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Auserge de Castille

The Auberge de Castille is to be found in Castille Square in the Maltese capital city of Valletta. It is close to the Saint James Cavalier Centre for Learning and Creativity, the Malta Stock Exchange and the Upper Barrakka Gardens. The Auberge is situated at the highest point of Valletta, and overlooks Floriana and the harbour area. It originally housed the Knights of Saint John belonging to the Langues of Castile, León and Portugal, who were responsible for the defence of part of the fortifications of Valletta close to the Auberge, known as the Bastion of Saint Barbara.

History of the Auberge de Castille

In the beginning, the wooden building which served as the Auberge was an improvised structure in Birgu, however in 1569 the Knights decided to create a stately Auberge in Valletta. They acquired a site, referred to as the Casa Grande in Saint Paul Street. This house was big enough to accommodate the Head of the Langue, called the Pilier, and a limited number of knights, and it served as the Auberge from 1571 to 1573, when it was decided that a bigger building was needed. The site chosen for the building which today is known as the Auberge de Castille, was 4,100 metres square and it was acquired by the Langue in 1569. The Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, a student of Francesco Laparelli, was chosen to design it. Girolamo Cassar had a matured Mannerist style, which is very evident in the pilasters between the fenestrations. The main entrance was placed on a level higher than the street level to give the place a sense of nobility and is flanked by five decorated windows on each side.

The Auberge was extensively reconstructed by the architect Andrea Belli between 1741 and 1745, during the Grand-Mastership of Manuel Pinto de Fonseca, after the Council of the Order had decided that it wanted to transform the military character of the Auberge into something more original and prestigious. The new flamboyant Baroque style was adopted. The Grand Master’s symbol of the crescent moon is frequently displayed throughout the building, while his Coat of Arms and bust are the main decorations of the central window. The Coat of Arms of the Langues of Spain and Portugal are also carved on the façade. In 1791, the main door was enlarged, and a large staircase for the parapet was constructed. (more)

The Hospitaller Order of St John in Malta

The monastic hospitaller Order of the Knights of Saint John, also known as the Knights Hospitallers, was originally established in 1085 as a community of monks responsible for tending the sick at the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem, during the crusades. They later evolved into a military order, defending crusader territory in the Holy Lands and safeguarding the perilous routes taken by medieval pilgrims. Following the conquest of the Holy Land by Islamic forces, the Order operated from Rhodes, over which it was sovereign, and later from Malta where it administered a vassal state under the Spanish viceroy of Sicily. (more)

The Auberge de Castille is not open to the public, except for specific occasions or celebrations, which usually take place in the courtyard. There is also an underground rock-hewn World War 2 system of tunnels which links this Auberge to the Auberge d’Italie, and which is at times open to the public on special commemorations. Legend says that there is an underground city made up of these underground passages, with theories maintaining that this network used to link all the eight Auberges.

Text: Melisande Aquilina