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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - GM'S Palace (2)

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The Grand Masters' Palace 

Republic Street, Valletta; Tel: (+356) 22954000; http://www.heritagemalta.org

 

The Grand Masters' Palace is located in St. George's Square, along Republic Street on which are two main gates: one leading to Neptune's Courtyard and the other to Prince Alfred's Courtyard. This second entrance was added to the existing structure during the reign of Grand Master Pinto. 

The Palace served as a residential building for the Grand Masters of the Order for 225 years and from 1800 to 1964, it was the residence of the British Governors. After Malta obtained its independence from Britain in 1964, it became the official residence of the Governor General until 1974. Thereafter, it housed the office of the President of the Republic of Malta.

 

The Courtyards

Visitors to the Palace enter through Prince Alfred's Courtyard. The Pinto clock is famously located here, and its four dials show the time, the date, the month and the phases of the moon. Four bronze Moor figures sound the hour by striking the gongs with their hammers. It was created by Gaetano Vella in 1745.

The bronze life-size sculpture of Neptune, the Roman god of the Sea has been guarding the courtyard named after him since 1861. Despite his stark nudity, Neptune stands majestically and unashamedly, holding a trident in his right hand against a backdrop of a fountain bearing the coat of arms of Grand Master Perellos. This is is a creation by the Flemish artist Jean Boulogne better known by his alias, Giambologna. The sculpture used to stand in the centre of a fountain at the old fish market close to the Our Lady of Liesse Church, celebrating the completion of the Wignacourt aqueduct that brought water to the new capital.

 

 

 

 Armoury Corridor

On the walls of the Armoury corridor hang portraits of several Grand Masters of the Order. Lunettes depicting Maltese landscapes adorn the walls along their length. These works are by Nicolau Nasoni from Siena; also by Nasoni are the decorative paintings on the ceiling. Maltese artist Giovanni Bonello (1858-1920) contributed the lunettes over the windows. Suits of armour line the entire length of both sides of the corridor. On the marble floor are the Coats of Arms of Grand Masters Zondadori, De Rohan, Alof de Wignacourt and Perellos. The entrance to the Chamber of Representatives is at the far end of this corridor; a bust in honour of Fra Flaminio Balbiani, one of the foremost benefactors of the Order overlooks the doorway. This hall used to house the Palaces's armoury collection until 1975 and is not normally accessible to the public; the area immediately in front of it is also cordoned off.

 

 

 

 

The Council Chamber

Parliament used to convene here until 1975. A frieze of paintings engirdles the hall below the coffered ceiling and depicts naval military interventions undertaken by the Order in the 17th Century.

In this room is a set of ten “Gobelin” tapestries which Perellos donated to the Order on being elected Grand Master in 1710. These tapestries depict exotic scenery as follows: Ostriches, Fisherman, Indian on Horseback, the Striped Horse, the King Borne, The Animals' Fight, the Two Bulls, the Indian Hunter, the Elephant and Isabella the Horse. They are based on paintings by the Dutch artists Frans Post and Albert Eckhout who accompanied Prince Johann Mauritz during a visit to Brasil. Mauritz donated these paintings to King Louis XIV of France who entrusted them to Charles le Brun in order to have cartoons – templates for tapestries – made. Le Brun passed the paintings on to Blondel – supervisor at the Gobelin Factory of Tapestry in Paris.

The transportation of the tapestries to Malta was quite eventful as the vessel carrying them was captured by pirates off Sicily. A ransom had to be paid so that they could reach their final destination safely.

 

Grand Council Chamber

This chamber is also known as the Hall of St. Michael and St. George. It served as a throne room and also a ball room in the days of the Order. The Grand Master used to occupy the throne on official occasions. This room is now used to host state dinners and also the New Year's concert.

A frieze painting by Mattea Perez d' Aleccio, commissioned by Grand Master La Cassiere illustrates twelve episodes from the Great Siege of Malta. The scenes are separated by allegorical representations of Nobility, Happiness, Fame, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Faith, Hope, Charity and Religion.

The Minstrel's Gallery opposite the throne is part of the vessel S. Anna on which Grand Master L'Isle Adam travelled to Malta. The six panels on the gallery represent scenes from the Creation account in Genesis.

The Minstrel's Gallery opposite the throne is part of the vessel S. Anna on which Grand Master L'Isle Adam travelled to Malta. The six panels on the gallery represent scenes from the Creation account in Genesis.

