Auberge de Castille - Valletta

Auberge de Castille - Valletta

Serving for about 150 years, in 1741, it was decided by the Council of the Order, that a second Auberge would be built but on a different style; transforming the military character to something more original and prestigious, to the new flamboyant Baroque style. The façade and the plan were attributed to Domenico Cachia, whose work was the finest of 18th Century Valletta. The façade, rich yet not over decorative, has pilasters, recessed panel and centrepiece projection, of pleasing proportions which give a touch of excellence to the building. Since Grand Master Pinto gave the main donation for the building, about 200 scudi, the theme of the façade is propagandistic in Pinto’s regards. The Grand Master’s symbol and the crescent moon are frequently displayed through different parts of the building while the Grand Master’s Coat of Arms and bust are the main decoration to the central window. Originally, these were too large and heavy and their removal was necessary in 1766 – 1768 to avoid damaging the building fabric. Apart from the Grand Master’s Coat of Arms, the coat of arms of the Langue of Spain and Portugal are also carved on the façade.

Five windows are found on each side of the main entrance, which according to some sources are located on the exact place of the first Auberge. They are secured with wrought iron grilles with Pinto’s half moon emblem. Pilasters for the new building are also built on the previous ones.  Most of the decorations moulded on windows and on the main door were transformed by time in order to give the building a baroque style and a homogeneous look. It is interesting to note that on each window one can find the abbreviation E.P (Emanuel Pinto), a rare monogram on the buildings in Valletta. In 1791, the main door was enlarged, an arch for the main door and a large staircase in the parapet were constructed. Writers think that the pilasters at the corners are remains from Cassar’s previous building and that the original façade may have been smaller. From their conclusions we can say that the original building had been rebuilt reflecting Grand Master Pinto’s Spanish Baroque style.

When the last Grand Master backed the Order of St. John from Malta in 1798, the Auberge was used as a Commission for National property under the command of the French invaders. After two years of French presence in Malta, the island became a British colony, transforming the Auberge of Castille as the headquarters of the armed forces and also used as a residence for the British officers. The Auberge of Castille has also been used as the headquarters of the army for Malta Cyprus and Libya. During the Second World War, in 1942 some damage was caused on the right hand side of the main entrance damaging also the ceiling of one of the front halls. Since 1972 the Auberge has hosted the office of the Maltese Prime minister.

One of the main concerns with the restoration of the Auberge was the sheer size the building has approximately 3,200 meters squared of flat area and a substantial amount of ornamental stonework which translate into approximately 6,000 meters squared of developed area. The elaborate sculptured motifs required a high level of craftsmanship and meticulous interventions. The bronze bust required a conservator specialised in metals. Some areas, particularly on Merchants street required further monitoring to ascertain that existing cracks were no longer active while several localised cracks appeared to be of no structural consequence. In such instances, interventions were limited to the use of adhesives to ensure re-attachment of the detached stonework. Stone replacement was only resorted to only in extreme cases. Rusting steel elements were a major cause of damage to the stonework in these cases better detailing and more appropriate materials will need to be used to avoid re-occurrence in the future. With regards to black crust various methods of removal could be applied, depending on the consistency of the dirt and the condition of the underlying stone. Good practice requires that cleaning techniques that were adopted were non-abrasive, to ensure that the stone patina was preserved. Various sculptured elements of the facade were in an advanced state of erosion. The method of intervention in such situations included plastic repair, piecing in of missing elements or stone replacement.