Fortified castles

Joseph C. Camilleri

The knights of St John built long kilometres of fortified walls. They also built palaces and ‘auberges’ as places of residence. On the other hand, they seemed not to be keen to build castles. Throughout the years they only built one at Boschetto, a few kilometres away from Rabat/Mdina – Verdala Castle. The Maltese nobles built a few but only one is on a large scale – Selmun Castle.

Verdala Castle

The Grand Master, as head of the Order of St John, had his own castle – Verdala Castle. It was built during the time of Cardinal Grand Master Huges Loubenx de Verdalle as a summer palace. This castle is on high ground to benefit from cool summer breezes. It was built according to the design of Girolamo Cassar in 1586. It has a square plan. Next to it there is its chapel with its titular painting, a work of Mattia Preti.

This edifice is three storeys high and its corners are in the form of a tower. In case of enemy attack, from its rooftop, messages could be sent to the Valletta Magisterial Palace (today the President’s Palace). Its major attractions are a series of paintings depicting the life of Grand Master de Verdalle, executed by Filippo Paladini and its elliptical staircase. The castle is used by the Head of State as a summer residence. As sometimes this palace is opened to the public, I suggest that you ask the Tourist Information Office whether you could visit this historic place of interest.

Selmun Castle

The other castle was built on the plans of Maltese architect Domenico Cachia, around the year 1786. Its design was influenced by eighteenth-century architectural trends in Europe for fortified villas. It was built at the expense of a Maltese noble family. This castle stands on Mellieħa ridge. At its corners there are bastioned turrets. This castle is famous for its imposing hall as well as its banqueting room. It is worthwhile to mention that later this castle was used as a residence of the British petrol firm’s (BP) chairman residence. Subsequent it was turned into a hotel, a restaurant and tea rooms for a number of years.