Is-Suq tal-Belt

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Is-Suq tal-Belt
Is-Suq tal-Belt 11.jpg
Is-Suq tal-Belt after renovation
Alternative namesValletta Market
Covered Market
Is-Suq l-Antik
General information
TypeMarket hall
Architectural styleVictorian
LocationValletta, Malta
Coordinates35°53′52.5″N 14°30′51.9″E / 35.897917°N 14.514417°E / 35.897917; 14.514417Coordinates: 35°53′52.5″N 14°30′51.9″E / 35.897917°N 14.514417°E / 35.897917; 14.514417
Current tenantsArkadia Ltd
Construction started1859
Renovated1940s (reconstruction)
Technical details
MaterialCast iron, wrought iron and limestone
Floor count3
Design and construction
ArchitectHector Zimelli

Is-Suq tal-Belt (IPA: [ɪs suːʔ tɐl bɛlt]; Maltese for "City Market" or "Valletta Market"), also known as the Covered Market, is a 19th-century market hall located in Valletta, Malta. It is notable for being the first building in Malta to be constructed mostly of iron. The building was severely damaged in World War II, and the rebuilding was insensitive to the original structure. Further alterations were made in later decades, and the market began to decline in the 1970s. An attempt to rebrand it as a shopping arcade known as Ixtri Malti (Buy Maltese) in the 1980s was unsuccessful. The market continued to decline until it was renovated in 2016–17, and reopened as a food market in January 2018.


Background and construction[edit]

In the 16th century, the site now occupied by the market was a square named Piazza del Malcantone.[1] The site was used as part of the gallows parade of a guilty person, which was humiliated and tortured around Valletta, before being hanged in Floriana.[2] It was also used as a marketplace, where crops and goods from the countryside were sold. At some point during the rule of the Order of St. John, the first market was built on site. It was a two-story-high Baroque building with a large central courtyard having a fountain. Arcades ran around three sides of the courtyard, with shops being spread over the two floors. In 1784, the building had two entrances, one leading to present-day Merchants Street and the other to St. Paul's Street. This building was demolished during the early British period,[3] mainly due to sanitation problems. During the 2016–17 renovation, remains such as small rock-hewn cisterns and dividing walls from the original building were discovered, allowing archaeologists to make a 3D reconstruction of it.[4]

There was a proposal to build a protestant church on site but was soon afterwards refused.[5]

Plans to reconstruct a covered market in Valletta began in 1845, and the Valletta Market was built between 1859 and 1861 on the site of the old prisons. The building was designed by the Superintendent of Public Works, Hector Zimelli, but was completed under the direction of Emanuele Luigi Galizia.[6] Construction cost £3934,[7] and the market originally contained 153 stalls and 65 cellars.[8] In 1938, the market was promoted by one of the fruit vendors at having the best supplies of fresh food for every strata of society.[9]

World War II and decline[edit]

The market hall in 2016, just before renovation

The building was bombed on 7 April 1942, during World War II, destroying one third of the building. The damaged parts were repaired soon afterwards, but were not rebuilt to the original plan and the roof's symmetry was lost. By 1966, the market no longer met hygiene standards so it was overhauled. In 1970, two new floors were built and a pair of escalators were installed.[10] The market thrived for a few more years, before it began to decline in the mid-1970s.[8]

In 1982, the food market was transferred to Floriana, and a year later the Valletta Market was re-branded as a shopping arcade called Ixtri Malti (Buy Maltese). This move was highly unsuccessful, and the food market moved back to Valletta in 1989. Despite this, the market continued to decline.[8]

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority scheduled the building as a Grade 1 national monument on 28 March 2012.[6]


Works at Is-Suq tal-Belt in November 2017

Plans for the restoration of the Valletta Market began following Valletta's nomination for European Capital of Culture 2018. The government deemed restoration of the structure as part of the Valletta regeneration master plan.[10] In January 2016, the building was leased to the supermarket chain Arkadia Co. Ltd for 65 years. The restoration and renovation was originally estimated to cost around €7 million,[11] but the overall investment eventually amounted to €14 million.[12] During the renovation, later additions to the building were dismantled, while the original elements of the structure were preserved and restored.[8] Parts of the building were converted into food markets, restaurants and stalls, while the upper level is intended for cultural activities and events.[12][13] The renovation works were inspired by the Market of San Miguel in Madrid and La Boqueria in Barcelona.[14]

The renovation of the Valletta Market began in May 2016[15] and the project was expected to be complete by May 2017.[11] An unofficial deadline of October was later repeatedly extended to mid-December, but these deadlines were missed.[16] Works were almost complete by mid-2017,[17] but continued until the end of the year, just in time for Valletta 2018.[18] The market hall reopened to the public on 3 January 2018,[16][19] and the official opening by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat took place on 2 March 2018.[20]

Criticism for the redevelopment included concern from residents that the establishment would result in increased noise at night, especially if more restaurants and bars are established in the area.[17]


