Malta has a rich and diverse history that dates back thousands of years ago and is undoubtedly seen in the beautiful architecture of medieval cities. In the suspicious Order of Malta, the Knights played a vital role in its vibrant and dynamic architecture.
This legacy of the knights is often seen in the magnificent palaces, strongholds, and castles in Malta and can be found at almost every turn when you take a walk along the Valetta’s streets, the most famous city in Malta. The Baroque castles were built there in the 16th century. They initially served the knightly manor houses or taverns for those who were homeless on the island.
From the world’s oldest temples to the newly built parliament house in Valletta, the capital city, Malta is well known for its beautiful structures and intriguing complexes. Malta houses baroque homes, churches and castles galore.
No matter where you are, it is sure that you will see some castles in Malta. Even better, these palaces are best preserved and magnificently built. So, take a look at some of the best castles to visit in Malta.
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Here’s the list of the castles in Malta
Previously Folklore Museum, the historic house museum of Gran Castello is devoted to Gozitan folklore based in Victoria, Gozo. The museum is built in the cluster of houses that date back to the 16th century in the Cittadella, which were rehabilitated in 1983 as a museum.
The collections of the museum relate to the rural, domestic and traditional lifestyle in the agrarian economy of Maltese islands as well as several crafts, skills, and traditions which have shaped daily life on the islands over hundreds of years.
The architecture of the castle along with the museum is based in Sicilian style, and it may owe something to Chiaramonte family’s influence in southern Italy and Sicily when they were Counts of Malta in the 14th century.
The intricate baroque facades countervail the plainness of interiors. It was renamed to Gran Castello Historic House from Folklore Museum in 2016 when Cittadella was being restored.
Fort St. Angelo
Previously called the Castle by the Sea, Fort St. Angelo was built sometime around the Middle Ages. The Knights initially rebuilt the castle as their headquarters from the Order of St. John and a fort to protect Malta from the attacks of the Turks during 1565’s Great Siege.
While taking precedence of the waterfront of Vittoriosa, the fort had remained the same more or less in appearance since the 1690s when it was rebuilt after the designs of Carlos de Grunenbergh, a well-known architect.
For British troops, the fort became a station from 1800 to 1979 and was categorized as stone ship and known as HMS St. Angelo and HMS Egmont. It is one of the most beautiful castles in Malta and welcomes the visitors in the Officer’s Lounge, to take back some souvenirs. The palace has genuinely shaped the history of Malta, and it offers serene views of the Grand Harbor.
Fort St. Angelo is located at the heart of Grand Harbor as a bastioned fort of Birgu, Malta. Initially, it was built as a castle in the medieval period known as Castrum Maris.
The Order of St. John rebuilt the castle as Fort Saint Angelo bastioned fort from the 1530s to the1560s, and it is well known for serving as a headquarters of Order of St. John in 1565 during the Great Siege of Malta. In the 1690s, the fort got its current appearance due to a considerable reconstruction to Carlos de Grunenbergh’s designs.
At the heart of the Grand Harbour, Fort St Angelo served as the Red Keep Prison as well as Underground Chambers. It was also portrayed in “The Wolf and the Lion” Season 1, Episode 5 when Arya led cat to the dungeons on the castle when he was doing sword training and overhears Magister Illyrio Mopatis and Varys of Pentos.
Ned Stark was also imprisoned in this castle under the chambers of Red Keep before he was taken for beheading at the Sept of Baelor.
The British also garrisoned the fort from 1800 to 1979 when it was known as stone frigate called as HMS St. Angelo or HMS Egmont. During World War II, the fort faced significant damage, but it was restored later.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta took the upper part of the fort in 1998. Fort St. Angelo has been on the tentative list of Malta’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of fortifications of the Knights since 1998 across the Harbors of Malta.
Castellu di la Chitati
The former capital of Malta, Mdina has been fortified, but most of the fortifications were built around the 16th to 18th centuries by the Order of Saint John. The city walls remained almost intact excepting some outworks. It is one of the best luxury villas and well-kept fortifications of Malta. Since 1998, Mdina has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1091, the County of Sicily took a cover of Malta and dominated by feudal lords. Over the next centuries, a lot of alterations were made to the city walls of Mdina. This Byzantine fort was turned into Castellu di la Chitati castle.
The land front of Mdina had a range of double walls covered by four towers, including Turri di la Camera at the southwest and the Turri Mastra around the main entrance, by the 15th century.
In Mdina, modern artillery had been announced by 1522, and the walls of the city started the restoration. Most of the historic fortifications of Mdina were dismantled later, and the Hospitallers rebuilt them, especially in the 18th century. But still, various ancient ruins and some bases of the medieval Punic-Roman ramparts were discovered recently during excavations.
During the Juan de Homedes y Coscon’s rule, Mdina’s ancient fortifications were upgraded, and the city survived a brief attack of the Ottomans in 1551. At the end of 1565 by the Great Siege of Malta, Mdina’s protectors scared away the army of Ottomans which were living there followed by a failed siege of the base of Order in the Grand Harbor by setting their cannons on fire, even with the minimal amount of ammunition.
