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Jean Paul Mifsud - A Man of Many Hats

Jean Paul splits his time between Malta and Ragusa, Sicily.  He’s got this distinct look - it’s like part farmer - part bohemian. He wears a distinctive hat and has a good amount of beard to round the look out. I met Jean Paul at his Palazzo on St. Ursula Street  in Valletta.  He has converted it into a youth hostel.  His palazzo withstood the war - it was one of the few that was not hit by a bomb.  It was built in the 1570s and owned by one of the Cotoner brothers who both became Grand Masters of the Knights of St. John.

“I’m a Valletta boy”, he says.  He grew up in an apartment opposite the main door of St. John’s Co-Cathedral. As a boy in Valletta, he would read books but he would also love to run around exploring everywhere. People say Maltese people have day jobs and also hobbies.  Well Jean Paul has more than one hobby. The main thing that peaked my interest was his work on the underground tunnels of Valletta. “With Valletta, I would say we are maybe 4 or 5 people that actually experienced underground Valletta on their skin,” he says. That’s when I began to lean in because I was so intrigued to hear what he said next. He says it was fun in the beginning.  He remembers running into these tunnels as a kid and not knowing where he would exit.  He would tell his mother that he was going to study – and according to him it was.

He shows me his map that outlines waterlines and sewers. He said the Knights took defence to a different level.  Instead of building Valletta like Mdina with its winding roads, they decided on the grid pattern with sharp corners. “Prepare a good fortress on the outside. Do two levels of bastions so you can defend against sea and land attacks. The Knights ensured that Valletta was well supplied with water so there are a plethora of wells or cisterns with their own storage.  It was like having gold”.  He continues by showing me diagrams of wells and the whole physiology of the process whereby water would arrive from Rabat along the Wignacourt aqueduct. He said there was talk about a legend that connected the Grand Master’s Palace to Marsamxett Harbour.  He says, “The legend holds a bit of water because Grand Master Vilhena likely would not have walked through the streets to get to the Manoel Theatre.  He could have used a direct passageway.” There is a further legend perhaps that says that there might have been a direct link to Manoel Island he intimates.

Excerpt from: “Valletta – A Personal City Guide by 8 tourist guides from Malta” Midsea books

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