You may wish to see an introductory page with a map first.
The Knights Hospitallers were bound by vows of celibacy, obedience and poverty. On Rhodes they lived in hostels and during their first years on Malta they did the same at Borgo. After the 1565 failed Ottoman attempt to seize the island and the foundation of Valletta the vow of poverty started to be complied with in a rather lax way.
Grand Masters Palace: fresco depicting Verdala Palace
The aspect of the country is far from
being pleasing: the whole island is a great
rock of very white free stone, and the soil
that covers this rock, in most places, is not
more than five or six inches deep. (..) We went to see the Bosquetta (Pretty Wood),
where the grand master Verdala has his country
palace; by the accounts we had of it at
Valetta, we expected to find a large forest
well stored with deer and every kind of
game, as they talked much to us of the
great hunts that were made every year in
these woods. - We were not a little surprized to find only a few scattered trees,
and about half a dozen deer; but as this is
the only thing like a wood in the island,
it is esteemed a very great curiosity. The
palace is as little worth seeing as the forest.
Patrick Brydone - A Tour to Sicily and Malta in 1770
In 1588 Grand Master Verdale was appointed cardinal by Pope Sixtus V. Verdale was aware that almost all the cardinals who lived in Rome spent the summer in their countryside villas (e.g. Cardinal Ippolito d'Este at Tivoli) and he therefore decided to build a residence in the only woodland of Malta in the south-western part of the island. The building has the aspect of a small fortress because sudden corsair raids could not be ruled out. It still serves its original purpose as the summer residence of the President of the Republic.
The Grand Master has another villa, named
St. Antonio, to which he sometimes retires. The
gardens are laid out in the French taste.
Richard Colt Hoare - A classical tour through Italy in 1790
The example of Grand Master Verdale was followed by some of the wealthiest knights including Antoine de Paule. He was elected Grand Master in 1623, but he preferred to enlarge and embellish his villa near Attard which is within easy reach from Valletta, rather than living at Verdala Palace. Today the main building is the usual residence of the President of the Republic, but the gardens are normally open to the public.
Villa San Anton - Fountain of the Eagle
A large garden which was laying out at Sant Antonio, a countryhouse belonging to the Grand Master at half a league from the town, may be considered as one of the most powerful efforts of
Maltese industry. It was indeed a wonder in a country where it
was so difficult to clothe the ground; any where else it would have
been a very indifferent garden, though it abounds with flowers.
Charles Sigisbert Sonnini - Travels in Egypt in 1777.
Villa San Anton was modified by other Grand Masters and by the British Governors, but a section of the gardens retains its original design. The wall behind the fountain is decorated in a way which is typical of Roman villas, such as Villa d'Este at Tivoli or Villa Farnese at Caprarola.
After dinner we went to visit the principal villas of the island. (..) These are nothing great or magnificent;
but they are admirably contrived for a hot
climate, where, of all things, shade is the
most desirable. The orange groves are indeed very fine, and the fruit they bear are
superior to any thing I have ever seen, either in Spain or Portugal. Brydone
Not all the countryside residences of the Knights have retained the gardens which surrounded them. Today the small lodge which belonged to Grand Master Perellos at Zejtun is part of a series of rather anonymous houses in the outskirts of the town and only the elaborate balcony with the heraldic symbol of Perellos evokes the former importance of the building. Highly decorated balconies can be seen in many towns of South-Eastern Sicily, e.g. Ragusa and Noto.
Casa Leoni at Hamrun
Grand Master Vilhena placed his coats of arms on many monuments at Mdina, Fort Manoel, Valletta and other locations. They were often supported by roaring lions. He did so at his villa at Hamrun too, but the lions played a trick on him, because the building became known as Casa Leoni, rather than as Palazzo Manoel, as Vilhena desired. Today Casa Leoni houses offices of the Ministry of Education.
Palazzo Spinola at Sliema
The Spinola are one of the most illustrious families of Genoa. In 1688 Fra Raffaele Spinola built a villa at St. Julian's Bay, today the very heart of Malta's tourist district. Probably because of his Genoese background he chose to build the villa by the sea. Its two small boathouses have been turned into a fish restaurant.
In 1733 a long inscription celebrated a redesign of the building and made reference to various important personages of the early XVIIIth century including Pope Innocent XIII and Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy and King of Sicily in 1713-1720. You may wish to see the fine gravestone of two cardinals of the Spinola family at S. Andrea al Quirinale in Rome.
(left) Palazzo Parisio at Naxxar; (right) Villa Bologna at Attard
Some of the villas built in the XVIIIth century are still private properties. Usually they were significantly altered during the XIXth century to reflect changes in tastes. Current owners face high maintenance costs which they try to bear by opening the buildings to the public and by housing weddings parties and other events in the gardens.
The great source of water that supplies
the city of Valetta, takes its rise near to this place; and there is an aqueduct composed of some thousand arches, that conveys it from thence to the city. The whole
of this immense work was finished at the private expence of one of the grand masters. Brydone
Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt ordered the construction of an aqueduct to provide Valletta with an ample supply of water. The construction of the aqueduct was supervised by Bontadino de' Bontadini, an architect from Bologna. His appointment was likely suggested to Wignacourt by Evangelista Carbonesi, Inquisitor of Malta, who was from Bologna too.
Sections of the aqueduct can be seen near Casa Leoni along one of the busiest roads of Malta. You may wish to see some of the fountains which were built at Floriana to distribute the water.
Vilhena Fountain at Rabat
Grand Master Vilhena greatly embellished Mdina with various monuments designed by Charles de Mondion, including an imposing fountain outside the walls of the town in the territory of the parish church of Rabat. The inscription begins with a Latin quotation from Isaiah (55) Omnes sitientes venite ad aquas (All you that thirst come to the waters).
Rabat: (left) rear side of Vilhena Fountain; (right) Loggia
Grand Master Vilhena built a small chapel housing a statue of St. Paul, the patron saint of Malta, on the back of the fountain.
Similar to Rome's Carnival Race Malta had a bareback horse (or donkey) race with the finish line near Vilhena Fountain. Grand Master Adrien de Wignacourt built a loggia where he could watch the final phase of the race. The building bears the coat of arms of Grand Master Rohan which indicates that changes were made at the end of the XVIIIth century.
Arches: (left) Rohan at Zebbug; (right) Hompesch at Zabbar
The last two Grand Masters who ruled on Malta built decorative, but rather plain arches at the entrance to towns where they had properties or of which they promoted the development. They probably had marble inscriptions which have been removed.
The image used as background for this page shows one of the lions at Casa Leoni.
Brief outline of the history of Malta before 1530
The Grand Masters of the XVIth century
The Grand Masters of the XVIIth century
The Grand Masters of the XVIIIth century
Valletta: the fortifications
Valletta: the churches
Valletta: other monuments
Borgo/Cittą Vittoriosa (Birgu)
Cittą Cospicua (Bormla)
Cittą Vecchia (Mdina)
Churches in the minor towns
Rome and Malta