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Located in Buskett Gardens, Verdala Palace is used by the President of Malta as his official summer retreat, and it is closed to the public due to this reason. Built by the Grandmaster Hugues Loubenx de Verdalle in 1586, the Verdala Palace in Buskett is the grand palace known for being covered by a beautiful forest. This lush green landscape was used as a hunting ground by the Knights of Malta.
Previously, Grandmaster Jean Parisot de Valette was the owner of the land who also built a hunting lodge where he used to pass his time. Grandmaster Manoel de Vilhena and Grandmaster Giovanni Paolo Lascaris further developed the castle over the years. The villa is well covered by a stone ditch which was used as a defense quarry due to which building was two floors high up and also each corner had five-storied towers.
The Palace also served as a military prison during the Napoleon era on the island and was left barren just after the departure of the French. Governor Sir William Reid restored the complex with its lost glory in the year 1858 and governors of Malta used it as their official summer residence during the British’s era.
The President of Malta still uses the palace as a Summer Residence. Usually, it remains closed for public except during special occasions, tours, restoration projects, displays, and events. The castle is used as Iiyrio Mopatis mansion’s exterior in Pentos and was also used as Game of Thrones set in “Winter is Coming” (Season 1, Episode 1), when Viserys Targaryen and Daenerys meet Khal Drogo before the wedding.
Castello Dei Baroni
Castello del Baroni is located atop a hill in Wardija, a northern village in St Paul’s Bay and is covered well by the countryside. The castle stood strong through the history of Maltese, and it still holds one of its prominent features since 1783. It has been restored well when needed, and it still keeps up with its past. Along with the popularity of the castle for destination weddings, it is also one of the most visited villas in Malta.
You can take an audio-visual tour in different languages that last 23 minutes and leads visitors to its rich history dating back 900 years. The corridors and rooms are adorned well by the original artifacts and the bedroom, chapel, and Supreme Council chamber of Grand Master have been recovered well.
The library presents the original and valuable manuscripts. For refreshments, it has an art gallery, coffee shop and souvenirs shop, making it a worth-visiting paradise. You can also opt for group bookings for falconry and archery shows, and wine tasting.
Even though it is not a castle, Selmun Palace was built to look like a castle, and it may seem to do so for the visitors. In a secluded place in Mellieha town, Selmun Palace is also known as Selmun Tower.
During the reign of Alof de Wignacourt, the Grand Master, the Selmun Tower was built in 1607 by Monte Della Redenzione Dehli Schaivi charity as a place only to save the Christians who were slaves to the Ottomans.
To help in its upkeep funding, the Order of St. John’s Knights rented out the tower as a retreat to unwind and used the nearby grounds for rabbit hunting. The Malta Planning and Environment Authority (MEPA) declared it as Grade I National Monument in 2012, but it needs restoration these days.
Tal Virtu Castle
The picturesque Tal Virtu Castle is not open to the public and is privately owned. But you should still get there for some beautiful pictures of its exterior if you are in the Rabat region towards the north of Malta.
The owners of the castle are indeed fortunate as it is located atop Tal Virtu plateau and provides unhindered views of the nearby areas.
However, visitors can also get the same views by paying for a trip to the plateau. For several years, the castle remained barren until it was bought in the 1990s privately and has been recovered to its current state by its owners.
Also called Zammitello Tower or Castello Zammitello, the Zammitello Palace is a Victorian villa that dates back to the 19th century in the countryside of Mgarr, en-route to Gnejna. The owner of the palace, Francis Sant Cassia was killed in 1988 in this palace. But it is still used to host wedding events.
Sant Cassia’s family built the villa as a honeymoon retreat in the early 19th century in the confines of Mgarr in Malta. However, it was reportedly made in 1675, according to some commercial sources. After the death of its owner, Francis Sant Cassia, the family sold it in 1989, and it is now used as a venue for wedding receptions.
It is an ornate architectural folly built in the 19th century as a replica of the Tower of London. Even though it looks like a fortification, it is entirely useless when it comes to defense, according to Stephen C. Spiteri, a military architecture expert.
It is known as a misnomer as it closely resembles a villa and the square-shaped house of this palace was designed in Victorian architecture. It usually has four guerites and one turret at the roof level. With a different design, the guerites were not used for military purpose nor were they desirable in Malta. There is a Christian cross over the turret sitting as a crucifix.
San Anton Palace & Gardens
Last but not the least, the San Anton Palace and Gardens; the President of Malta officially use it as his residence, and it has appeared most of the time in Game of Thrones Season 1 where it was portrayed as the Red Keep.
In Season 1 Episode 10 titled “Fire and Blood,” you can get some of the memorable glimpses of the castle when Joffrey takes Sansa to see the heads on the balcony. It has appeared for the first time in “Lord Snow” Season 1 Episode 3 when Starks uses stables at the Red Keep.