Malta: Expert discusses ‘secret underworld’ under streets
We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info
The Valletta tunnels trace their origin to the second half of the 16th century when the Knights of Malta carved a large water reservoir into the limestone under the city. Now, more than 450 years later, the maze of subterranean tunnels and reservoirs continues to fascinate archaeologists, architects and tourists from all around the world. Officially known as the Order of St John, one of the oldest orders of Catholic knights in the world, the Knights built a large network of sewers under Valletta starting in 1566.
According to Ruben Abela, an architect with Heritage Malta, the Maltese tunnels are consequently some 200 years older than the sewer system of Victorian London.
Mr Abela appeared on an episode of the Science Channel’s Underground Marvels where he discussed the subterranean world.
The Maltese order, which was established in 1048, arrived on the Mediterranean island in 1530 in an attempt to gain a Catholic stronghold in the region.
Catholic forces clashed with the Ottoman Empire in 1565, when Suleiman the Magnificent staked a claim for the island.
After many devastating battles between the Knights and Turkish armies, Valletta was established as the island’s new capital and its defences were expanded deep under its streets.
Not only did the Knights build a sophisticated sewer system but they carved out food and water caches under the city, ensuring access to vital resources should Valletta ever fall under siege.
And once the work was done, the residents of Valletta took up their own pickaxes and continued to burrow deep underground.
They built dwellings and businesses and came to be known as the “children of the underground”.
Architect Mark Zimmerman of Underground Malta said: “Overall, Malta’s underground world is really very extensive and fascinating.
“It is a literal Swiss cheese down here.
“Imagine that every single period of human habitation, from the Neolithic until today, has left its mark underground.”
In the 19th century, Valletta’s city officials undertook an ambitious project to expand the tunnels by adding an underground railway that would connect the capital with the city of Mdina, the former capital.
Mr Zimmerman said: “In 1881 construction work began on a mostly overground line that also included two significant tunnels.”
Overall, the line was just over 6.8 miles (11km) long, with a nearly one-mile-long (1.5km) section running underground.
Mr Zimmerman added: “The first-ever underground railway line in the world, the London Metropolitan, had opened in 1863.
“Malta’s railway line followed 20 years after that and it was quite an engineering feat to create these tunnels.”
But what is truly impressive, according to the architect, is that it was all achieved by pickaxe, basket and horse-drawn carts.
Most of the tunnels are blocked off from public access, there are some that tourists are allowed to visit.
He added: “So it took a lot of backbreaking work to create these tunnels in a very short time of just 13 months.”
These include the Lascaris War Rooms, which housed the island’s military command and defence operations during World War 2.
And there are multiple secret entrances all around the city that keep getting discovered.
You can learn more about the Valletta tunnels on the Science Channel’s Underground Marvels on Discovery Plus.
The Science Channel tweeted: “There’s a secret underworld beneath the streets of Malta.
“Don’t miss a new episode of #UndergroundMarvels tonight at 9p on @ScienceChannel and streaming on @discoveryplus.”
Source: Read Full Article