The transformation of the Valletta market in preparation for Valletta 2018 has given archeologists the opportunity to explore the remains of the original market to try and build a 3-D model of how it must have looked during the time of the Knights of St John. The archeological study on the remains which were excavated gives an indication of how the Valletta market developed over the centuries, but also gives us a glimpse of how the majestic and important building, which is the size of other palaces in the capital city, must have looked.
This is the Valletta market none of us can remember.There is a yard with a fountain the middle, no roof, flanked by arches on three sides and with shops distributed over two floors.
In fact, the market began as a simple open space known as Piazza del Malcantone, where produce from the countryside was sold to the people living in towns and cities. Eventually, the Knights felt the market should be better organized.
This model, created as a result of research by two archeologists, Christian Mifsud and Chantal Cassar, shows how the market developed over two floors, with the facades of the building built in the Baroque style like the rest of the city.
In 1784, the building had two doors. One of them leading to what is now Merchant street, and other to St Paul’s Street.. Indoors there is a yard surrounded by an arch on three sides. The arch used to serve as a large entrance to the shops and at the same time used to lead to the second floor where there were also a number of shops.
In the middle there was a fountain which supplied water.
Ms Cassar said that “basically some small cisterns carved out of stone still exist, and we found the antique levels of stone as they used to appear in the time of the Knights, and some dividing walls which were also potentially from that era. We also found three cisterns in front of the market dating back to the British era.”
The research has shown that the Valletta market was smaller than it is today. In the 19th century during the British period, the market was torn down and re-built with a roof and a steel structure, in the Victorian style. New entrances were also added on the side. The British had designed everything from scratch for sanitary reasons.
Mr Mifsud said, “many of the shops used to spill over onto the streets and there were a lot of merchants. In order to solve this situation the only solution was to remove everything and re-build. ”
The Second World War meant the end of the Valletta market because the building sustained extensive damage and even lost its facade. Eventually the space occupied by the market was reduced to one third of its original size.
Many of the remains of the market from the period of the Knights will be integrated into the new cultural and commercial project being carried out at this site by the private sector.