Emblematic cathedrals and churches for tourism in Malta

When people think of this beautiful Mediterranean island, they often think of its golden sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and rich cultural heritage. However, there is one aspect of Malta's history that should not be overlooked and which has a significant influence on tourism: its religious heritage.

Churches in Malta

On this page, we will explore how this religious history blends perfectly with tourism, creating a unique experience for travellers seeking cultural and spiritual discoveries. We'll guide you through Malta's most remarkable churches and cathedrals, each offering a window into the island's religious and architectural past. From Old St Catherine's Church to the majestic Verdala Palace, the Chapel of St Anthony of Padua and St John's Cathedral in Valletta, you'll discover a treasure trove of artistic and spiritual beauty.


Old St Catherine's Church: a historical treasure trove for tourists

St Catherine's Church is an architectural and spiritual gem nestled in the heart of the city of Valletta, Malta. Its history dates back to the 16th century, when the Italian Hospitallers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem commissioned the architect Ġlormu Cassar to build it. In 1576, the first works began, giving birth to this building that was to become a pillar of the Catholic faith in Malta.

The architecture of Old St Catherine's Church is an impressive testament to the Renaissance period in Malta. It stands majestically next to the Italian Inn, reflecting the Order of St John's commitment to the Catholic faith. The façade of the church, rebuilt in 1713, is a splendid example of the Maltese Baroque style, adorned with sculptural details and elaborate motifs that captivate visitors from the moment they arrive.

Inside the church, you will be amazed by the artistic treasures it contains. The church is dedicated to Saint Catherine, and its walls are decorated with scenes from the saint's life. One of the highlights of the interior is the famous altarpiece of the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine, the work of Italian artist Mattia Preti. This exceptional painting is a manifestation of Baroque art, offering a breathtaking depiction of faith and devotion.


Palazzo Verdala: a historic site at the heart of tourism

Verdala Palace, also known as Verdala Palace, is an exceptional country residence located in Is-Siġġiewi, Malta. Its construction dates back to 1586, when the Grand Master of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Hugues Loubens de Verdalle, commissioned the architect Ġlormu Cassar to create this unique place. Over the years, the palace was enriched by the great masters Jean-Paul de Lascaris-Castellar (1636-1657) and António Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736), making it a true architectural gem.

The Palais Verdala has a rich and complex history that is closely linked to the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. The residence was built on the site of a former hunting lodge belonging to Grand Master Jean de Valette (1557-1568) in the Bosquet gardens. This proximity to the Order's history makes it a place of great interest for visitors interested in Malta's religious history.

The Palais Verdala has also witnessed a number of historical events, including its use as a prison by occupying French troops in the 19th century. It was later restored and transformed into the official summer residence of the Governors of Malta under Governor Sir William Reid in 1858. This historic transformation adds to its appeal to history and culture lovers.

Unfortunately, the Verdala Palace is not usually open to the public outside of special occasions, such as the annual charity Ball of the August Moon, which is held in aid of the Malta Community Chest Fund. However, during these special events, visitors have the chance to explore the sumptuous interior of this historic residence and learn more about its fascinating past.


Chapel of St Anthony of Padua : Religious heritage and tourism

The Chapel of St Anthony of Padua, located at Fort Manoel on Manoel Island in Gżira, Malta, was built in 1727 as part of the fort. It was a central element of the fort financed by Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena. It became a parish church in 1728.
The art and architecture inside the chapel

The chapel is an impressive example of Maltese Baroque architecture. It has a classical façade with Ionic pilasters, statues and a triangular pediment. The interior comprises a main nave with side altars and a sacristy. A crypt beneath the chapel served as a burial site. The chapel's main altarpiece, depicting St Anthony of Padua, is now in the National Museum of Fine Arts, while other works were destroyed during the Second World War.

The chapel was damaged by bombing in 1942, but was restored between 2007 and 2009. It is now listed on Malta's National Inventory of Cultural Assets, preserving its cultural and religious heritage.


Valletta (Igreja de São João): Religious treasure and tourist attraction

St John's Church, also known as St John's Co-Cathedral, is an emblematic monument in Valletta, Malta. Its construction was undertaken by the Knights of St John between 1573 and 1578, under the command of Grand Master Jean de la Cassière. The church, also known as Kon-Katidral ta' San Ġwann in Maltese, was intended as a conventual church for the Order of the Knights of St John of the Hospital, better known as the Hospitallers or Knights of Malta.

The austere exterior of St John's Co-Cathedral is reminiscent of a military fort, in stark contrast to its richly ornate interior. The church was built shortly after the Great Siege of 1565, and its exterior bears witness to those turbulent times.

Inside, however, there is magnificent Baroque decoration. The Calabrian artist Mattia Preti, who was also a knight of the Order, left his mark by decorating the stone walls with paintings depicting scenes from the life of Saint John. This work is particularly remarkable for the illusion of three-dimensionality created by the artist's clever use of shadows. What's more, all the sculptures were made on site, directly on the Maltese limestone walls, rather than being carved independently and fixed to the walls. The chapel also contains the funerary monument of the Grand Master Fra Marc'Antonio Zondadari from Siena.

St John's Co-Cathedral houses eight chapels, each dedicated to the patron saint of the eight languages (sections or origins) of the Knights of the Order. These chapels include remarkable works of art and funerary monuments by great masters such as Fra Adrien de Wignacourt and Fra Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc.

The church is also famous for housing "The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist" (1608), a work by Caravaggio considered to be his masterpiece. This impressive painting is on display in the Oratory of the co-cathedral. In addition, richly decorated marble tombstones in the nave tell the story of the knights buried there, while sculptures and other works of art complete the artistic wealth of the church.


Conclusion: A journey through Malta's religious heritage

Having explored Malta's iconic churches and cathedrals in detail, it's time for a recap of these historic gems. This adventure has allowed us to explore the fascinating past of these places of worship, to discover their remarkable architectural features, and to understand their importance in the context of tourism in Malta.
On this trip, the old church of St Catherine, whose history dates back to 1576, welcomed us with its artistic treasures, including the famous altarpiece of the Martyrdom of St Catherine by Mattia Preti. The Palais Verdala, a country residence steeped in history, was also explored, its restoration in 1858 making it the official summer residence of Malta's governors.

The Chapel of St Anthony of Padua took us back in time, as it was rebuilt after the bombings of the Second World War, a reminder of the importance of churches to the Hospitallers. Finally, St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, a must-see for Maltese tourists, impressed with its blend of austere exterior and rich Baroque interior.

Here are some specific tips for tourists when visiting Malta's cathedrals and churches:

  • Appropriate dress: When visiting places of worship, be sure to dress modestly. Avoid short clothing, bare shoulders and casual dress. Shoulders and knees should be covered.
  • Silence and respect: Inside churches and cathedrals, maintain an appropriate level of silence and respect. The faithful may be praying, and it is essential not to disturb their experience.
  • Photography and video: Make sure you respect local rules about taking photographs and videos inside places of worship. Some churches may ban photography altogether, while others allow photos without flash.
  • Opening times: Check the opening times of the churches and cathedrals you wish to visit, as they may vary from place to place. Some churches may be closed at certain times of day or on certain days of the week.

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