Attractions
Must visit this week: the presidential San Anton Palace
From Grand Masters to Heads of State, the palace has been an official residence since 1623

Jillian Mallia

As you drive through the Attard area, one thing you surely won’t miss is the grand San Anton Palace. As a child, I used to spend afternoons in the gardens (which are part of the palace) with my grandparents, eating hobz biz-zejt that I’d share with the ducks. The best part was laughing at them while they'd swarm to grab the pieces of bread.

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Where it all began

San Anton Palace is an early 17th century country villa built for the knight Antoine de Paule. The villa was later expanded into a palace once de Paule was elected Grand Master in 1623. The palace gets its name from the Grand Master’s patron saint, Anthony of Padua.

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Now the villa was of a pretty decent size to regular citizens, but de Paule extended it to provide accommodation for his guests and for his large domestic staff, which included cooks, food tasters, torch bearers, pantry boys, wig makers, a winder of the clocks, physicians, as well as a baker to make black bread to feed his hunting dogs. #Extra

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The later years

After de Paule’s death in 1636, the palace was used as a residence by subsequent Grand Masters of the Order since it was much closer to Valletta than the Verdala Palace in Siggiewi.

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During the French occupation, the palace becoming a meeting spot for the rebel National Assembly which first met on 11th February 1799. One year later, it became the residence of the first British Civil Commissioner, Admiral Sir Alexander Ball. During the British period, the palace became the official residence of the Governor, and later the Governor-General of Malta. It has been the official residence of the President of Malta since the island became a republic in 1974.

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Royal births and visits

Interestingly, Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (geez, what a mouthful!) was born at the palace on 25th November 1876, when her father Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was stationed in Malta as a Royal Navy officer. Queen Elizabeth II stayed at the palace as a guest of the president during her royal visits to Malta in 1954, 1967 and 2005.

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The peaceful chapels

San Anton Palace boasts two intricate chapels, one dedicated to Our Lady of Pilar and another dedicated to St Anthony. The Chapel of Our Lady of Pilar was commissioned by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena in the 18th century. As all Grand Masters before him, Manoel de Vilhena decorated the chapel, specifically the vaults, with his coat of arms. Subsequent Grand Masters who resided in the palace added their own coat of arms as the years went on.

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The second chapel is known as the Russian Chapel and it has had quite the roller coaster ride. It was built in the 19th century as a Protestant chapel but was later converted to a Russian Orthodox chapel (hence the name) to accommodate the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, the wife of Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The chapel, much larger than that of Our Lady of Pilar, is now used as a Roman Catholic place of worship and was restored in 2013. What did I tell you? Roller coaster ride.

The extensive garden grounds

The main attraction of the palace however is its gardens. The gardens are laid out in a pretty formal manner with different sections and carefully groomed trees, shrubs and bushes. The gardens also have graceful walkways, various sculptures and fountains, as well as an aviary.

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The best part of the whole gardens, in turn, is the ornamental pond and fountain which is home to families of ducks and swans. The fountains in the gardens are decorated intricately with different sculptures and they wouldn't look out of place in some Queen’s palace!

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The gardens contain a large variety of plant and floral species from around the world, including palm trees, cypresses and other exotic plants, some of them over three centuries old! For many years it has been customary for visiting heads of state to plant a tree in the gardens in memory of their stay in Malta.

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Parts of the gardens were first opened to the public in the early 19th century by Admiral Sir Alexander Ball. The grounds were then enriched by the second Governor of the islands, the first Marquess of Hastings. They were reopened to the public in 1882 and have remained open since.

The Palace as an important Maltese landmark

The palace and its gardens were included in the Antiquities List of 1925 and is now a Grade 1 national monument.

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A number of events are held on the palace grounds, including the annual Horticultural Spring Show. The Malta Community Chest Fund, headed by the President of Malta, occasionally holds fund-raising events at San Anton.

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San Anton Palace and Gardens have an incredible history. Visit to experience the grandeur!

25th March 2019


Jillian Mallia
Written by
Jillian Mallia
A book lover, writer and globetrotter who loves exploring new places and the local gems that the Maltese Islands have to offer. An avid foodie and arts fanatic, Jillian searches the island and beyond for the perfect settings to write about.

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