Valletta is the capital of Malta, colloquially known as Il-Belt (English: The City) in Maltese. It is located in the central-eastern portion of the island of Malta, and the historical city has a population of 6,966.
Valletta contains buildings from the 16th century onwards, built during the rule of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as Knights Hospitaller. The city is essentially Baroque in character, with elements of Mannerist, Neo-Classical and Modern architecture in selected areas, though World War II left major scars on the city. The City of Valletta was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.
The city is named for Jean Parisot de la Valette, who succeeded in defending the island from an Ottoman invasion in 1565. The official name given by the Order of Saint John was Humilissima Civitas Valletta — The Most Humble City of Valletta, or Città Umilissima in Italian. The bastions, curtains and ravelins along with the beauty of its Baroque palaces, gardens and churches, led the ruling houses of Europe to give the city its nickname Superbissima — 'Most Proud'.
On Friday 12 October 2012, Valletta was unanimously named European Capital of Culture (ECoC) for 2018, by a jury of experts, following a presentation by the Valletta 2018 Foundation. The official declaration of the title is expected to take place at the next EU Council of Ministers meeting, some time around May 2013. ECoC jury chairman Manfred Gaulhofer, during a live-broadcast press conference in St John’s Co-Cathedral’s oratory, said the jury was convinced that Valletta had the will, motivation and the required ambition to receive the title.
The city is on the island of Malta so it shares its early history with the island. Immediately after the end of the Siege of Malta in 1565, the Order decided to found a new city on the Xiberras peninsula to fortify the Order's position in Malta and bind the Knights to the island. The foundation stone of Valletta was laid by the Grandmaster of the Order, Jean Parisot de la Valette on 28 March 1566. La Valette placed the first stone in 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").
Grand Master La Valette died 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. 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, 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 overlooking the Mediterranean; certain bastions were built 153 feet (47 m) tall. The Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar was responsible for a number of the buildings.
After the Knights' departure and the brief French occupation, 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.