The Russian Chapel
This beautiful chapel is part of the building which was added during the British reign, and built in the shape of a cross bringing out classical architecture. It was built during the middle of the 19th century when the Neo Classic Style was very in vogue in our country. This style was introduced by the British when Barrock was considered antiquated and exaggerated to the extent that it was no longer elegant, unlike the classical style. This church was dubbed the Russian Chapel when Orthodox religious functions where held in it. When Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred Ernest Albert was stationed in Malta with his wife the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, they took up residence at San Anton Palace, and the chapel was adapted for the religious requirements of the Grand Duchess, who was a Russian Orthodox Christian.
This chapel was recently restored and embellished with a number of items and decorations which match this environment.
The Chapel of Our Lady of the Pillar
One can also find the original chapel of this palace which is dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar, who is the Patron Saint of the Knights of Castille and Portugal. The chapel was built during the time of Grand Master Vilhena who belonged to the Knights of Castille and Portugal. The chapel walls and ceiling are beautifully decorated. It was recently restored and is open during the day for daily perpetual adoration of the Holy Eucharist.
The Main Stairway
This stairway reflects the period when the palace was built. Since the Barrock influence had not yet infiltrated Maltese architecture it is not overly decorated. Apart from this, when the palace was used by the Grand Master the ground floor was not considered a habitable area. The owners lived in the piano nobile i.e. the first floor. During restoration in recent years a fresco was found in a niche in the wall depicting lovely scenery.
The Hall overlooking the Gardens
This airy and well lit room having windows overlooking the garden was the last room to be restored. The soffit of this room is made of hammered metal which was manufactured at the Malta Drydocks. The chandeliers in this room were manufactured locally and none of them are the same. Among the interesting paintings in this room one in particular which stands out is from the school of Preti representing an image of Our Lady.
The Piano Room
This hall hosts paintings by Mexican artist Morlete Ruiz, which present scenes of various important ports. These paintings were a gift to the Order of St. John. In this room one can also find the armchair on which Pope Benedict XVI sat during his visit to Malta.
The Dining Room
Until a few years ago this room was used as the palace kitchen. This was recently converted into a dining room which can accommodate about 30 people around a table.
The Original Dining Room
A table which accommodates 10 people fits in this room, and it was for this reason that the need was felt for a bigger room. In this room we also find a locally manufactured chandelier similar to the one in the room overlooking the garden. There are also 4 painting representing four apostles by the Maltese artist Guzeppe Cali. These together with the rest of the set of the 12 apostles were originally painted for the Anglican Cathedral in Valletta. When the British left Malta in 1979, on the insistance of the director of museums Fr Marius Zerafa this set of paintings was left as a gift to the Maltese people.
The President’s Office
From this office the officials in the civil service are sworn in by the President. The large painting is a portrait of Grand Master Emmanoel Pinto de Fonseca. The chandelier was also manufactured in Malta and similar to the ones in the rooms mentioned before.
The Sitting Room
The president welcomes her guests informally in this room. The room is dedicated to Sir Anthony Mamo who was the last Governor of Malta. Sir Anthony Mamo was the last representative of Queen Elizabeth II, who was the Head of the Malta between the Independence in 1964 and the amendment of the Constitution when Malta became a Republic in 1974. When Malta became a Republic, Sir Anthony Mamo became the first President. The rest of the paintings by Guzeppe Cali representing the apostles are found in this room apart from one which forms part of a private collection. The two chandeliers in this room were also locally manufactured.
The Private Part of the Palace
A corridor leads us to the private part of the palace which is the residence of the President.
The Grand Masters’ Hall
In this hall one can find a number of portraits of the Grand Masters who ruled Malta. The portrait of Grand Master Antoine de Paule is found in the most central and prominent place in the hall. Other portraits depict Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt who financed the building of the towers of Comino, San Lucian, Saint Thomas, Saint Paul’s Bay and the one in Zabbar which no longer exits. He is also known for the large number of churches he built dedicated to St Paul to increased the devotion towards this saint who in 60 AD was shipwrecked on our island. But above all Wignacourt will remain known for the building of the Aqueducts which brought much-needed water to Valletta.
We also find a portrait of Grand Master Emmanuel Pinto who ruled Malta for 32 years. He also set up the School of Medicine and the University. He built warehouses along the harbour to increase commerce, and rebuilt Auberge de Castille. He upheld Malta’s sovreignity and to show his might be renamed the city of Qormi, Città Pinto.
Other portraits depict Grand Master De Rohan who renamed Zebbug, Città Rohan and Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena who financed Fort Manoel. Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena also built the Manoel Theatre and the Banca Giuratale in Mdina and Victoria Gozo. He built a number of palaces and played a major role in the building of the suburb of Floriana.
Another portrait depicts Grand Master Francisco Ximenes de Texada who was known as one of the cruelest Grand Masters in Malta. There was no love lost between him and the Maltese people, which led to an uprising by Maltese clergy led by Don Gaetan Mannarino against the Order of Saint John.
The final portrait we’re going to talk about depicts the last Grand Master of Malta, the German Ferdinad Von Hompesch, who during his six months ruling upgraded three villages to cities, these being Zabbar which he renamed Città Hompesch, Siggiewi which he renamed Città Ferdinad and Zejtun which he renamed Città Beland. Hompesch was loved by many Maltese and was the only Grand Master who could speak Maltese. However, six months after becoming Grand Master, he was ousted by Napoleon Bonapart.
In the entrance hall leading to these rooms are four white marble busts, which originally adorned the exterior of the Royal Opera House in Valletta. These busts were salvaged from the bombing ruins. The rest of the collection are found in one of the private gardens of the palace.