta is no exception. You can explore the city through its sounds.
Imagine the peculiar quality of the sound of the wind as it passes beneath Sciortino’s Les Gavroches sculpture on a wintery day at the Upper Barrakka. The many parish bells clattering with wooden ratchets on Good Friday, then deafening when ringing out in rejoice on Easter Sunday.
Think of the creaky sounds of the massive old timber door of St John’s (only opened on special occasions). The instant flutter of pigeons in St George’s Square as the changing of the guard kicks-off.
Cabs pass, the horses chewing their bits rhythmically; the carriages’ solid wheels whirring and grinding behind. No longer, and all but lost to time, are the sounds of hawkers at city gate. Merchant Street though is wakened to the sounds of market stalls being erected – boards slap on paving and tarpaulins flap in the ever-present wind.
Music too in all its forms abounds: from parish festa band marches and popular tunes to the sounds of school kids as they chant ‘Albertus Magnus’ in the hall of St Albert the Great College. Then, come summer, the annual Malta International Jazz Festival sets float up over the bastions on a trio of sultry July nights. St Catherine’s, a gem of a church and part of the Auberge d’Italie, hosts lunchtime concerts from choirs and quartets to help pay for its restoration. A few buskers try their luck but Valletta has yet to see them make street performance a habit.
The call of the sea is never far either from Valletta’s streets: cruise liners low, sonorous horns blare out at 6pm several evenings a week to signal their exit of Grand Harbour. The Gozo ferry announces its return. The seaplane revs and roars into action every hour, its engines unmistakable.
Evening, and quiet returns to the city. Commuters gone, locals pass the end of the day in a few bars, while visitors dine out to the gentle clatter of plates in some squares. Theatre and cinema crowds exit in a surge, voices babbling, but disperse quickly. They say a city lives all night. Valletta does, but quietly. Cats rule the streets here in the hours before dawn and the return of the fish market traders.