Sheltered behind impressive ramparts, the city of Valletta is surrounded by water on three sides. As if in the process of detaching itself from the little island from which it emerges, the finger of land on the Xiberras peninsula juts out towards the Mediterranean Sea in whose history it has played such a noteworthy role. For much of its past, Valletta has been a ‘port city’, in the sense that the port has been its ‘central dynamic force and organizing principle’ and not a mere appendage but, since the nineteenth century it has, like other ports, been subject to a series of major technological cataclysms brought about by the advent of large iron ships, steam, bulk handling, containerization, and such like.
Another important vector of change closer to our times has been the move away from ports as publically-owned ‘job-banks’ towards ports as centres of privately owned, profit-generating businesses. As a consequence of all these changes the gangs of coal-haulers engaged in replenishing steamers, the shifts of dockers who manually loaded and unloaded cargoes, and the thousands of workers ashore and sailors afloat who serviced or manned shipping are no longer to be seen; in their stead have come tourists, yachters, cruise liner passengers, revellers, and those who attend to their needs as former warehouses and naval shore establishments have been recycled into passenger terminals, fancy restaurants and bars as the nature of Malta’s relationship with the sea has evolved. Despite a considerable drop or near disappearance of traditional activities, the port of Valletta has nevertheless been reborn as one of the best cruise ports of call in this part of the world and large areas of the port formerly providing anchorage to warships now provide a safe haven for pleasure yachts.
This collection of essays constitutes a testimonial to a bygone age when cargo was not containerized and, as a consequence, had to be manhandled in Valletta’s harbours rather than mechanically moved about at the Malta Freeport in Marsaxlokk, and when ships had large crews requiring large numbers of mariners, local and foreign. They and their families together with those engaged in providing them with services made up the vibrant harbour communities which constituted the theatre in which these human beings acted out the drama of their daily life in peace and war. At the same time this publication hails the new emerging Valletta which proudly showcased the best that Malta has to offer during its tenure of the title of European Capital of Culture. It has been a remarkable change and it is a renewal which is set to continue.
Aspects of Malta’s Harbour before 1530 – Stanley Fiorini
The Island Order State on Malta, and its Harbour c.1530-c.1624 – Joan Abela & Emanuel Buttigieg
Dealing with Manpower Shortages in the Mediterranean: The Order of St John’s Labour Force Problems during the ‘Long Seventeenth Century’ – Ivan Grech
Port of Call and Health Shield: Some early Eyewitness Reports on the Procedures of Arrival and Quarantine in Hospitaller Malta – Thomas Freller
Malta and the Baltic Connection Ships, Masters, and Goods Passing through the Strait of the Sound, 1743-1856 – Michela D’Angelo
The Tyranny of the Winds: Maritime Connections and Distruptions between the Eastern Mediterranean and the Port of Malta in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries – Frank Theuma
Ionian Shipping and Trade in the Port of Malta in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries –Gerassimos D. Pagratis
The Grand Harbour Extension Project: Economic and Political Implications for British Malta, 1858-1870s – Simone Azzopardi
Hidden Echoes of Malta’s Maritime Past: Surviving Nineteenth-Century ex-Voto Paintings at the Parish Church of Cospicua – Simon Mercieca