The Main Guard, standing proudly opposite the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta, has a thousand stories to tell and an uncanny knack of telling them – through the hundreds of pictures painted on its walls.
Constructed in the late 16th century, the Main Guard building was converted into a Corpo di Guardia in 1604. Two centuries later, in 1814, it started being used by the British. During this time, a few additions and alterations were introduced to the original building, including the portico and the room on the first floor which was converted to an Officers’ Mess, where British soldiers whose job was to guard the palace would eat and rest while waiting for the next shift to start.
One of the soldiers’ pastimes was to paint pictures on the walls. In fact, between 1814 and 1972, paintings were continuously executed on the walls of the Officers’ Mess, each expressing an emotion, a memory or an event. These wall paintings, adding up to more than 300, are a remarkable attraction in themselves, so much so that through the years the Officers’ Mess has been referred to as quite an art gallery. Their complex stratigraphy and interventions are not only valued for their artistic qualities, but are themselves witness to the rich history that the Main Guard has gone through along the years.
The Main Guard building contributes significantly to Valletta’s historical value, not merely as a physical structure erected during the reign of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, but as an attraction generated from the wall paintings, which make the building a unique site to conserve and safeguard. For this reason, conservation and restoration works by Heritage Malta are currently ongoing at the Main Guard, necessitating its temporary closure.