Your Easy Guide to Malta

Explore Malta’s dark underbelly in the capital of Valletta


From an underground railway, to huge cisterns and tiled shelters, Malta’s capital city Valletta, has a dark underworld which dates back to the time of the Knights of Malta. Visitors can now look into exploring this historical underworld.

A parallel underworld

It has long been known that underneath the streets of our capital city were underground passages. But many often wondered what this mysterious underworld looked like, imagining dark, cobwebbed areas, inhabited by only rats and maybe even some ghosts. Recently, more has been unveiled about these hidden passageways. Here’s what we know.

Unearthing the upside down

While the passageways remained largely closed off to the public, some secret entrances have recently been unearthed. As a result, one such entrance can be found at the Law Courts, in a bin room. A narrow spiral staircase from this grand building leads down into many tunnel walls.

Shelters to discover

One of the many uses of Valletta’s tunnels was as shelters during World War II –  when Malta was being heavily bombed. So if you take a closer look at the walls, they will reveal hastily made dents in the stone, as labourers hammered away as fast as they could, to hollow out bunkers. Surprisingly, while they are mere shelters from bombs, the bunkers were decorated, some with beautiful tiles.

Dark as the knight

But the underground world goes further back than the mid 20th-century. Right underneath Great Siege Square, along Valletta’s main road, Republic Street, is a public cistern. This dates back to the 16th century when Valletta was built. With a shortage of water in Valletta, houses were not allowed to have gardens, but they were built over cisterns which stored water.

A stinky side to Valletta’s underworld

While the parallel underworld evokes mystery and sensation, there is also a mundane and stinky side to this. The underground tunnels were built as a sewage system by the Knights of Malta. However, this was seen to be unsafe by the time the British came at the beginning of the 18th century.

An underground railway

The Valletta underground system reads like a wonderful mystery puzzle, with various highlights located along the way. One of these is the underground railway built in 1883. This connected Valletta to Floriana and further afield, but later served as an air-raid shelter during the war for 5,000 people. Moreover, it is reputed that there was only one toilet!

Want to know more?

If you are fascinated by Valletta’s underworld, you will soon be able to go see some sites for yourself. Valletta underground tunnels fall under Heritage Malta and are closely located to the Co-Cathedral of St John and run till the opposite side of the Courts of Justice building. The tunnels will be open for the public later on this year. Watch this space for new information.

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