A distant shore, a desperate man, the promise of redemption, in other words, just another year in the life of the painter and rogue, Caravaggio.
In 1607, in an attempt to outrun the law, Baroque painter Caravaggio headed south to Naples. The year before, Caravaggio had killed a man in a bar brawl in Rome and fled to Naples with a bounty on his head. In Naples the ever-prolific painter filled their churches with paintings but after a year, his past caught-up with him and he was once again forced to flee…
It was on the beautiful island of Malta that the painter landed and spent a year working and of course, causing havoc. In 1608, after escaping from his prison cell at Fort San Angelo, Caravaggio fled to Sicily and finally Naples where his homesickness overtook him and he decided to send word to his patron in Rome, and beg to be pardoned for his crime. After finally gaining his pardon, Caravaggio attempt to make his way back home but sadly, Caravaggio never made it Roma He died in Tuscany en route, most likely from malaria.
While in Malta, Caravaggio painted two famous works, Saint Jerome Writing and Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, the latter of which is especially famous because it is the only work Caravaggio ever signed. The painter signed it, F. Michelangelo, Brother Michelangelo, as a sign of solidarity with the Knights of Malta.
If following in the footsteps of Caravaggio from Rome to Malta, the capital Valetta is where you want to be. Valetta is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its densely packed city which preserves much of its 16th century architectural heritage built under the Hospitallers or Knights of Malta.
On the heels of Caravaggio, St. John’s Co-Cathedral should be your first stop. Not only will you get to see the two stunning works mentioned above, the church itself is done in high Baroque fashion with intricate marble inlaid tombstones of 17th and 18th century knights lining the entire floor, which has been said to be the most beautiful in the world.
A few steps away from the church on Merchant’s Street is the Auberge d’Italie built by architect Girolamo Cassar in 1574. The building housed knights of Italian origin and therefore possibly Caravaggio.
The Fort of San Angelo from which Caravaggio made a daring escape with rope down its sheer stone, wall to a waiting boat is in the city of Birgu, on the south side of the Grand Harbor in Malta. The site is open to the public and a short bus ride from Valetta.
The Beaches in Malta are famous. From any spot on the island, you are never more than 15 minutes away.
Hypogeum is a subterranean structure and the only prehistoric underground temple in the world, excavated c. 2500 B.C. and part of the ancient heritage that makes Malta so interesting. The site is open from Monday to Sunday and tours must be booked ahead of time since access to the site is limited to 80 visitors a day.
Access: There are daily flights to Malta International Airport from Rome via Alitalia and Air Malta. From there it is 3 miles to Valetta via taxi or bus (the number 8).
All photos copyright Akira Chiba