We explore the Auberges that bear testimony to the legacy left by the Knights of Malta - these guys did not hold back on luxury!
A prominent 16th century building with decorative architecture, elaborate carving and rich decoration is what you can certainly expect when visiting an Auberge of the Knights in Malta. The Auberges were built by the Order of St John during the 1500s to house Knights from different territories around Europe, and they certainly made sure that they lived well! The Auberges were split by langues, or the languages they spoke.
Unfortunately, not all of the Auberges of the Knights have survived the passage of time. World War II air raid bombings are largely responsible for the destruction of some of these magnificent relics; while only one was intentionally demolished, to make way for St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral in Valletta. There were originally five Auberges in Birgu (Vittoriosa), the old capital of the Knights before Valletta was built, but only three survive till today. In Valletta, eight Auberges were originally built for the Knights, white five remaining nowadays. Of the remaining Auberges, seven still display their fine glory, and are still in use today.
1. Auberge de Castille, Valletta
The Auberge de Castille is now the office of the Prime Minister, so it's no surprise that this is one of the finest buildings on the island. Its exquisitely ornate façade, complete with majestic columns and foreboding cannons, is probably one of the most photographed in the whole of Valletta. The interior can be seen by the public once a year during Notte Bianca, when the city, with many of it's beautiful buildings and museums, is open to the public. The Auberge de Castille was built in 1573 for Knights of the langue of Castile, León and Portugal, and was remodelled in the 1740s.
Where to find it: Merchants Street, Valletta
2. Auberge d’Aragon, Valletta
The office of the Deputy Prime Minister is somewhat less impressive, yet, the Auberge d’Aragon offers a simplistic beauty. The Auberge d’Aragon was the first Auberge to be built in Valletta when the Knights were moving over from Birgu, and it is the only one still in its original, unaltered state. This Auberge was built in 1571 to house Knights of the langue of Aragon, Navarre and Catalonia.
Where to find it: 59 Archbishop Street, Valletta
3. Auberge d’Italie, Valletta
Although originally built for the Knights of the langue of Italy, this Auberge has served several purposes through the ages. Its latest transformation into the MUZA National Museum of Fine Arts, which will open later this year, will allow for greater public access to enjoy its beautiful interior. This Auberge has been renovated and altered several times, and now includes several Baroque features, including a remarkable decorative centrepiece above the main entrance.
Where to find it: Merchants Street, Valletta
4. Auberge de Provence, Valletta
They may not have had gypsum and wallpaper during the 16th and 17th centuries, yet the interior of this Auberge is certainly not lacking in detailed decoration, including gilded panels. The Auberge de Provence housed the Knights of the langue of Auvergne and Provence when they moved from Birgu in the 1570s, and it was later embellished, much like most of the other Auberges in Valletta. This Auberge has also seen several uses, and finally opened to the public as the National Museum of Archeology in the 1950s and remains so today.
Where to find it: Republic Street, Valletta
5. Auberge de Baviere, Valletta
Originally Palazzo Carniero and a residence of Grand Master Zondadari, this 1696 building was used as the Auberge for the Anglo-Bavarian langue from 1784. It currently houses the Lands Authority, and also hosts cultural events in its impressive Baroque rooms, a later modification. The Auberge’s past includes use as a hospital for both the French and British militaries and as a hostel for the homeless during World War II.
Where to find it: St Sebastian Street, Valletta
6. Auberge de France, Birgu
Older than all the above are the Auberges in Birgu, which served the Knights before they moved to Valletta, the city they built. The Auberge de France was built in 1533 for the French langue (except for Auvergne and Provence) and is now the seat of the Local Council, following several different uses by different hands through the ages.
Where to find it: 24-27 Hilda Tabone Street, Birgu
7. Auberge d’Angleterre, Birgu
The Auberge d'Angleterre, from c. 1534, housed the Knights of the Order of Saint John from the langue of England. It is the best-preserved Auberge in Birgu, and now serves as a health centre. The later one in Valletta was sadly destroyed.
Where to find it: Majjistral Street, Birgu
Enjoy your visit to the Auberges of the Knights of Malta, an extraordinary legacy of almost 500 years!