is a city of palaces but for the Maltese, the Grand
Masters’ Palace is known simply as il-Palazz,
the Palace. In its finished form the Palace is built
on two floors and occupies an entire block. The two
main portals, Baroque and imposing, stand in direct
contrast to the unadorned treatment of the rest of the
façade; three other side entrances give on to
as many streets.
Three of the doorways lead to a spacious courtyard
which is on a slightly higher level. The larger of the
two courtyards is known as Neptune’s Courtyard
from a bronze statue of that god. The smaller courtyard
– Prince Alfred’s Courtyard, is named after
one of Queen Victoria’s sons to commemorate his
visit to Malta in 1858, but this courtyard is better
known as that of Pinto’s Clock. This clock has
four dials showing, besides the time, the day, the month
and the phases of the moon. The hours are struck by
bronze effigies of Moorish slaves wielding sledge-hammers.
It is said to be the work of Maltese clockmaker Gaetano
Vella and built in 1745.
As in Renaissance palaces in Italy, the important storey
was the Piano Nobile, the first floor; the ground floor
being used as stables, service quarters and stores.
The Main Staircase leading up to the Piano Nobile was
built by Grand Master Hughes de Loubenx Verdala as advertised
by the wolf in his coat of arms. The top of the staircase
gives on to a lobby formed by the angle where two of
the palace corridors meet.
The right-hand passage leads to what used to be the
Palace Armoury but that part of the building is now
the seat of the House of Representatives (the Parliamentary
Assembly is composed of only one chamber, there is no
The lunettes over the windows in this passage are the
work of Nicolo Nasoni da Siena and were painted in the
first quarter of the 18th century. Their opposite numbers
were painted by the Maltese artist Giovanni Bonello
some hundred and sixty years later; the whole set, however,
is complementary and shows Maltese and Gozitan landscapes
as they appeared at those times.
A notable hall in the Armoury Corridor is the Council,
or Tapestry, Chamber, which was the place where the
members of the Order sat in Council. This chamber was
also the seat of the Malta Parliament from 1921 until
1974, before the House moved to its present situation.
On being elected to that high office, a Grand Master
was expected to make a gift to the Order – the
Part of the Gioja of Grand Master Ramon Perellos y
Rocaful is the priceless set of Gobelins Tapestries
that give the name to this chamber. Perellos was elected
in 1697 but it was only in 1710 that these tapestries
were completed and hung in the place for which they
had been created. Les Tentures des Indes (the Indian
Tapestries) is a vague title for a magnificient rendering
of fauna and flora from three continents, the Noble
Savage being also very much in evidence.
To the left-hand of the lobby at the top of the Main
Staircase is another corridor, known as the Entrance
Corridor; this too, like the Armoury Corridor is decorated
with paintings by Nicolo Nasoni, but this time the subject
chosen for the decoration of the lunettes are scenes
of naval battles between the Order’s galleys and
those of the Ottoman Turks, apparently a subject dear
to the hearts of these seafaring Knights.
The first door to the right of the lobby leads into
the State Dining Room; here the British connection is
well represented by several Royal portraits. The next
door down the Entrance Corridor leads to the Hall of
the Supreme Council, also known as the Throne Room.
Like all the other ceilings of this hall is elaborately
coffered and painted, but the item of greatest interest
in this hall is a frieze of twelve frescoes by Matteo
Perez d’Aleccio who worked in Malta between 1576
Against the far end of the wall is the throne, occupied
in turn, by the Grand Masters and the British Governors.
Above the throne are now the arms of the Republic of
Across the hall and opposite the throne a carved minstrels’
gallery is let into the wall; this carved and painted
gallery is said to have been part of the Order’s
flagship, the Great Carrack of Rhodes, which was one
of the vessels that carried the Knights to Malta.
A door from the Throne Room leads to the Ambassadors’
Room, also known as the Red Room from the colours of
its damask hanging.
In one of the panels, Knights of the Order are shown
holding shields bearing the white eight-pointed (or
Maltese) cross on a red back-ground; this could be poetic
licence on the part of the painter because the battle
standard of the Order was plain white cross on a red
background, something like the Danish Flag. A door from
the Ambassadors’ Room leads to the Paggeria, the
Pages’ waiting room, also known as the Yellow
Room from the gold damask covering of its walls.
A door from the Pages’ Waiting Room leads into
a corridor which is at a right angle to the Entrance
Corridor. This corridor is known as the Prince of Wales’
Corridor in commemoration of a visit by King Edward
VII, then Prince of Wales in 1862. The rooms giving
on to this passage were formerly the private apartment
of the Grand Master, afterwards they were used as the
offices of the British Governors. These rooms are now
the offices of the President of the Republic.
The private chapel of the Grand Master was turned into
an office for the use of the Governor’s Secretary
and the minstrels’ gallery that was in it, removed
to the Throne Room where it still is. The paintings
in this chapel are probably the earliest found in the
palace and show episodes from the life of St. John the
Baptist, the patron saint of the Order that bears his
The Knights frowned upon the use of firearms as being
unchivalrous but they were obliged to move with the
The collection, as presently displayed, is small but
interesting; in the old Armoury, and even more so in
engravings of the Armoury as it was at one time, one
is impressed by the great number of exhibits, but on
the other hand, many of the specimens were repetitious,
to the serious student a specimen collection is more
At the time of the arrival of the Order in Malta, in
1530, the use of firearms was well on the way to revolutionizing
warfare – the Great Siege was fought largely with
artillery and arquebuses but armour still had its uses
– a century later breastplates and shields were
still being tested against firearms – in the Armoury
there are several examples with dents in them to prove
that they were “bulletproof”.