Interior in 2016, just before renovation

Is-Suq tal-Belt has a rectangular plan, and the walls and arches making up its three floors are built of limestone like many other buildings in Malta. However, the roof is made of cast and wrought iron decked in timber, and it is supported on cast iron columns and trusses.[7][21] This use of iron makes it an unusual structure,[22] and it was the first building in Malta to be constructed mostly of pre-fabricated iron.[21][6] Iron had been used in earlier structures on the island, such as the Naval Bakery and the Corradino Prisons, but on a much smaller scale than the Valletta Market.[6]

The design of the Valletta Market was inspired by Covent Garden (London)[21][23] and Halles Centrales (Paris).[23][24] The design of the Valletta Market influenced similar projects elsewhere in the British Empire, including in Calcutta.[8]

Further reading[edit]

  • Badger, George Percy (1869). Historical Guide to Malta and Gozo. Calleja. pp. 221–222.
  • Mifsud, Christian (28 November 2017). "The Valletta Baroque Market". YouTube. “The subject of this study is Valletta’s Baroque Market existing during the Knights’ Period. This study aims to investigate the built spaces of the first market building existing between 1643 and until its demolition in 1859 when a new iron structure covered market replaced the old building. The study was first presented at Malta History Week 2017 entitled Food as Voice: historical perspectives held at the Aula Capitulare in Mdina, Malta between the 8th and the 11th of November 2017 and organised by Malta Historical Society. An article entitled "The market before ‘is-Suq tal-Belt’: rediscovering the Knights’ Period market building in Valletta" will be published in the Proceedings of History Week 2017.”


  1. ^ Spiteri, Stephen C. (2003). "An Armoury in Valletta". Armoury of the Knights. Midsea Books. p. 73. ISBN 99932-39-33-X.
  2. ^ Carabott, Sarah (30 January 2017). "New research sheds light on punishment by hanging in Malta". Times of Malta. OCLC 220797156. Archived from the original on 30 January 2017.
  3. ^ Guillaumier, Alfie (2005). Bliet u Rħula Maltin (in Maltese). 2. Klabb Kotba Maltin. p. 942. ISBN 99932-39-41-0.
  4. ^ Xuereb, Mario (16 November 2017). "3D model of Valletta market during era of the Knights". TVM. Archived from the original on 12 January 2018.
  5. ^ Bonniel, Arthur. "Thirty years to build a Protestant Church" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  6. ^ a b c d "One World – Protecting the most significant buildings, monuments and features of Valletta (17)". Times of Malta. 28 June 2008. Archived from the original on 8 March 2012.
  7. ^ a b Baldacchino, Lisa Gwen (23 December 2010). "Spotlight on Valletta's covered market". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d e Micallef, Keith (10 December 2015). "Valletta's colonial gem set to receive a total makeover". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 10 December 2015.
  9. ^ "Timeline Photos". Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  10. ^ a b "The Government of Malta – Call for Expression of Ideas and Proposals" (PDF). Government Property Department. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 December 2015.
  11. ^ a b Callus, Leonard (13 January 2016). "Transfer of Valletta indoor market to Arkadia unanimously approved". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 13 January 2016.
  12. ^ a b Grech, Denise (5 January 2018). "Curious crowds flock to Valletta market". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 22 January 2018.
  13. ^ "The regeneration and conservation of the covered market (is-Suq tal-Belt)". Valletta 2018 Foundation. Archived from the original on 21 September 2015.
  14. ^ "Is-Suq tal-Belt (Valletta market): Doors open, public pours in". The Malta Independent. 6 January 2018. Archived from the original on 7 January 2018.
  15. ^ Carabott, Sarah (2 May 2016). "A farewell to Is-Suq tal-Belt". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 3 May 2016.
  16. ^ a b Caruana, Claire (29 December 2017). "Revamped Valletta market set to open Wednesday". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 22 January 2018.
  17. ^ a b Caruana, Claire (12 August 2017). "As Valletta's Is-Suq nears completion, residents fear a commercial takeover". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 22 January 2018.
  18. ^ Caruana, Claire (3 December 2017). "Triton Place and Is-Suq tal-Belt to be ready 'just in time'". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 2 January 2018.
  19. ^ Pace, Maria (3 January 2018). "Is-Suq Tal-Belt officially opens". Malta Today. Archived from the original on 22 January 2018.
  20. ^ Costa, Massimo (3 March 2018). "Prime Minister officially inaugurates Is-Suq tal-Belt". Malta Today. Archived from the original on 3 March 2018.
  21. ^ a b c Borg, Malcolm (2001). British Colonial Architecture: Malta, 1800-1900. Publishers Enterprises Group. pp. 10, 63–64. ISBN 9789990903003.
  22. ^ Bugeja, Lino (4 January 2015). "Valletta – vibrant city of many styles". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  23. ^ a b Felice, David (2013). "The Exchange Buildings". In Bonello, Giovanni (ed.). La Borsa – The People, The Building, The History. p. 45. ISBN 9789995733759.
  24. ^ Borg, Malcolm (2001). British Colonial Architecture: Malta, 1800-1900. Publishers Enterprises Group. p. 138. ISBN 9789990903003.

External links[edit]

Media related to Is-Suq tal-Belt at Wikimedia Commons