Saturday, April 30, 2011

36-Hour Blitz

Some guy in Rome told me there wasn’t much to do in Malta besides hit the beaches.  Who was that dude?  Here’s a quick photographic recap of a very full and varied day-and-a-half, staring Thursday afternoon and ending Friday night.  I’ll chime in with specifics on some of these things later.

I started the afternoon with a visit to the centerpiece of Valletta, St. John’s Co-Cathedral, where two paintings by Caravaggio hang in the Oratory.  Below you can see his Beheading of St. John at the end of the room.  I’ll write more about it in a future posting.

The Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck must take the prize for the world's best named religious institution.  Saint Paul brought Christianity to Malta after wrecking on the island in 60 A.D. Highlights in the church include a section of Paul’s wrist bone, presented in the golden reliquary below, as well as part of the marble column on which he was beheaded in Rome.

Afterwards I visited the National Museum of Fine Arts, saw their permanent collection and an excellent temporary exhibition of the Czech-born king of Art Nouveau, Alphonse Mucha.

I stopped back at my guesthouse to clean up for dinner.  My room sits alone on the top floor.  There are two doors – one to my hovel, which includes a cot, desk, and rusty sink, and another door to the roof terrace, which has stunning views, like this one, late afternoon, with birds.

I dined that night at Trabuxu – highly recommended – on Maltese wine and local delicacies, including fish cakes, meatballs, and amazing Maltese sausage (center top).

Friday morning I visited the Hypogeum (a 5000- to 6000-year-old necropolis) and the Tarxien Temples, which I won’t say much about here – not because I was unimpressed by these prehistoric sites, but because they are too deeply mysterious and mind-boggling to try to describe in a few sentences.

That afternoon I met with Sandro Debono, the curator of the National Museum of Fine Arts.  We rapped about Caravaggio for awhile, then he made a couple phone calls and hooked me up with the curator of Fort St Angelo, where Caravaggio was imprisoned and then dramatically escaped.  The Fort is closed to the public for at least the next five years as it undergoes extensive renovations, but the curator agreed to give me a private tour, which included showing me the bell-shaped pit where Caravaggio was most likely held.  I’ll post something on this later, complete with photos of the roach-infested cell and Caravaggio’s most likely escape route.

The visit to the Fort was followed by an after-hours tour of the Inquisitor’s Palace (where Caravaggio testified in a trial against another knight) given by the curator there.  Then I caught a ride on a wooden skiff across Grand Harbor back to Valletta.  Below you see the boatman’s face with Fort St Angelo behind him.

An hour later, I attended a piano concert at St. James Cavalier, which included works by Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy.

And finally, last night kicked off Malta's International Fireworks Festival, featuring a fierce competition between two local producers -- St. Nicholas Fireworks Factory and, the underdog, Our Lady of Consolation.  Check ESPN for highlights and results.


  1. Always loved his Beheading of St.John. its one hell of a fine painting as they say and don't think its kind of stark realism has ever or rarely been rivalled, even today! I can well believe he used mirrors and camera lucida technology in order to achieve many of his directorial type of compositions but think in later years he may have dispensed with such acoutrements and just painted by eye[ala naturale] as his style seemed to change quite a bit & especially being forced as he was to be on the run so to speak and move about from place to place!

    Oh if you like art novels;- 'Hideous an erotic art world tale'.

  2. I also feel this new less formalized photographic style of carravaggio's is initially realized through such paintings [his last] as the 'beheading of st.john'.