 

Perellos Wing

The Perellos wing may be accessed through the State Dining Room and consists of:

The waiting room, in which are displayed portraits of King George III and King Vladiclav of Poland; the Office of the President's aide-de-camp. Here hang portraits of Queen Victoria, Sir Alexander Ball and the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II; and the Office of the President. In the days of the order, this used to be the Grand Master's office. The Grand Master's bed used to be located in an alcove within this room. A frieze in this room shows scenes from the Old Testament. There are also allegorical paintings, displayimg personifications of Faith, Hope, Temperance, Prudence Fame and Charity.

 

State Dining Room

This used to be the venue of dinners held for high profile personalities. It was the only hall to suffer serious damage during the areal attacks of World War II. Hanging on its walls are portraits of Maltese Heads of State. There are also paintings of various British monarchs, of which a lagre portrait of Queen Elizabeth II stands out.

 

Yellow Room

The Yellow Room owes its name to the yellow damask that originally draped its walls. It is also known as the Paggeria – or the Pages' Room. The yellow damask has since been replaced with green.

Within this room are a French and a Dutch bureaux, a silver model of the Verdala Palace by Francesco Meli (1903), six white and blue Persian vases donated to Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt by the Shah, Italian Majolica jars with snake-shaped handles, a 16th Century chandelier and on a side table is a 17th Century astronomical clock with imagery of Leda and the Swan on its base. This clock was made by Charles Andre' Boulle. It also bears an image of Father Time holding a Scythe and four Sphinxes at the base.

There are also paintings by José de Ribera (Lo Spagnoletto): St. Peter Liberated From Prison and Jacob as a Shepherd; A portrait of Karl Theodore, Duke of Bavaria by Pompeo Batoni; and a portrait of a victorious La Vallette in chivalric attire, by de Favray.

A frieze by Mattea Perez d'Aleccio shows events from the history of the order in the Holy Land.

 

The Red Room

The red room is so called on account of the bright red damask that drapes its walls. It is also known as the Ambassadors' Room, as the President receives foreign ambassadors here.

Frieze paintings by Matteo d' Aleccio show eight important events in the history of the Order prior to its arrival in Malta, and a collection of frescoes represent prophets from the Old Testament: Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Joel, Solomon, Elishah, Elia, Achaz, David, Jeremiah and a twelfth, unidentified prophet.

This hall is also embellished with a painting by Le Favray showing Grand Master L'Isle Adam receiving the keys to Mdina; portraits of the French Monarchs Louis XIV, XV and XVI by Jean Françoise de Troy, Jean-Baptist Vanloo and Antoine Françoise Callet respectively; a portrait of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt by Cassariono; a portrait of Viscount Cardinal Friedrich von Hessen-Darmstadt, grand Prior of Germany by Andrea Gennaroli; and a portrait of Catherine II of Russia by Dimitrii Grigorevic Levitzkii (1735 – 1822). There are also inlaid tables bearing the Coat of Arms of Grand Master de Rohan.

 

Prince of Wales Corridor

This corridor is named after Prince of Wales Albert Edward who visited the Palace in 1862. It is 49 metres long and 5 metres wide. The ceiling is by Nasoni as are the lunettes which depict naval battles fought by the Order in the early 18th century. There are also portraits of Grand Masters de Redin, Despuig and de Rohan and of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II. In this corridor are the Grand Masters' private apartments, including a chapel and the Grand Masters' sitting room and bedroom.

The white and gray marbled flooring was commissioned by British Governor Sir John Gaspard Le Merchant. The flooring also bears the insignia of Grand Masters L'Isle adam, La cassiere, N. Cotoner and Pinto.

 

The Palace Armoury

The origin of the Palace armoury may be traced to some 20,000 crowns' worth of weapons and armour donated by King Henry VIII to Grand Master L'isle Adam to assist him in his attempts to recapture Rhodes. The collection grew as the Order took possession of the fighting equipment of deceased Knights.

In 1850, the British government removed the outdated collection of weapons to make room for modern replacements. The Knights' Armoury was restored under the Governorship of le Merchant. The British government dispatched Sir Charles Robinson to Malta in 1857, to select the choicest items in the collection for “safe keeping” in England. Robinson could not travel beyond Naples however so these items were retained in the Maltese Armoury.

In 1976, the collection was transferred to the ground floor from the Piano Nobile as the original location became the new House of Parliament.

Apart from the Knights' armour there are also on display a sizeable collection of small and large bronze canons, often with intricate decorations, pistols, swords and crossbows, powder flasks and morions – special helmets used by the Knights.

There is also a life like reconstruction of armoured Ottoman fighters and that of a Knight on horseback.

 

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