On entering the Palace, one finds a plethora of works of art. On the ground floor, there is the armoury which was originally housed on the first floor, which until a while ago hosted the House of Representatives. This is one of the largest armouries in the World and is still housed in its original building. It was originally Grand Master Alof De Wignacourt who gathered the arms in this Palace. His successors continued to build the armoury into an important collection in the palace. During the reign of Grand Master Pinto de Fonseca an inventory of the arms within the armoury was made which showed that there were enough to arm 25,000 people.
It was customary that every Grandmaster embellishes the Palace. A case in point being Grandmaster Perellos who embellished the Palace with a set of tapestries which were hung in the Council Chamber. These tapestries were manufactured in the French Factory of Gobelin in 1713. They were never removed from their place apart from during the war. Around the hall, there are a number of paintings depicting different naval battles fought by the Order of St. John. Until 1976 this hall housed the Parliament of Malta.
As already stated Grandmaster Pinto embellished the Palace to a large extent, including the clock in one of the internal courtyards. Grand Master Zondadari embellished the halls and corridors with paintings by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, Guzeppi D’Arpeno, Favrey and many others.
Among the halls is the State Dining Room, the only room which was damaged during the war. Portraits of all the Presidents of the Republic of Malta hang in this hall. Another hall is the Throne Room where one finds the original throne of the Grand Master from where he held his audiences with the public. This hall is covered in yellow damask and frescoes depicting scenes of the great siege painted by the artist Matteo Perez d’Aleccio.
The Ambassadors’ Room is another splendid hall, the walls of which are covered in red damask. Around the walls are frescoes depicting episodes of the history of the Order of St. John by the artist Joel lo Spada. In this hall, there are also original pieces of precious furniture.
Next to it is the Page’s Waiting room which also boasts a painting by Joel lo Spada depicting episodes of the history of the order. In this hall, the damask covering is a very light green. There are interesting pieces of furniture and beautiful paintings among which is the portrait of Grand Master La Valette by Antonio de Favrey.
The Palace Chapel also hosts an interesting painting depicting the life of St. John the Baptist which is the work of Filippo Paladini. Many of the other rooms are occupied by the Office of the President of the Republic and previously the Parliament of Malta. Worth mentioning are the main corridors in the Palace adorned with portraits of the different Grand Masters. These corridors are also adorned with frescoes depicting different places in Malta. Inlaid in the ornate marble floor are the stems of the Grand Master as well as the emblem of the Republic of Malta. We also find a number of paintings reminiscent of British Kings and Queens.
During British reign, the Palace was the residence of the English Governor. When Malta became a Republic in 1974 this Palace became the official Office of the President of the Republic of Malt while San Anton Palace became the private residence of the President. In 1921, the Maltese Parliament was housed in the Palace in Valletta. Initially, the Parliament used to meet in the Grand Council Chamber also known as the Tapestry Room. In the 1970s the Parliament was transferred to the room which previously housed the Armoury until it moved to the new parliament building near City Gate in 2015.
Today the Palace is a main tourist attraction. Visitors are able to appreciate the beauty and the work of art in this splendid palace.
The Supreme Council Hall
The beautiful Supreme Council Hall is also known as the Throne Room since in it we find the throne where the Grand Master used to sit when he met with the Supreme Council of the Order and for his audiences with the people. At the beginning of the British period in Malta, it was renamed Saint Michael and Saint George Hall when King IV set up the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
Considered one of the largest halls in Valletta, it is 26 meters long and 11 meters wide. The walls are covered in golden palm damask. On the coving beneath the ceiling, there are frescoes depicting 12 scenes telling the story of the Great Siege of 1565 and the victory of the Knights and the Maltese over the Ottoman Empire. These frescoes are the work of the artist Matteo Perez d’Aleccio. On the Wall facing the Throne, there is a beautiful wooden gilded gallery with six panels depicting the episode of the creation of man and woman in Genesis. It is told that this gallery formed part of the galley of the Order and was brought to this hall when the galley no longer sailed.
The ceiling of the hall is made of decorated wood and is one of the best preserved wooden ceilings in Malta. During the British period, many changes were made to this hall and there was a time when it was even divided into smaller rooms. For a period of time architectural motifs were placed there, including neoclassical columns. The frescoes of Perez d’Aleccio were covered by large decorations and mirrors which did not complement the rest of the architecture. It was in 1908 that this segregated decoration was removed and the hall was restored to its original grandeur. Perez d’Aleccio’s frescoes were uncovered and restored. On 13 December 1974 the ceremony during which Malta became a Republic when the first Head of State was Maltese, took place here.
In this hall today, National ceremonies linked to the commitments of the President of the Republic take place. On a number of occasions, large scale exhibitions are also held here.
The armoury is one of the best collection of its kind in Europe. It is one of the four armouries in the world which are found in their original building and the only one hosted in its original hall.
The Order of St. John always kept an arsenal of arms for its defence. However, it was Grandmaster Alof De Wignacort who came up with the idea of making the armoury more prestigious and building a collection par excellence.
He issued an order that on the death of a knight his arms would be bequeathed to the palace armoury. Thus the collection expanded to embrace some of the best armaments around. Many of Wignacourt’s successors built on it and even gifted the armoury collection.
The armoury is divided into two parts namely the artillery and war armaments and clothing and armour.
In the section where one can find the clothing and armour of the cavalry, together with everyday clothing items and battle armour, and ceremonial clothing and armour.
On display are also clothes worn by the Turks during the Great Siege, together with cannon balls which were fired from enormous cannons they brought with them, called Basilisks.
One can also find splendid armour belonging to the Grandmasters including that which Wignacort wore to pose when Caravaggio painted his portrait. A painting which today hangs in the Louvre in Paris.
Apart from this there also is the armour of Verdelen which the Grand Masters Pinto and Hompech posed in. This treasure comprises the work of Popojo della Ceza who is considered the Caravaggio of armour.
On display in the other section are muskets, pistols, bows and arrows, lances, swords and daggers and also cannons.