Day by Day

The Royal Opera House

At the entrance of Valletta, next to the new House of Parliament, stand the ruins of the Royal Opera House. This ‘Teatro dell’Opera’ was built in 1861 on the site of a demolished house, known as ‘Casa La Giornata’, the residence of the Turcopilier of the Auberge d’Angleterre (English Auberge). alt
There were several reasons which led to the building of a new Opera House at Valletta. The Manoel Theatre had become too small to house an ever increasing number of people. The Manoel’s stage became too small to stage certain type of operas such as those of Rossini, Donizetti, Puccini and Verdi. The number of tourists visiting the island was increasing, some wanted to visit this theatre for an opera night. The need for a new bigger theatre was being felt and an English architect Edward M. Barry was chosen for the project. The facade of the Opera House was typically Corinthian and it had a colonnade on all its sides. Its cost amounted to £60,000 which was a huge sum of money at the time.
An attraction of this theatre was the salon, which was placed over the entrance hall. This hall was lit by five large windows. The theatre’s painting-room and the workshops were on the roof. As the Opera House was one of Valletta’s attractions, the local government tried its best to manage this ‘musical heaven’. The day to day running was left in the hands of a committee which was appointed by the government of the day. By time the new theatre started to be very popular with both the Maltese and the families of the British servicemen who were stationed in Malta. The village elite used to dress up in their best attire and hire a ‘karozzin’ (Maltese traditional horse-driven coach) to take them to Valletta to watch an opera at this theatre.

The Sacra Infermeria

The Mediterranean Conference Centre at Valletta was built by the Knights as a major hospital, known as the ‘Sacra Infermeria’. It was considered to be one of the major buildings in the new capital city. Its construction began in 1574 according to plans by Gerolamo Cassar.
At first the Sacra Infermeria included a courtyard and two main wards built at right angle to each other. The Old Ward or Great Ward was built along the St Lazarus curtain overlooking the Grand Harbour. The smaller ward was known either as Saletta or Small Ward. The other rooms were used for patients with specialised cases or contagious diseases. These rooms were reached through a covered and balustrated passage.alt
A decision was taken to enlarge the building. This occurred during the grand masterships of Rafael and Nicolas Cotoner. The large ward was extended and became known as ‘Sala Grande’. In the old ward, niches were created. Each niche provided facilities for two patients. These were used as latrines or as patients’ dressing rooms. Other additions were made to the building such as spaces for the new pharmacy and the residential quarters for the hospital staff. A series of internal staircases connected the two floors and the basements.
The beds of the sick were placed inside the halls and it was also here where the knights used to serve the poor sick persons in silver items. The drugs were kept in majolica jars made in Caltagirone (Sicily). The walls were covered by woollen tapestries in winter and paintings by Mattia Preti in summer. The patients with acute cases were placed along the right side of the ward while those with chronic cases along the opposite wall. The ceiling was covered with timber supported by wooden corbels.

The Manoel Theatre

During the times of the Knights, plays and theatrical productions were generally held in the great halls of the auberges. Valletta was in need of a court theatre. This problem was finally solved when Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena acquired a site from the Priory of Navarre for the sum of 2,186 scudi. alt
It was modelled after the plan of the contemporary Palermo theatre ‘for the honest recreation of the people’. The design is attributed to Romano Carapecchia. Work on the theatre started immediately after the signing of the deed of purchase and it was completed in the short period of ten months. The theatre was given a very simple facade. It had special accommodation for the actors who were generally brought over from foreign countries at the expense of the impresario.

The ‘Parata’

In former days, Carnival festivities started with the ‘Parata’ on Carnival Saturday. This consists of an ancient Maltese sword-dance which commemorates the Maltese victory over the Turks in 1565. It comprises of a company of young men or children dressed up in gay ribbons and armed with wooden swords. The dancers represent either Christian or Turkish soldiers.
The members of the company form two concentric rings of an equal number of dancers representing the two different ‘armies’. The dance is directed by a leader who blows a whistle and strikes his own sword against the first one of the opposing group. The dancers of the outer ring start to move to the left three paces at a time, striking the sword of the dancers in the inner circle to the beat of a bass drum. While this is going on there would also be the playing of a violin and a bagpipe. alt
When the dance reaches the end a girl who represents the ‘Għarusa tal-Parata’ (the bride of the Parata) is lifted shoulder-high. This young girl will be splendidly dressed up in a white dress and a red cloak – the colours of the national flag. She also carries a small dagger. She is carried around the square as a sign of the Christian victory. 

New Year Day’s Lunch

In former days, on New Year’s Day (l-Istrina), the Maltese used to give money gifts to the young members of the family. The well-to-do families also used to give money gifts to their domestic servants as well as to other people who rendered them a service throughout the year.alt
The Maltese used to give great importance to New Year’s Day lunch. In the past, many Maltese preferred to have fish for this meal on New Year’s Day. Fish was considered, by the Maltese, to be an augury of good luck. Whilst trying to include fish, they also tried to exclude hotch-potch soup from this lunch as they believed that those persons who ate this type of soup would grow ham bones for the rest of the year. Another belief which concerns this day’s lunch is a warning for those who eat cabbages on this special day. According to this belief, these people would groan for a whole year. 

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