The State Rooms are the show piece of the Presidential Palace sited at the heart of Malta’s World Heritage capital city of Valletta. The Palace itself was one of the first buildings in the new city of Valletta founded by Grand Master Jean de Valette in 1566 a few months after the successful outcome of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The Palace was enlarged and developed by successive Grand Masters to serve as their official residence. Later, during the British period, it served as the Governor’s Palace and was the seat of Malta’s first constitutional parliament in 1921. The palace today is the seat of the Office of the President of Malta.
It was Grand Master Fra Pietro del Monte who, back in the late 16th century, first commissioned the building of a Magisterial Palace that was improved upon, enlarged and embellished by his successors to reach its present structure by the mid-eighteenth century. Following the brief interlude of the French in Malta between 1798 and 1800, the Palace became the official residence of the British Colonial Governor of Malta. While it was mostly through the embellishments of the various Grand Masters that the Palace reached its current appearance and dimensions, the British Governors also contributed to the dynamic and at times rather complicated architectural history of this edifice. The damage suffered by the President’s Palace as a result of the Second World War was considerable. Fortunately, the competent repairs after the devastating air-raids of February and April 1942 helped to revive the prime national and stately function of the Palace. The Palace subsequently became the seat of Malta’s Legislative Assembly set up in 1947, Malta’s first parliament following Independence in 1964 and subsequent legislatures till the present day.
Ever since the times of the Order of St John, the palace was the seat of a collection of works of art and heritage items some of which still grace its walls. Some were purposely produced and form part of the historic fabric of the building. Others were acquired, transferred or presented at different times throughout its chequered history.
The Palace Armoury is one of the world’s largest collections of arms and armour that is still housed in its original building. The Knights of St John were a unique brotherhood of resolute warrior monks. From Malta, their island stronghold, these combatant aristocrats from the noblest houses of Europe, carried out their relentless crusade against the Ottoman Turks in defence of the Catholic faith. The Palace Armoury is certainly one of the most visible and tangible symbols of the past glories of the Sovereign Hospitaller Military Order of Malta.
Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt transferred the Order’s arsenal to the Magisterial Palace in 1604 where it was the pride of the Order.Armour of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt Apart from being lavishly adorned with elaborate trophies of arms, it held enough arms and armour to equip thousands of soldiers. It was housed in the magnificent hall at the rear of the building, right above its present location. At present, it is displayed inside two halls that were originally the stables of the palace.
Following the forced departure of the Order of St. John from Malta, the armoury somehow lost much of its original grandeur. However, it was restored and was officially opened as Malta’s first public museum in 1860. Although only a fraction of its original splendour remains, the Armoury still contains abundant material of Italian, German, French and Spanish origin from principal production centres. Also displayed is an exotic selection of Islamic and Ottoman arms and armour. Apart from the massed arms of the common soldiers in the collection, the enriched personal armours of the nobility still manage to make a statement.