Valletta Marian Site

Archbishop’s Palace, Valletta

The Palace of the Archbishop in Valletta was built in the years between 1622 and 1632, to a design which is traditionally attributed to the Maltese architect Tommaso Dingli (1591-1666). In the eighteenth century its façade was embellished with a magnificent Baroque portico, in keeping with contemporary trends in civic architecture. It was built as both residence for the Bishop, later Archbishop of Malta, and an administrative centre for the Diocese of Malta, and continued to serve both purposes until the late-twentieth century.


The palace was originally built with one ground floor, the piano nobile, opening on to Archbishop Street, while other lower levels were built in the incline which descends towards St Christopher Street.  At the lower end is a large private garden with its own water spring.  The palace was embellished with alterations made by Bishop Paul Alpheran de Bussan (1728-1757). Another major change was carried out in the mid-twentieth century when another floor was added by Archbishop Michael Gonzi, to designs by Chev. Vincenzo Bonello (1891-1969).

Stylistically the palace facade is comparable to late 16th-century Italian architecture. The corner pilasters of the palace are also outstanding because they differ from the massive rusticated quoins favoured at the time by the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar (c.1520-1592). The pilasters at this palace are smoothly dressed with only a slight projection from the wall surfaces. 


At the back of the palace is a large private garden, one of the few to be found in Valletta. Several citrus trees are planted within this garden.  It is connected to a natural fresh-water spring that emanates from the rocks in the vaulted basement of the Palace and exits through a seventeenth-century fountain.  The foundations of the palace rise above the rock-cut spaces.  A deep cistern is also cut into the rock beneath the vaulted basement.


The center of the palace façade is given aesthetic emphasis with the inclusion of a full-length figure sculpture located within a niche above the bold cornice which separates the ground floor from the upper level. The carved stone statue portrays a female figure, representing the theological virtue of Faith.  Wearing a papal tiara, the figure holds a book, symbolizing the Holy Scriptures, a Crucifix, and a Chalice with the Eucharist, two elements symbolizing the incarnation of Christ, as the cornerstone of the Christian faith.  


Below the statue are the coat-of-arms of Archbishop Michael Gonzi (1943-1976). Beneath it is an inscription that commemorates the foundation of the Bishop’s Palace by the first Maltese Bishop BaldassareCagliares in 1624 and the construction of the second floor by Archbishop Gonzi in 1953.


The European Union co-funded project, focused on conservation actions to ensure the long-term preservation of this important Historic House found within the World Heritage site of Valletta. The interventions sought to reverse and mitigate deterioration sustained through weathering, and pollutant processes, on the masonry, timber, and metalwork. This was leading to the loss of the aesthetic qualities of the building as well as putting at risk its structural integrity. These actions are ensuring the long-term protection and enjoyment of this historic building lying in the heart of a World Heritage Site.


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