A state of the art destination
Is-Suq tal-Belt has seen quite the transformation in these last couple of years. From a derelict structure to an ambitious culinary dream to the go-to food market on the island, is-Suq tal-Belt has become a national landmark both for locals and tourists.
CUSTOMERS DINED IN
CUSTOMERS BOUGHT LOCAL PRODUCE
One can truly understand the beauty of this restored building, if you appreciate its humble beginnings. Is-Suq tal-Belt had originally been an open space known as ‘Piazza del Malcantone’ in the time of the Knights of St John. Here is where the farmers would take their daily produce and sell it. The Knights then decided that there needed to be more of an organised structure – hence the introduction of ‘stalls’.
In 1784, the building came to life in its original baroque form. In the 1860s under the British rule, the building became much bigger and took on a new form, similar to what you see today. The covered market in Valletta is a gem of British Colonial construction, an extremely successful project in its pre-war years. Unfortunately, it suffered through war damage, post-war reconstruction varying from the original and modifications and accretions which were unsympathetic and utterly foreign to the original Victorian iron structure. The market was also largely neglected for a long time. The availability of cheap cast iron after 1820 introduced new structural possibilities to Europe and these new engineering developments were displayed in London’s Crystal Palace (1850-1851) and Les Halles Centrales in Paris (1853). It was at the height of popularity of iron in structures that the Valletta Market was designed and built between 1859 and 1861. Its historic importance is related to the British colonial era, the uniqueness and innovation of its design and its rarity as a survivor of its type. Unfortunately, the market suffered considerable damage during World War II after receiving a direct hit on 7th April 1942 in one of the worst air raids over the city. About a third of the whole building, including the façade, on the side of Merchant Street was demolished as well as an area closer to the back on Old Theatre Street while the central area of the market was also badly damaged. The market was repaired and its size reduced after the creation of a small square at the Merchant Street end. In 1962 rainwater was seeping from the roof and in 1965 work started to remove unusually thick heavy ‘torba’ or stone chippings supported on timber purlins to repair the leak. The repair works did pay off and in the mid-70’s the place was a bee-hive of activity. In 1982, the food market was relocated to Floriana and is-Suq tal-Belt was internally remodelled and inaugurated as ‘Ixtri Malti’ with new, heavy structures in stone masonry walling and reinforced concrete staircases and roofing were built inside the elegant cast iron structure.
In October 21, 1989, the food market returned to Valletta and although no longer quite as busy as it used to be it started to re-attract customers. Unfortunately, people had become used to shopping elsewhere, coupled with the dwindling and ageing population of Valletta, ensured that its death-knell had been rung.
Arkadia Group was granted a 65-year lease of the property by Parliament’s unanimous approval on 13 January 2016 to restore the neglected place, and return it to its original concept: that of selling and celebrating food. The current regeneration took into account the historical character of the site, so as to respect Valletta’s credentials as a World Heritage Site and also recognition of being a European Capital of Culture. Is-Suq tal-Belt literally translated to ‘The Market of the City’ has been a valuable piece of Malta’s history and heritage and upon taking your first few steps inside, it really becomes quite evident just what a true jewel this place really is. Having it brought back to life, and serving as a beating heart of Valletta, the Capital City.