The Knights of the Order of St John have certainly left their mark on the Maltese landscape. During their reign, they have built some of the most prestigious buildings that have become part of our historical legacy.

Upper Barrakka Gardens

Don’t miss out on an opportunity to pay a visit to the stunning Upper Barrakka Gardens.

Built in 1560s on the upper tier of the St Peter and Paul Bastion, these gardens originally served as a recreational area for the Knights, but were then opened to the general public at the end of the Knights’ occupation in 1800. Throughout the years, various features were added to the gardens including the terraced arches in 1661, by the Italian knight Fra Flaminio Balbiani. However, the ceiling was then removed following the Maltese Rebellion of 1775.

Nowadays, you’ll find a plethora of monuments of notable people such as Gerald Strickland, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Thomas Maitland, as well as Sir Giuseppe Zamitt, who in 1805 acquired a palazzo in Valletta originally built in the 1600s as his private residence, and which today is Domus Zamittello. Also of note in Upper Barrakka is a replica of the sculpture Les Gavroches (“The Street Boys”) by Maltese sculptor Antonio Sciortino.

If you really want to take in the best views of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities, this is a great spot to get some photos.

 

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Grandmaster’s Palace & State Rooms

The Grandmaster’s Palace saw a long list of rulers walk through its majestic corridors — besides being used by the Knights, it also served as the Governor’s Palace for the British and nowadays, it hosts the President’s Office and the House of Representatives.

Dating back to 1571, the Grandmaster’s Palace was one of the first buildings that the knights built in Valletta. At the time, the Maltese architect and military engineer with the Order, Girolamo Cassar, was commissioned to design the palace, but eventually, other Grandmasters wanted to develop it further.

Upon the request of Grandmaster Ramon Perellos y Roccaf, the most famous state room — the Council Chamber, was adorned with 300-year-old tapestries, featuring scenes from South America, the Caribbean, India and Africa. Additionally, you should also stop by the Palace Armoury. Showcasing a large collection of armour dating back to the time of the knights, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions you shouldn’t miss out on. If you’re interested in art, make sure to pay a visit to the Throne Room and the Red Room, to appreciate the stunning collection the frescoes of the Great Siege, as well as portraits of the Grandmasters.

 

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Fort St Elmo

You simply cannot embark on a tour of the most important buildings that were left by the Order without paying a visit to Fort St Elmo. Sitting proudly on the Sciberras Peninsula, it is best known for the role it played during the Great Siege of Malta.

Before the battle took place, measures were taken to ensure that more defences were added. By 1565, it endured massive bombardments for over a month from the Ottoman forces, claiming the lives of many knights and Maltese people who pledged to defend the country.

 

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St John’s Co-Cathedral

If you’re interested in enjoying a dose of art, make sure that St John’s Cathedral is on your list. It is highly regarded as one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture, that was built by the Order between 1572 and 1577.

Amongst its features, it is decorated with marble floors, along with stunning paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, such as Caravaggio’s Beheading of St John the Baptist.

 

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Mediterranean Conference Centre / The Sacra Infermeria

The Holy Infirmary (Sacra Infermeria), or Il-Furmarija in Maltese, was built by Grandmaster Jean de la Cassière in 1575, with the aim of replacing the old hospital in Birgu. Up until the 18th century, it was renowned as one of the leading hospitals around Europe, which had the capacity to receive between 500 to 2,500 local and foreign patients, as well as pilgrims, soldiers and sailors.

The Sacra Infermeria became known as the Grand Hôspital during the French rule, and later, as the Station Hospital during the British rule. Under both reigns, the infirmary was further developed. More wards were added, along with a dissection room, a Quadrangle, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, a laboratory, additional pharmacies and a phalange. Furthermore, measures were taken to improve the ventilation, sanitation and lighting.

Nowadays, the hospital became known as we know it today – The Mediterranean Conference Centre. The building now hosts various theatrical performances, exhibitions, banquets and international conventions.

 

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Valletta is your starting point to so many national treasures that have been left behind by the knights. With Malta’s rich and eventful history, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy.

Fabien Vella

Author Fabien Vella

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