The Grand Master's Palace is a two storey edifice having five entrances and quadrangle in form occupying an area of 96 metres by 81 metres. Originally designed and built by the Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar in 1572, the Palace had been altered and extended numerous times. Most of these modifications are not documented precisely enough, so that it is hard to judge which elements belong to the original structure and which parts were later added. Even the Palace's building history proves to be a complicated matter: Gerolamo Cassar had to integrate two existing buildings in the Palace, one of which was the first Italian auberge.
Grand Master Pietro del Monte liked the location with the large square in front so much that in 1571 he persuaded the Order to buy the site and to erect his Palace on it. However, when the building was finally finished two years later, the Grandmaster had already died and was succeeded by Grandmaster La Cassière. Today the Grandmaster Palace is the seat of the President of Malta and therefore only partly open to the public.
The 96-metre-long façade of the Palace was originally much plainer and can be compared to the Auberge d’Aragon when imagining how it must have looked like originally. The two main entrances, the balconies with the consoles as well as the balustrade on the roof all originate from the 18th century. Moreover, the Palace originally had only one central courtyard, while today it consists of two courtyards, which are separated from each other by a corridor.
The Grand Master's Palace hosts the famous Council Chamber (also known as the Tapestry Chamber), adorned with valuable Gobelins tapestries woven in France for Grand Master Ramón Perellos y Roccaf.
The are many other rooms and passages in the palace and they are all splendidly furnished with art objects, old coat of arms and armour.
Particularly notable are the former Hall of the Supreme Council of the Knights (now known as the Throne Room), which hosts fine frescoes of the Great Siege of Malta and the Ambassador's Hall, where portraits of Grand Masters and European rulers hang.
Overlooking one of the internal courtyards in the Grand Master's Palace is a clock tower built in 1745 which was commissioned by Grand Master Pinto. The tower clock was the first clock, and for a time the only clock in Valletta. The clock had been developing faults and going out of order over the past 60 years until it stopped working. The façade, the clock mechanism, the bells and jacquemarts making up the turret clock have been restored to their former glory in 2011.
On the basement floor is the Palace Armoury, one of the largest collections of its kind in the world, though reduced to a fraction of its former size by the depredations of the French. Among its principal treasures are a suit of armour made in Milan for the Grand Master, Adrien de Wignacourt (1690-97) and a full-length panoply made for Grand Master Martin Garzes by Sigismund Wold of Landshut.
The Grand Master’s Palace has quite a huge space underneath and also a maze of tunnels and cisterns. One of these cisterns was used as a control room during the war and was made bomb proof by the British forces. As you enter this cistern, on the top right one can see a rather badly painted portrait, by the British occupants during WWII, of Adolf Hitler.
Author: Pierre Axiaq