[WATCH] Thousands flock to resplendent Valletta for V18 launch

Today sees the highlight of this week's opening events, as grand shows in capital's 'Four Squares' launch, kick-starting the European Capital of Culture festivities


Crowds have flocked Valletta to see what the long-planned "festa" themed celebrations are offering in terms of music, projections and performances across the city's streets and venues, with estimates of around 80,000 to 100,000 people expected to visit the city today.

The festivities were launched at an opening ceremony at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, which started to the sounds of Malta's national anthem, followed by a peaceful but melodious performance by the Band of the Armed Forces of Malta, as Valletta took on its central role on the European cultural stage.

Addressing the ceremony at the tastefully decorated 16th century Knights of St John building, Valletta 2018 foundation chairman Jason Micallef said that "what was once a mere dream is now a reality", and he described how Valletta, a once rundown city on its decline, was transformed into a capital which was alive and knew of its immense local and international potential.

Photos by James Bianchi
Photos by James Bianchi
Photos by James Bianchi
Photos by James Bianchi
Photos by James Bianchi
Photos by James Bianchi
Photos by James Bianchi
Photos by James Bianchi
Photos by James Bianchi
Photos by James Bianchi

"Tonight, Valletta steps out of the shadows to take its rightful place at the centre of the European stage," he said, as he spoke of the birth of a "365-day Cultural Programme, aimed at stirring hearts and minds. A Cultural Programme that Valletta, and Malta, has never seen the likes of".

"Valletta will never be left to fall behind," he maintained.

Taking the stand, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that culture encompassed the ways in which we live and work, and he highlighted that "our country will offer authenticity with Valletta 2018," he said, explaining that the European Capital of Culture was an opportunity to show off Malta's heritage, and to demonstrate, on a European and global level, how Valletta developed on the foundations of its past.

"This population although small in number, has a big heart, great values, and love towards that which we have," he told the thousands following him at the MCC and on television, thanking former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi for the prepartion work he did on the capital c ity.

He emphasised that Malta "one country – authentic, full of life, vibrant, and filled with contrasts despite the fact that we may be geographically small," as he called Valletta "an architectural, social and cultural jewel - a point of reference."

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca spoke of the pride she and all Malta had, as Valletta started on its year-long fest-themed Europea Capital of Culture.

"Valletta may be the smallest capital city in terms of size in the European Union, but we have lived up to the challenge to assume a mammoth task in coordinating a programme of impressive magnitude," she said.

Noting that this was an opportunity for Malta to become a sunstainable culture destination, the president said that through acknowledging, respecting and valuing diverse cultures "we make a real investment in the essential strategies for social inclusion, solidarity and peace, while also ensuring prosperous, just, fair and equitable economies."

She invited people from foreign countries who might be planning their 2018 travels, to visit Malta, and join the Maltese in celebrating the "year-long festa."

Tibor Navracsics, European commissioner for culture, in a similar vein, said that Valletta 2018 reminded us that "isolation is never an answer. Situated in an island country between continents and cultures, it shows that we can only grow by being open, by getting to know each other and understanding our differences – and reaffirming what we have in common. It reminds us that strength lies in our shared values and sense of community", as he wished Valletta, and its twin European Capital of Culture Leeuwarden every success in 2018.

This ceremony was followed by a tour of Valletta's "Four Squares" - Castille Square (Minn Qiegħ l-Imgħoddi għall-Quċċata tal-Ġejjieni), Triton Square (Il-Qawma tat-Tritoni), St George’s Square (Qalbna) and St John’s Square (Elfejn u Tmintax) - starting at 7pm.

The 'Four Squares' shows are amongst the most central aspects of the year-long activities. Shows will take place every hour, on the hour, in each square during the evening throughout 2018.

The audience looked on as Castille Place was illuminated with graphical projections depicting a journey through Malta's history.

The musical accompaniment contributed strongly towards creating an engrossing atmosphere which people seemed to appreciate.

Fireworks above Castille mesmerised onlookers as the show ended and people proceeded to the next show at Tritons Fountain.

Audiences were thrilled as a 30ft-high articulated figure of a man walked across Tritons Square, partly manouevered by performers on the ground.

Sixty Maltese acrobats then engaged in a phenomenal aerial show, suspended above the fountain, much to the audience's awe.

Moving on to St George's Square, also jam-packed, we assisted to a ballet performance, starting out in silence but progressing to a sonorous dance spectacle on pyramidical projection.

Another highlight of the night was the show at St John's Square, as St John's Co-Cathedral greeted the start of V18 with an original, Maltese-composed choral symphony, with lights dancing to the music and illuminating its Mannerist exterior.

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