The Malta Independent on Sunday, 19th April 2009, by Noel Grima –
For most of the circa 200 years that the British Empire reigned over Malta, British soldiers used to man the Main Guard across the square from The Palace, in Valletta.
With mostly nothing to do except run out and salute every time the Governor or the Archbishop passed by, the Captain of the Guard must have led a very boring life.
Even today, the walls of the Main Guard’s inner rooms are the product of such boredom – no less than 300 wall paintings. Most are regimental badges but there are other paintings – nostalgia features big, but also countless amateur paintings of pretty girls.
Captain Gerald Strickland gave an entertaining description of the Main Guard’s history last Thursday at Din l-Art Helwa’s offices. Recent speculation, now apparently not under consideration any more, was that the Main Guard building could be a possible alternative site for Parliament. However, the site is very narrow and does not have the required space. More controversy involved and may well continue to involve the Main Guard due to the various designs for Palace Square, with past controversies over the now shelved three-storey underground parking, and with present controversies about a reflecting pool in the middle, possibly covered over for AFM parades.
Many do not know that the Main Guard, or to give it its original name, the Guardia della Piazza, was built by the Knights. It was the British who, as they did to various other buildings in Valletta (except the Law Courts, a post-war Maltese creation), added a portico.
A series of prints from the times of the Knights show the column at the Archbishop Street corner with Republic Street. They also show that the main flagpoles of the palace at the time of the Knights were on the corner of Republic Street with Old Theatre Street.
What is being planned for tomorrow was already in existence under the Knights – the square, then called Piazza San Giorgio, was closed to all traffic except the Grand Master’s carriage.
It was a priest from Zejtun, an Anglophile, who composed the Latin inscription on the façade of the portico. The inscription insists it was the Maltese love for Britain that invited the British in – reflecting the general fear in 1830 that the Knights could come back.
When the Main Guard was given to the Libyans and became the Libyan Cultural Centre in the 1970s, the coat of arms and inscription were covered with hardboard. Similarly, the 300 paintings inside were covered with plastic and survived undamaged.
Today, the Main Guard is an annex of the Attorney General’s office but Din l-Art Helwa is offering to restore it.
One issue that was raised by Narcy Calamatta last Thursday regarded the possible whereabouts of an inventory of the place.
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