The British formally ruled Malta between 1814 and 1964 for a total of 150 years. During this period, the longest serving British monarch was undoubtedly Queen Victoria who ruled for sixty three years and seven months, which was a longer reign than that of any other British monarch and the longest of any female monarch in history until overtaken by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015.
Memories of Victoria’s reign in Malta are generally related to place names. The capital of the island of Gozo, Rabat, was renamed Victoria in 1897 on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee while the largest British fortification on Malta, a defensive infantry wall criss-crossing the island at its widest point from east to west along a geological fault is known as the Victoria Lines. A residential area known as Victoria Gardens also probably owes its name to the Victorian era.
However the most visible and universally known manifestation of Queen Victoria in Malta is undoubtedly the white marble statue that graces the paradoxically named Republic Square in the capital, Valletta. Such is the presence of the statue, with the monarch on an elevated pedestal, staring haughtily at an unfocussed point across the square, that the space is universally known as Pjazza Regina or Queen’s Square in spite of its obviously anti-royalist nomenclature!
The monument is the work of the Sicilian sculptor Giuseppe Valenti and was erected in 1891 to commemorate Victoria’s 50th anniversary as monarch. It survived the intensive bombings of the Second World War which leveled most of the buildings surrounding it and only sports minor damage in the form of a chipped index finger. Over the decades it also bore the brunt of thousands of pigeon droppings but was recently given a good clean-up and had some minor damage repaired by a team of restorers in 2011.
Haughty Queen Victoria’s most humanly touching link with her Maltese subjects is reputed to have taken place when the Monarch placed an order for ‘eight dozen pairs long and eight dozen pairs short mitts, besides a scarf’ of Malta lace. The objective of this was to encourage the re-emergence of the old art of lace-making “so that the poor would be able to obtain a modicum of enjoyment from their lives”.
This small story is unknown by most but is more than adequately represented in the Valletta statue through the intricately sculpted lace shawl covering the Queen’s lap. I have passed by the statue hundreds if not thousands of times in all my years, but never did I actually stop to enjoy the life-like realism and minute detail of the lace shawl: even more so when considering that one is here talking about a marble statue and not something carved out of some softer medium.
So next time you are in Valletta stop for a coffee in one of the square’s many cafes and spend some time enjoying this one time ruler of Malta and an empire on which the sun never set, clad as she is in her beautiful and impressive Maltese lace!