A straight street called Strait Street
Valletta, Malta is a fine town, a child of the most advanced military and urban planning of the sixteenth century: the first modern city built on a grid-shaped plan.
All its streets are straight, intersecting at perpendicular intervals, with the practical reason behind this being military: any invading enemy which managed to penetrate the walls and gain access to the city would not be capable of hiding in the winding streets which were more popular in medieval town layouts, and would thus be exposed to the defenders.
But while all the streets are straight, there is only one Strait Street which runs the full length of the city along the longer axis of its rectangular urban layout.
Straight and Strait: two similarly sounding words with very different meanings. Straight obviously means “without a curve or bend” while Strait means narrow. Strait Street is both straight and narrow: the narrowest street in Valletta in fact. It is as long as the main thoroughfares of the city such as Republic, Merchants and Old Bakery streets but as narrow as an alleyway, a street where two people would not be able to walk together with their arms outstretched.
This street formerly possessed a very colourful role as the entertainment hub and red light district of the city: a street teeming with bars, music halls and the type of entertainment generally sought by throngs of sailors on shore-leave after a lengthy stint out at sea! An area lovingly christened The Gut by generations upon generations of British Royal Navy sailors and others who frequented its haunts and pumped money into its businesses.
Strait Street’s decline commenced in the 1960s and 70s as naval activity wound down and eventually died out with the departure of the NATO and British fleets. It passed through a period of sad neglect and decay which saw it dwindle in importance and become almost completely deserted.
However its fortunes are once again on an upward curve as its vacant properties slowly but surely get snapped up to be converted to restaurants, offices and shops. I have no doubt that eventually all this precious real estate will be converted to more contemporary use.
As it currently stands, it is in a period of interesting transition. Newly restored and converted properties rise from between the padlocked or bricked-up portals of long-closed and abandoned places of entertainment, their rotting and peeling signs still hanging on bravely after three or four decades of abandonment. It is truly a photographer’s paradise: a place of interesting light effects and contrast and of the type of fading artifacts which are in that perfect state of disrepair to be old enough to matter historically and delicate enough to definitely disappear within a few years: the sort of things people ignore and take for granted while they’re still there only to miss them when they’re gone forever!
Being the nostalgic type that I am, I continue to be torn between a preference for the sad, neglected beauty of what currently stands and the clinically perfect but sterile interventions of what will surely eventually replace it. In the meantime I go there when I can, and take as many pictures as possible as a testament of what still remains but will surely be soon gone forever.