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Is-Suq tal-Belt. The iconic landmark at the heart of Valletta.

Located in the very heart of the city, Is-Suq tal-Belt is iconic. We tell you why and how it has been transformed through the ages.


Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an icon of the Maltese islands. Within its fortifications, you will find history at every angle, beautiful architecture, delicious cuisine, and a thriving nightlife scene. With its street market, restaurants, and shops scattered around most of the city, Valletta is buzzing most of the time.


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What if we told you in the very heart of Valletta you will find a building that encompasses all of these features? There are two distinct markets in Malta’s capital. Valletta hosts an outdoor flea market from Monday to Saturday, until noon, not far off from City Gate, selling various imports consisting of cheap clothing and accessories.


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Is-Suq tal-Belt as it is today (image: obonparis.com)

However, if you are interested in visiting a landmark indoor market, there is an iconic Victorian-era structure in Valletta, located on Merchants’ Street. It is affectionately known to us Maltese as ‘Is-Suq tal-Belt’.


Located in the very heart of the city, the iconic Is-Suq tal-Belt is known to every Maltese person. All of us have visited the place one time or another. Its importance was confirmed in 2008 when it was scheduled as a Grade One national monument. In 2017, it was given a new lease of life and dragged into the 21st Century. After years of decline, a fair amount of effort was made to give life to the building. The results look quite good.


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(Image: Nostalgia Malta / Facebook)

The history of Is-Suq tal-Belt is a long one. Sited between St Paul Street and Merchants Street and directly behind the Grand Master’s Palace, it is located in the very heart of the city. 17th Century maps of Valletta already indicated an open space in this area, most probably for market purposes.


Its history starts with the cosmopolitan community of Valletta merchants, ship-owners, brokers, money-lenders, and salesmen. Many came to Malta seeking work, especially Greeks, Sicilians, French, and Italians, or for business opportunities.


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(Image: Nostalgia Malta / Facebook)

The Council of the Order of St John soon realised the potential of such space, and improved market facilities by building a row of small shops. The market was thriving and soon after, Grand Master Nicolas Cotoner expanded the complex through the building of an internal loggia and an upper storey with 22 residential rooms.


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(Image: Nostalgia Malta / Facebook)

Originally these were rented but would soon be taken over permanently by the Order.

The market was frequented by merchants of various nationalities, selling all sorts of commodities such as fresh produce, livestock, and even coffee, and chocolate.


With the subsequent British occupation and an ever-expanding population, the market became inadequate, with contemporary news sources considering the then structure as small and in need of urgent attention. The most pressing reason was the lack of space.


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Works started on the demolition of the old baroque market by the mid-19th Century. Covent Garden market in London was the model for the new Valletta market, as was Les Halles Centrales in Paris. Is-Suq tal-Belt followed a similar design to other markets in Europe.


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The design can still be read today in the existing structure, notwithstanding the various transformations, comprising a stone perimeter with a metal structure on the interior supporting the central roofing. Also like other markets, it is not only a celebration of architecture but also of the food and culture of its country.


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The old Valletta food market damaged during the war (Image: Petra Caruana Dingli 2018)

Is-Suq tal-Belt experienced the same fate suffered by most of the Grand Harbour area and was significantly damaged during World War II. Somehow, most of the original ironwork survived. Emergency repairs were carried out and changes were made in the decades that followed.


The site was remodeled as a modern shopping arcade in 1983. It continued to be used as a food market after that, but its occupancy and popularity fell over the years.


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Is-Suq tal-Belt interior before regeneration works (Image: Times of Malta 2016)

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Is-Suq tal-Belt just before regeneration works started (Image: valletta2018.org)

In recent years, Is-Suq tal-Belt has been restored and converted into an upmarket food hall, following the wave of economic, social, and urban regeneration experienced by Valletta in the last decade. The new ‘Suq’ was opened in early 2018, just in time for the Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture event.


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Is-Suq tal-Belt is still a place where you can shop for food. The Basement level serves as a food market serving fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, delicatessen, bread, and various gourmet foods, along with drinks and delicacies.


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Is_Suq_tal_Belt_Valletta_Food_Market

The main feature of the place is the diversity of food outlets present on the ground floor. The area features two main central bars at the heart of the building and a variety of food stalls preparing culinary specialties from different world cuisines which will keep your curiosity buzzing and your taste buds tickled.


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Is_Suq_tal_Belt_Valletta_Food_Market

It is this variety that caters to any type of eater. Whatever cuisine or requirements, you’ll be sure to find something to your liking. Feeling like Italian? Thought you might. At is-Suq tal-Belt, you can find Vecchia Napoli for their popular pizzas.


Sometimes all I really want is a plate of really good pasta. Pasta Affair also has you covered. And if you are in the mood for something sweet, don’t forget to visit Venchi, for great (though not so cheap) chocolate options. You can mix and match any number of flavours you want.


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For all you meat lovers, you will definitely want to try Woodsmoke for some great roasted meats. If you prefer Middle Eastern food, there are KONAK kebabs which has a range of good quality doner meats and sides. They even have a Mexican stall for anyone looking for something a bit spicier; Mexican Delight.


If you’re craving Asian, you’re in for a real treat. The options are endless. A very popular choice at Is-Suq tal-Belt for those craving Asian is actually Pinoy which serves great traditional food from the Philippines.


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Have you ever tried Bubble Tea? Tea Fusion has the Bubble Tea fix you need. We’ve not only tried Bubble tea but we have shared our thoughts in this review here. Also, if you’re looking for mochi ice-cream, they have a wide selection of flavours. If you’re unsure what mochi is, feel free to read our article.


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Is_Suq_tal_Belt_Valletta_Food_Market

As for Maltese food, we have to admit we have never tried Teftif, also specialising in Maltese foods, which serves a selection of quick, grab-and-go options.


The upper level consists of an open space where functions and events can be hosted, whilst the top part of the building has seen the recent opening of Merkanti Restaurant. We recently visited and reviewed the restaurant. We were impressed with both foods as well as the design and views. The menu at Merkanti Restaurant offers a variety of traditional Maltese foods which should not be missed.


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Is_Suq_tal_Belt_Valletta_Food_Market

Although we have often enjoyed a drink inside at the Is-Suq bar, at the end of a long day, we also like to chill at Star Bistro, which is situated outside. They serve drinks and even food. If you have any special dietary requirements, do let them know before ordering!


Going to the market was a ritual for many, especially the locals. In a way it still is today. “Immorru sas-Suq?” (shall we go to the market) is a question you’ll still hear frequently. So have we given you enough reasons to check Is-Suq tal-Belt? We’re sure we have, so go on, choose what type of food you feel like, find yourself a table, any table, and just enjoy your visit!


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