If you haven’t yet noticed, I’m a bit of a history nerd. It’s inherited – my dad’s favorite line to say is: “Did you know…” followed by a fact or story of interest. I’ve taken on that tendency, but you can’t keep saying, “Did you know?” without following it up with interesting facts! And so, off we went to check out living history at the In Guardia Parade in Valletta so I could add to my random fact arsenal.
What is the In Guardia Parade?
I know, it’s a strange name. The In Guardia Parade is a reenactment of the military inspection that used to take place in Malta under the Knights of St. John.
For historical reference, (cue the Did you know…) the Knights of St. John sought refuge in Malta in the early 1500s after being run out of Rhodes – and multiple other locations prior to that.
The Holy Roman Emperor granted them asylum as the overseers of the islands and the Knights began their rule in Malta in 1530.
At the time, the capital was the beautiful city of Mdina, centrally located and at one of the highest points on the island. The Knights of St. John moved the capital to Birgu, of Three Cities fame, to avoid being inland and to have better access to the Grand Harbour.
Not too long after, the Great Siege of 1565 saw some 40,000 Ottoman Turks attack an estimated 700 Knights and 8,000 Maltese troops. The incredibly bloody, drawn out siege lasted several months, but the Ottomans failed to capture Birgu.
Once the Ottomans left, the Knights of St. John headed across the Grand Harbour and built the current capital city of Valletta to be an even stronger fortified city to defend against any future attacks.
Since then, Valletta has maintained its status as the capital of Malta (and it will be the European Capital City of Culture in 2018!).
The In Guardia Parade today reenacts the inspection of the military forces of the Knights of St. John in full dress and weaponry as they would have looked centuries ago.
The Grand Bailiff observes the military’s readiness by commanding regimental marches and demonstrations of skill.
FYI, they shoot guns. So expect sudden loud noises and try not to leap like I did because I was looking the other way. My other half got a kick out of that moment…
Watch the In Guardia Parade in Valletta
First things first: There are two very different locations for the parade depending on the time of year. This is important to note since the Visit Malta website actually only mentions one such location, and our new friends ended up at the wrong one.
In the summer (June-August), watch the In Guardia Parade at Neptune’s Courtyard at the Grand Master/President’s Palace.
At all other times, the In Guardia Parade is held at Fort St. Elmo, which is at the point of Valletta by the sea.
As it’s June, we watched the In Guardia Parade at the Grand Master’s Palace. We only happened upon this fact en route to Fort St. Elmo, where we thought the Parade would happen.
Luckily for us, Republic Street was the most direct route from the bus terminal to the Fort, which took us through the plaza where we noticed some brightly dressed gentlemen loitering about the entrance to the Palace. It also would have been helpful if the website reflected the information available in their informational pamphlet:
The informational pamphlet was actually much more helpful than the website:
The Palace itself is gorgeous and requires at least a photo-op outside at the guard booths while wandering Valletta. The plaza out front hosts occasional events, like the current Valletta Film Festival’s outdoor screenings.
Inside the main door of the Palace is the lovely Neptune’s Courtyard.
Quick Tips for Enjoying the Spectacle
Pro tip for watching the In Guardia Parade: Grab a seat on the left-hand side for extra shade, but standing is actually better for views so you can move around a bit to see more.
The In Guardia Parade happens every Sunday from 11am, lasting about 40 minutes. IT currently takes place at the Grand Master’s Palace/President’s Palace (depending on who you’re talking to they use different labels).
Tickets cost €7, which was surprising until I looked at the number of volunteers, the intricacy of the costumes, and the obvious time and attention to detail they all put into this show.
You can buy tickets at the door; check with the Tourist Information Centre in case of inclement weather to see if they cancel the event.
Our Visit to the In Guardia Parade in Valletta
Off to Valletta we went on a Sunday morning bus filled with…a ton of tourists all headed to Valletta. So much for trying to blend in and look local!
The In Guardia Parade could have been a pathetic attempt at reenacting history. But, instead, we were impressed with the variety of skills the volunteers demonstrated and the overall impact of the demonstration!
Volunteers assemble each Sunday to reenact what would have been the inspection of the troops by the Grand Master himself. In colorful costume, these volunteers march into the courtyard and take their turns to demonstrate their specific skills for the Grand Master (who nobly sits on his throne, obviously).
The 40-minute demonstration included guns firing, banner flags waving, and even a few rounds of sword fighting. We were pleasantly surprised by the variety!
I absolutely suggest you watch the In Guardia Parade while visiting Valletta. It’s an interesting, short demonstration that will set you up for wandering Valletta for the rest of the afternoon.