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The architectural legacy of the Knights of St John in Malta
The islands have few natural resources, namely just raw limestone, but what it lacked in resources was more than compensated by its strategic location.
The Knights are considered by most historic commentators to have left the largest legacy on the Islands of Malta.
Who were the Knights of St John?
Who were the Knights of St John?
In those days, Malta occupied a position located on the frontier between the Christian and Muslim worlds. The whole of southern and central Christian Europe was under threat from the marauding forces of the Muslim alliance. Malta was seen as a stalwart and a major obstacle to the incessant advance of the invading enemy.
1566 saw Grand Master La Vallette place the founding stone of a new city named Valletta, a city “built by gentlemen for gentlemen”.
Today, as you march up and down the grid-like streets you can breathe-in the Knights of Malta’s legacy with every step you take.
Inside the maze of defences is a city full of churches, palaces, museums, auberges and art galleries. Valletta is jam-packed with beautiful baroque buildings and imposing military structures.
Outside the city gates lie the defensive walls of the Floriana, Margarita and Cottonera Lines.
How did they transform the Maltese landscape?
The sophisticated network of coastal defenses, fortresses, watch towers, curtains, bastions, embankments, cavaliers, as well as churches, a cathedral, hospitals, lazarettos, gardens and palaces still occupy the Maltese landscape today.
This was all achieved with the help of some of the leading European engineers, artists and architects such as Girolamo Cassar, Mondion, Mattia Preti and Caravaggio, together with funding from the Order of St John.
The fact that the Knights swore a vow of celibacy, obedience and poverty to the Roman Catholic Faith meant that their children could not be legally recognised as their legitimate heirs.
Instead the knights, rather than bestowing their wealth and fortune on their offspring, embellished Malta through countless civil, religious and military constructions.
Places to visit
It would take some time to visit all the sites that the Order built in Malta!
However if time is short it’s certainly worth visiting St John’s Co-Cathedral, the Grand Master’s Palace, Fort St Elmo, the Sacred Infirmary and Upper Barrakka Gardens all found in Valletta.
Also the Inquisitors Palace and Fort St Angelo in Vittoriosa and the Grand Master’s Palace located in Mdina are a must see whilst on the island.
Caring for the sick
The Knights originally cared for the sick with the Order’s founding father, Blessed Gerard, establishing the Hospital of St John in Jerusalem.
Today it is fitting that the Order remains true to its founding principles, summarised in the motto:
‘nurturing, witnessing and protecting the faith and serving the poor and the sick’.
These principals have become a reality through present day humanitarian and social assistance projects found in some 120 countries worldwide.
Focus on Fluency
- coveted(v) -highly sought after.
- legacy (n) – something, for example buildings and structures handed down from one generation to future generations.
- marauding (adj.) – going about in search of things to steal or people to attack.
- stalwart (n) – a dependable, reliable strong supporter.
- sophisticated (adj) – something that is highly developed.
- funding (n) – money provided.
- embellished (n) – make something more attractive.
About the Author
Academic Year Course Administrator
Simon has taught for a number of years in both the UK and Malta. His interests are varied and include rugby and Maltese history.
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