Casa Rocca Piccola is a 16th-century palace in Malta, and home of the noble de Piro family. It is situated in Valletta, the capital city of Malta. There are daily tours. The history of Casa Rocca Piccola goes back over 400 years to an era in which the Knights of St John, having successfully fought off the invading Turks in 1565, decided to build a prestigious city to rival other European capitals such as Paris and Venice. Palaces were designed for prestige and aesthetic beauty in most of Valletta’s streets, and bastion walls fortified the new sixteenth-century city. Casa Rocca Piccola was one of two houses built in Valletta by Admiral Don Pietro la Rocca. It is referenced in maps of the time as “la casa con giardino” meaning, the house with the garden, as normally houses in Valletta were not allowed gardens. Changes were made in the late 18th century to divide the house into two smaller houses. Further changes were made in 1918 and before the second world war an air raid shelters was added. The Casa Rocca Piccola Family Shelter is the second air-raid shelter to be dug in Malta. In 2000 a major restoration project saw the two houses that make up Casa Rocca Piccola reunited.
The Palace Armoury is one of the world’s largest collections of arms and armour that is still housed in its original building. The Knights of St John were a unique brotherhood of resolute warrior monks. From Malta, their island stronghold, these combatant aristocrats from the noblest houses of Europe, carried out their relentless crusade against the Ottoman Turks in defence of the Catholic faith. The Palace Armoury is certainly one of the most visible and tangible symbols of the past glories of the Sovereign Hospitaller Military Order of Malta.
Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt transferred the Order’s arsenal to the Magisterial Palace in 1604 where it was the pride of the Order. Apart from being lavishly adorned with elaborate trophies of arms, it held enough arms and armour to equip thousands of soldiers. It was housed in the magnificent hall at the rear of the building, right above its present location. At present, it is displayed inside two halls that were originally the stables of the palace.
Following the forced departure of the Order of St. John from Malta, the armoury somehow lost much of its original grandeur. However, it was restored and was officially opened as Malta’s first public museum in 1860. Although only a fraction of its original splendour remains, the Armoury still contains abundant material of Italian, German, French and Spanish origin from principal production centres. Also displayed is an exotic selection of Islamic and Ottoman arms and armour. Apart from the massed arms of the common soldiers in the collection, the enriched personal armours of the nobility still manage to make a statement.
St John’s Co-Cathedral is a gem of Baroque art and architecture. It was built as the conventual church for the Knights of St. John. The Grand Masters and several knights donated gifts of high artistic value and made enormous contributions to enrich it with only the best works of art. This church is till this very day an important shrine and a sacred place of worship. It is also a venue for cultural events.
Described as the first complete example of the high Baroque anywhere, St. John’s Cathedral epitomises the role of its original patrons, the Knights of St. John. The Cathedral is testimony to the talent of Maltese military architect Gerolamo Cassar, with Mattia Preti’s intricately carved stone wall designs, as well as the painted vaulted ceiling and side altars with scenes from the life of St. John. The Cathedral also houses one of Europe’s most impressive and famous art works – Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The Cathedral was a shrine to the Knights, as many sons of Europe’s noble families from the 16th to 18th centuries lie buried here. Their intricate, marble-inlaid tombstones form a magnificently crafted pavimento. Also a resting place to the founder of Valletta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette, his tomb lies in the crypt, a quiet sanctuary and place of contemplation away from the busy streets outside.
The National Museum of Archaeology displays a significant array of artefacts from the Islands’ unique prehistoric periods, starting with the first arrival of man in 5200 BC, running up to 2500 BC. The first rooms trace man’s early settlement on the Islands up to the temple-building periods using a reconstruction of a rock-cut tomb. The collection includes obsidian cores and the Red Skorba figurines, which are predecessors of the temple period objects and statuary. The main hall is devoted to temple carvings and the collection continues with representations of animals, temple models, and the remarkable human figures. Of particular note are the exquisite figures of the ‘Sleeping Lady’ from the Hypogeum, and the ‘Venus’ of Hagar Qim. The last room exhibits some pottery from the temple period, together with tools, beads and other ornaments.
The National Museum of Archaeology is housed in the Auberge de Provence, in Republic Street, Valletta. The building, an example of fine Baroque architecture, was built in 1571 and followed a plan by local architect Ġilormu Cassar. The Auberge de Provence was house to the Knights of the Order of St John originating from Provence, France and displays beautiful architectural features. Of particular note is the Grand Salon, with its richly painted walls and wooden beamed ceiling. The Museum exhibits a spectacular range of artefacts dating back to Malta’s Neolithic period (5000 BC) up to the Phoenician Period (400 BC). On display are the earliest tools used by the prehistoric people to facilitate their daily tasks and representations of animal and human figures; elements which not only show the great artistic skills of the first dwellers of the island but also gives us an insight of their daily lives.
Highlights include the ‘Sleeping Lady’ from the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, the ‘Venus of Malta’ from Ħaġar Qim, bronze daggers recovered from the Bronze Age layers at Tarxien Temples, and the Horus and Anubis pendant and the anthropomorphic sarcophagus, both belonging to the Phoenician Period. The Museum provides the visitor with a good introduction to the prehistory and early history of the Maltese Island sand acts as a catalyst to the other archaeological sites in Malta. Works are currently in progress to include another hall dedicated to the Punic period and others dedicated to the Roman and Byzantine periods in Malta.
The monastery of Saint Ursula was first established at Vittoriosa, but in 1595 it was transferred to Valletta. The nuns follow the rule written by Blessed Raymond du Puy, first Grandmaster of the Order of Saint John. During the time of the Knights the monastery was subject to the Grandmaster, but since the departure of the Order from Malta, the monastery has been directly subject to the Bishop.
For more information on the history of The Monastery and Church of St. Ursula see link below: