The Grand Masters Palace in Valletta, known simply as The Palace, was built between 1573 and 1578 by the Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar in the renaissance style. Built during the reign of Grandmaster Jean de La Cassiere (1572-1581) - the head of the Order of the Knights of St John – the Palace was to serve as the Grandmaster's residence: Something that it was to do for more than 200 years. Subsequent Grandmasters were to enlarge and improve the original building until it took its present shape during the mid-18th century.
From 1798 it was used by the French until 1800 when it became the official residence of the British governors. It was to be the location of Malta’s first Constitutional Parliament in 1921 and following Independence in 1964, it became the seat of Malta’s Parliament and also of their Head of State. The palace is now the Presidential Office and Malta's Parliament house.
The Palace stands in the centre of Valletta – the World Heritage City founded by the Sovereign Hospitaller Military Order of St John after the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. Something of their military standing can be seen by the array of armour and weapons on display in the Palace Armoury, which is one of the world’s greatest arms collections that is still housed in its original building. The collection owes its existence to the fact that the Knights of St John were a brotherhood of warrior monks who carried out a crusade against the Ottoman Turks from their base in Malta.
Although much of the content of the armoury has now been removed it still houses a fine collection of Italian, German, French and Spanish pieces, these being the principal arms production centres. Some beautiful examples of parade armour can be seen as can displays of Turkish armour in the Islamic & Ottoman section.
Visitors to the Palace enter the building through the Neptune Courtyard so named due to the bronze statue of the god situated there. As is the Renaissance style of palaces, the important storey was the first floor; with the ground floor being used for stores, stables and servants quarters. On the first floor of the Palace are the exquisitely furnished Grand Masters apartments. At the top of the stairs is the Corridors of the Knights, these marbled corridors are adorned with the portraits of the Grand Masters, their coats of arms and suits of armour and the national emblems and ensigns of State. Leading from the corridors are the beautiful rooms, many of which are still used by the president for official functions.
The Supreme Council Hall was originally built during the reign of Grandmaster La Cassiere (1572-1581) and was used by successive Grandmasters to host ambassadors and high ranking dignitaries. During the British administration it became known as the Hall of St Michael and St George after the newly-founded chivalric order for Malta. Today it is known as the Throne Room and is used for state functions held by the President. At one end of the room is the throne, used by the Grand Masters and the British Governors. Situated above the throne are the arms of the Republic of Malta. Opposite the throne is a carved minstrels’ gallery let into the wall, this is said to have been part of the Order’s flagship, the Great Carrack of Rhodes, which was one of the vessels that carried the Knights to Malta. This was originally in the private chapel of the Grand Master but was removed when the chapel was turned into an office for the Governor’s Secretary.
The wall paintings decorating the upper part of the hall depict the Great Siege of Malta of 1565 and are the work of the painter Matteo Perez d’Aleccio. In 1818, the British transformed this hall by covering the walls with neo-classical architectural features although these were removed in the early 20th century. Of particular interest is the original coffered ceiling and the late 18th century - style chandeliers. A door from the Throne Room leads to the Ambassadors’ Room.
Ambassadors’ Room was originally the Grand Master's audience chamber. Known also as the Red Room from the colours of its damask wall hangings it is now use by the President for state functions such as the presentation of credentials by newly appointed ambassadors to Malta and during the State Visits by foreign dignitaries. From the Ambassadors’ Room a door leads to the Pages’ waiting room.
The Pages Room was thought to have been used by the numerous pages waiting on the Grandmaster; it provided an interconnecting hall between the Grandmaster’s private apartments and the Supreme Council Hall.
The Tapestry Hall was the former meeting place of the Council of the Order of St John and contains the tapestry completed in 1710 as the gift made by the new Grand Master on election, something that all new Grand Masters were expected to do.
During the time of the British occupation the hall was used for official functions. It was also the meeting place for the Legislative Council during the British rule and the place of Malta’s first Parliamentary Assembly in 1921. The hall contains a fine coffered ceiling and a number of wall paintings representing naval battle scenes by the Order of St John against the Ottomans.
The Dining Room contains the portraits of Malta’s Heads of State since the country became a Republic in 1974. During the British occupation it contained the portraits of the British monarchs but the room was destroyed by German bombing during World War II to be rebuilt post war. To commemorate Malta’s resolve in the war it was awarded the George Cross by Britain and a citation from the United States, both of which are displayed on plaques outside the palace gate.