Next Saturday and Sunday, Heritage Malta will be giving the public the opportunity to visit the Main Guard in Valletta, where restoration and conservation works are currently ongoing, including a new lease of life for hundreds of small paintings on the walls. Admission during this open weekend will be free of charge.
The Main Guard was probably built towards the beginning of the 17th century by Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt to serve as quarters for the guards of the Grand Master’s palace, just across the square. This function was retained for more than 350 years, until the early 1970s.
During British rule, hundreds of pictures were painted on the Main Guard walls, mostly in the Officers’ Mess, where the guards ate and rested in between shifts. Painting was one of these soldiers’ pastimes, and in fact there are over 300 pictures, some of which were recently discovered during conservation and restoration works.
At a press conference, Heritage Malta’s Chairman, Anthony Scicluna, outlined Malta’s rich history, in which the Main Guard played an important role. He urged the public to make the most of the opportunity presented by this Open Weekend in order to gain a wider perspective of the function of this building through the years.
Heritage Malta’s Chief Executive Officer, Noel Zammit, said that the agency’s ultimate aim is that works at the Main Guard continue at the same pace as the extensive Grandmaster’s Palace project. Once works are completed, the Palace will be enjoyed in all its splendour while the Main Guard will serve as an interpretation centre for all Heritage Malta sites in the capital city and beyond. The regeneration of the Main Guard fits perfectly within the framework of Heritage Malta’s strategic vision for Valletta. This strategy, together with others designed for areas such as Cottonera, ensures the implementation of projects which further consolidate Heritage Malta’s commitment towards a visitor-centric, holistic and multisensory experience in its museums and sites.
Architect Katya Maniscalco, Projects Manager within Heritage Malta, gave an update on ongoing works from a structural perspective. She said that the plan is to have the first floor focusing mainly on the wall paintings, aided by digital projections which will make them come to life for visitors to enjoy. The ground floor, on the other hand, will have diverse functions, acting as a focal point for the Heritage Malta’s attractions in Valletta and the rest of Malta, providing a contextual interpretation of the history and function of the building, as well as providing the infrastructure for digital art installations during extended hours.
Anthony Spagnol, Senior Conservator at Heritage Malta, explained the process involved in the conservation and restoration of the paintings. He said that work on the Officers’ Mess paintings has now been completed and the focus has shifted to other paintings in the surrounding rooms. These depict skeletons, demons and other gruesome creatures, in contrast to those in the Officers’ Mess which document daily life. The reason for this repeated representation of death is still a mystery, although death is a theme often and inevitably contemplated by soldiers.
The Main Guard open weekend is being held on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th October. Opening times on Saturday will be from 11:00am until 10:00pm while opening times on Sunday will be from 10:00am until 4:00pm. On both days there will be a lecture by military expert Denis Darmanin, allowing time for questions by participants. Saturday’s lecture starts at 6:00pm while the one on Sunday is at 11:00am. Admission to the lectures is free of charge, but reservation is required either at any Heritage Malta museums or site, or by sending an email on email@example.com. Places are limited.
All those attending this open weekend must wear a face mask and respect social distancing measures.