Saint James Cavalier

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Saint James Cavalier
Valletta, Malta
Malta - Valletta - Triq Girolamo Cassar - St. James Cavalier 01 ies.jpg
Saint James Cavalier
Coordinates 35°53′44.83″N 14°30′37.09″E / 35.8957861°N 14.5103028°E / 35.8957861; 14.5103028
Type Cavalier
Site information
Condition Intact
Site history
Built 1560s
Built by Order of Saint John
Materials Limestone
Events Revolt of the Priests

Saint James Cavalier is a 16th-century Cavalier which forms part of the city walls of Valletta, Malta. Originally nine Cavaliers were planned, but eventually only two were built, Saint James and Saint John's Cavalier. They were both designed by military engineer Francesco Laparelli da Cortona, who, on his departure from Malta in 1569, entrusted the continuation of his work to Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar. The Cavalier is now officially known as St James Cavalier, Centre for Creativity and was part of Malta's Millenium Project.

The building is located in Castille Square, close to Auberge de Castille, the Central Bank of Malta, the Malta Stock Exchange and the post office at Dar Annona. It overlooks Saint James' Bastion.


Order of Saint John[edit]

Faced with the continuing threat of Turkish attack and the weaknesses caused by the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, the Knights of Malta had to decide whether to abandon the island, or attempt its restoration. Grandmaster Jean Parisot de Valette preferred to stay and ask for aid, which promptly arrived from several quarters, most notably Pope Pius V, who sent not only financial assistance but also the famed military engineer Francesco Laparelli de Cortona. It is Laparelli who masterminded the plan of Valletta as we see it today. On his departure in 1569 Laparelli entrusted the continuation of his work to Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar.

St. James (as well as St. John's) was among the first buildings to be built in the city, after the Church of Our Lady of Victories. It was built as a raised platform on which guns were placed to defend the city against attacks from the land side, in the area were the town of Floriana was later built. As well as prohibiting entry, St. James could also threaten those who had already breached the city's defences.

Despite the impression of size given by the external aspect of the building, half of the structure was filled with compressed earth and the rest consisted of series of sparse chambers and a ramp by which cannons could reach the roof.

Architecturally it was not designed to rival the more sophisticated Auberges but as a utilitarian, no-nonsense solution to a straightforward defensive problem.[1]

On 8 September 1775, St James Cavalier was captured by rebel priests along with Fort Saint Elmo in what became known as the Revolt of the Priests. The Order's flag was lowered and a banner of Saint Paul was raised instead. The Order managed to recapture St Elmo so the rebels in control of St James surrendered as well. Eventually the rebels were tried and three were executed while the others were exiled or imprisoned. The heads of the three executed men were displayed on the corners of St James Cavalier, but were removed soon after Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc was elected Grandmaster in November of the same year.[2]

British period to the end of the 20th century[edit]

As the function changed, so did the design. Upon their arrival, the British converted St. James into an officers' mess, later utilising its raised position to provide water storage for the city of Valletta. Water was pumped to the two cisterns via the Wignacourt Aqueduct, thus solving a major problem of the Maltese islands.

Also during this period, the ramp leading to the roof was replaced by a staircase and the number of rooms was increased by serving the ground floor room with arched ceilings, creating two stories where there had been only one. Changes were also made to help combat humidity.

Finally, during the latter part of British rule, St. James was turned into a food store, known as the NAAFI.

In the 1970s, the Government Printing Press moved from the Grandmaster's Palace to St James, and it remained there until new premises at Marsa Industrial Estate were opened in 1996.[3]

Present day[edit]

Interior of Saint James Cavalier

In the 1990s, it was decided that the site of the Cavalier be used for cultural purposes. The restoration of the Cavalier was to be the first phase of a much larger project aimed at radically changing entrance to Valletta. The rest of this project was halted for several years until 2008.

Once more St. James has performed a startling transformation; an edifice once designed to prohibit entry now welcomes visitors. The task of affecting this tremendous change was given to Prof. Richard England, one of Malta's best known architects who describes his brief as "making it possible for the building to accommodate new needs in a way that, while respecting the past, accepts the concept of change, without fear."[citation needed] However, the work was the cause of much controversy and was deemed unsatisfactory by many Maltese, partly resulting in the halting of other planned projects in Valletta and the decision to use celebrated architects (including Renzo Piano) rather than Richard England. The other projects started in 2008 when works commenced on the City Gate, the site of the former opera house, the new parliament building and the rest of the area around the city's entrance.

One of the biggest challenges that Prof. England faced was that of increasing accessibility in a building created to repel invaders. This necessitated major structural intervention and very difficult decisions about which areas should, and must, undergo such drastic intervention.

This task was carried off with great aplomb in the conversion of the two water cisterns, one into St. James' spectacular theatre space and the other into the atrium. A stunning, inufying space which provides access to the upper galleries. the design nonetheless incorporate glass panels and a marvelous awareness of space that allows the visitor to read the historical narrative told by the wells.

The work was carried out in collaboration with the restoration expert Michael Ellul. With and emphasis that firmly discouraged the use of replica and imitation. Hence anything that looks 16th century is 16th century and anything that looks contemporary is contemporary. The national heritage organization Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna did protest against the removal of a rare World War Two gas shelter and other historical remains from the British period.

This theme is particularly obvious on the ground floor. In the Music Room, the British-installed ceiling has been removed, and the room restored to its original state. The gift shop, on the other hand, is split. In other halls partial removal of the ceiling has allowed both periods to be represented in this modern interpretation of a deeply historical building.

Restoration of the Cavalier was complete by the end of summer 2000 and it opened for visitors on 22 September of that year, when the exhibition 'Art in Malta Today' was held.[1] The Centre of Creativity now houses a small theatre, a cinema, music rooms and art galleries. Various exhibitions are regularly held there. Since it was opened it has welcomed over a million visitors.[4]


  1. ^ a b "St James - A Short History". St James Cavalier. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  2. ^ Sciberras, Sandro. "Maltese History - E. The Decline of the Order of St John In the 18th Century". St Benedict College. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Cordina, John (19 April 2013). "Government Printing Press to be strengthened". The Malta Independent. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  4. ^ "St.James Cavalier Theatre Overview in Valletta, Malta". Island of Gozo. Gozo Tourism Association. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 

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