The outside facade of St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta is austere and imposing. You feel insignificant and small as it looms over you, much as any invaders must have felt with the walls of this fortress city looming over them in centuries past. Its architect was a military engineer and it shows: the exterior is plain, well-proportioned and functional. You will be forgiven for thinking it’s not worth the entry fee to go inside.

But inside… Oh my word, you have never seen anything as splendid as the interior of this cathedral, considered to be one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Europe. And if you know anything about the Baroque style, you’ll know that it is lavish, opulent and dramatic.

The nave is the main highlight. It is an assault on your eyes. It is breathtakingly beautiful and my one and only picture hardly does it justice. Do yourself a favour and look at this panoramic tour to appreciate the cathedral’s true beauty when it is not brimful of tourists.

If you can tear your eyes away from the vaulted ceiling depicting scenes from the life of John the Baptist, and move your gaze down the golden stucco carvings that adorn the walls and pillars, and if you can find a space not covered by tourists, you’ll see that even the floor is a multicoloured marble marvel, the final resting place of four hundred Knights of St John. The Knights Hospitaller, as they are also known, was founded in the 11th century and is the oldest Order of Chivalry still in existence.

If you can drag yourself away from the opulence of the nave and follow the prompts of your audio guide, then the cathedral also holds many other treasures to discover. The most notable of these is The Beheading of John the Baptist, an evocative masterpiece created in 1608 by Caravaggio.

When we visited Malta, at the height of summer, the cathedral provided a welcome relief from the intense heat. Although there were a throng of people competing to see its sights, we relished our time spent inside its sacred walls to explore and gaze in wonder at its treasures. It is definitely one of the highlights of the city and not to be missed.

Have you been to Valletta? Have you visited the cathedral? Do you enjoy exploring cathedrals as much as we do?

For more posts in the Malta 2008 series, click here.