Girolamo Cassar

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Girolamo Cassar
Native name Ġlormu Cassar
Born c. 1520
Birgu or Gudja, Malta, Kingdom of Sicily
Died c. 1592
Valletta, Malta
Resting place Church of Porto Salvo, Valletta
Residence probably Birgu, later Valletta
Nationality Maltese
Occupation Architect and military engineer
Employer Order of St. John
Notable work Various buildings in Valletta, including Saint John's Co-Cathedral, the Grandmaster's Palace and the auberges
Style Mannerist
Spouse(s) Mattea Cassar
Children Vittorio Cassar
Gabriele Cassar
Marietitina Cassar
Battistina Cassar
Caterinella Cassar

Girolamo Cassar (Maltese: Ġlormu Cassar, c. 1520 – c. 1592) was a Maltese architect and military engineer. He was the resident engineer of the Order of St. John, and was admitted into the Order in 1569. He was involved in the construction of Valletta, initially as an assistant to Francesco Laparelli, before taking over the project himself. He designed many public, religious and private buildings in the new capital city, including Saint John's Co-Cathedral, the Grandmaster's Palace and the auberges.

He was the father of Vittorio Cassar, another architect and engineer.


Cassar's date of birth is not known, but he is believed to have been born in around 1520 in either Birgu or Gudja, to a Sicilian family who had lived in the Maltese islands since around 1440.[1] Cassar was initially a capomastro (master builder), and he was a pupil of Evangelista Menga, the resident engineer of the Order of St. John. He worked as a military engineer during the Battle of Djerba in 1560 and the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. During the latter siege, he worked on repairing fortifications damaged by the Ottoman assaults, sometimes at great personal risk.[2]

In 1566, the Order decided to construct a new capital city Valletta, and Cassar became the assistant of Francesco Laparelli, the Italian military engineer who had been sent to design the city's fortifications and grid plan. On 22 April 1569, Cassar was received within the Order in recognition of his merits as an architect and engineer. At this point, the Grand Master issued him a passport and Cassar spent the rest of the year touring Italian cities,[2] including Naples, Rome and Lucca. He became familiar with the Mannerist style during this tour, and he employed this style in many of his later buildings.[3]

Auberge d'Aragon, the only auberge which still retains Cassar's original design, with the only addition being a 19th-century portico

Upon his return to Malta in around late 1569, work on the Valletta fortifications was almost completed, and he took over the project after Laparelli left the island. He also became the Order's resident architect and engineer. He designed many public, religious and private buildings within the city, including the Grandmaster's Palace, the seven original auberges and the Conventual Church of St. John (now known as Saint John's Co-Cathedral). Cassar also designed a few buildings outside the capital city, most notably the Verdala Palace in Buskett.[2]

The date and circumstances of Cassar's death are not recorded. He made his second will on 9 January 1589. He is believed to have died in around 1592 in Valletta. He was buried in the Church of Porto Salvo in the same city.[2]

Buildings attributed to Cassar[edit]

Church of St. Mark in Rabat

The following is a list of buildings which are known to have been designed by Girolamo Cassar or are attributed to him:[2]

Elsewhere in Malta
  • Reconstruction of Birgu and Senglea (1560s)
  • Church of St. Mark, Rabat (1571–88)
  • Verdala Palace (1586)
  • Old convent of St. Augustine, Rabat (1588)
  • Old convent of St. Francis, Rabat (1588)
  • Capuchin convent, Floriana (1586)

Personal life[edit]

Girolamo Cassar was married to Mattea Cassar, and they had five children:[1]

  • Vittorio Cassar, probably their firstborn son, the favourite and principal heir. He also became an architect, and succeeded his father as the Order's resident engineer.
  • Gabriele Cassar, who was also in the Order's service
  • Marietitina Cassar, who married Natale Ricza
  • Battistina Cassar, who married Antonio Habela
  • Caterinella Cassar, who married Ambrogio Pace

The Cassar family was sufficiently wealthy, and they had at least two slaves. They lived in a house located between present-day St. Ursula and Melita Streets in Valletta.[1]


Girolamo Cassar Avenue

Many of Cassar's buildings were altered or demolished between the 17th and the 20th centuries, and very few buildings still retain his original design. The only auberge in Valletta retaining Cassar's façade is Auberge d'Aragon, with the only alteration being a portico which was added to the main doorway in the 19th century. Other buildings which retain Cassar's exterior design include Saint John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta and the Church of St. Mark in Rabat, although their interiors were altered over time.[4]

After Malta's independence in 1964, the road leading from Floriana to Castille Square in Valletta was renamed from Duke of York Avenue to Girolamo Cassar Avenue (Maltese: Triq Girolamo Cassar) after the architect.[5]


  1. ^ a b c Mangion, Giovanni (1973). "Girolamo Cassar Architetto maltese del cinquecento" (PDF). Melita Historica (in Italian). Malta Historical Society. 6 (2): 192–200. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 April 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Schiavone, Michael J. (2009). Dictionary of Maltese Biographies Vol. 1 A–F. Pietà: Pubblikazzjonijiet Indipendenza. pp. 520–521. ISBN 9789993291329. 
  3. ^ Ellul, Michael (2004). "In search of Girolamo Cassar: An unpublished manuscript at the State Archives of Lucca" (PDF). Melita Historica. XIV (1): 37. ISSN 1021-6952. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 March 2016. 
  4. ^ "Façade of church dedicated to St Mark in Rabat to be restored". The Malta Independent. 30 June 2016. Archived from the original on 1 July 2016. 
  5. ^ Chetcuti, Kristina (1 June 2015). "Where the streets have four names". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 19 July 2016.