Blog 89 23/10/2019 Verdala Palace, Malta.
Verdala Palace, Malta.
The Island of Malta is filled with history, some of it dating back to the earliest known civilisations of the Mediterranean world. For the most part, Malta has become synonymous with the Order of the Knights of St John after they moved from the island of Rhodes during the Ottoman conquests. After Valletta was established as the capital of the island, a period of architectural grandeur blossomed that can still be seen today, despite prolonged heavy bombing during WWII.
One of those architectural gems to draw crowds today, is Verdala Palace, Siġġiewi, not too far from the walled city of Mdina, a place which still retains many aristocratic homes. Adjoining this palace is the Boschetto, a small, semi-wild woodland which Grand Masters such as De Valette used as hunting grounds. Those who watch Game of Thrones may know it from Season 1, Episode 1 of Game of Thrones – “Winter Is Coming” It is the mansion of Illyrio Mopatis.
Verdala Palace was originally built as a hunting lodge in the 1550s or 1560s and was expanded into a palace in 1586, during the reign of Hugues Loubenx de Verdalle, from which it gets it’s name. It was further embellished in the 17th and 18th centuries.
During the French blockade of 1798-1800, the palace served as a military prison for French soldiers captured by the Maltese or British. During British rule, it became a silk factory, but it was eventually abandoned and fell into a state of disrepair. Some repairs were undertaken during the governorship of Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, and it later fully restored by Governor Sir William Reid in the 1850s. Prior to its restoration it served as a minor hospital between 1915 and 1916. Verdala Palace is now the official summer residency of the Governors of Malta. On the outbreak of WWII in 1939, works of art from the National Museum were stored at the palace for safekeeping. The palace was restored in 1982 and began to be used to host visiting heads of state. Over the years, it has welcomed several distinguished guests, including Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark, King and Queen of the United Kingdom; Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia (1909); George V and Mary of Teck, King and Queen of the United Kingdom (1912); George VI, King of the United Kingdom (1913 and 1943); Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany (1919), to name just a few.
The architect of Verdala was Girolamo Cassar (Maltese: Ġlormu Cassar, c. 1520 – c. 1592) a Maltese architect and military engineer. He was the resident engineer of the Order of St. John, and was admitted into the Order in 1569. He was involved in the construction of Valletta, initially as an assistant to Francesco Laparelli, before taking over the project himself. He designed many public, religious and private buildings in the new capital city, including Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, the Grandmaster’s Palace and the auberges. He was the father of Vittorio Cassar, another architect and engineer.
The palace is an example of Renaissance architecture and its design is possibly influenced by the Villa Farnese in Caprarola. It has a rectangular plan, with pentagonal bastion-like turrets on each corner. The building itself has two floors, while the corner turrets are about five storeys high. The entire structure is also surrounded by a stone quarried ditch. Although the turrets and ditch gave the palace the outward appearance of a fort, they were mainly symbolic, and the palace was never really intended to withstand any attack. Nonetheless, the palace was still armed with four pieces of artillery on the roof. In keeping with the design of the day, the interior of the palace is very ornate, with frescoes on some of the ceilings. A chapel, stables and servant quarters are located a short distance away from the palace
According to legend, Verdala Palace is supposedly haunted by the “Blue Lady”, a niece of Grand Master de Rohan. She was supposed to marry a particular suitor who she did not like, and he imprisoned her in her room in the palace. She tried to escape from a window but fell to her death. Her ghost is reportedly seen roaming the palace, wearing the same blue dress she wore when she died.
***Soon to be released***