City Gate and Parliament Square – also known as Renzo Piano’s triumph. Or his blight, depending who you ask, as the Maltese have stayed pretty divided on the topic. We will allow you to judge for yourself as you meander around the area, maybe comparing photos of the old City Gate and Freedom Square with the cleaner, minimalist look of today.
But first, some history. And we warn you, having been through five different versions, the history of this main entrance to Valletta is as colourful as they come. The original Knights’ gate, Porta San Giorgio, was born together with the city in 1565. It lasted less than a 100 years, with Grand Master Antoine de Paul replacing it with a more ornate one. The third gate is the one that you’re most likely to see in postcards. Built under British rule and rechristened Kings Gate (of course!) it was famed for the two lifesize statues on either side. One was of Grand Master L’Isle Adam, the first grand master in Malta, and the other was of La Valette. Although the gate survived World War 2, the statues sadly did not.
In 1965, a new gate in the Italian rationalist style was unveiled. To the contrary of its predecessor, this new gate was anything but ornate, showing a simplistic central opening with two smaller doors to the side. As with almost everything else in Malta, this too caused some controversy – although it was nothing compared to the debates that the fifth iteration, Renzo Piano’s City Gate was to create between 2011 and 2014.
Piano’s City Gate and Parliament Square
The recent reconstruction of City Gate was complemented by Renzo Piano’s Parliament Square and the rebuilding of the Old Opera House. The celebrated architect created three homogenous landmarks right at the entrance of the city, opening up the views to the bastions, Triton Fountain and beyond. It also put paid once and for all to the incomprehensible custom of using one of Valletta’s main squares as a haphazard parking spot. An iconic aerial shot of Valletta’s Republic Street reveals the extent of the impact of Piano’s architecture, with the gorgeous symmetry of the street plan and Piano’s buildings revealed.