Ayr, Scotland, United Kingdom
April 7, 2005
Fighting off besieging Turks is harmful to health. With this in mind, after the Great Siege of 1565, the Knights of St John built formidable fortress walls to deter or defend against future attacks. Within these walls, prestigious palaces of artistic beauty arose in the carefully planned streets of the new city of Valletta. The Casa Rocca Piccola is such a home and is in an excellent state of preservation.
Knights and nobles have occupied Casa Rocca Piccola. The family of the present owner, the 9th Marquis de Piro and 9th Baron of Budach, has lived in it since 1918. He is an amiable person seemingly not put out by tourists wandering through his house. His home is a living relic of a past way of life, burdened with the pretensions and ambitions of a Maltese lineage. The palace houses various memorabilia - some are interesting for their aesthetic beauty, and others have historical value, while some pieces contribute to the overall setting and will drag you into a different era. Commanding the top landing are coats of arms, murals, and chandeliers dating back to the 18th century and the work of famous artists such as Ramiro Cali.
After climbing the marble staircase to the first-floor living area, we entered the eight main rooms. These include the family chapel, with a stunning portable chapel that folds neatly into a chest of drawers. The four-poster bedroom has a claim to fame, for one of the nine children born in the bed is now a candidate for sainthood. He was the founder of the Missionary Society of St Paul, which has flourished in Canada, Australia, Peru, and other parts of the world. The bedroom boasts a bobblin lace bedcover, which took more than 2 years to finish. It also contains Venetian blown glass, a 16th century wood chest and a golden sedan chair made for the Knight of Malta Fra' Victor Nicolas de Vachon Belmont. He was Captain General of the Galleys between October 1764 and January 1766.
The Green Room contains outstanding pieces of Maltese furniture, such as the superb marquetry bureau-bookcase made in 1640. The library, the Prophyry Room, has its original 400-year-old soffit, and the Blue Room, boasting works of Annigoni, the Rathmells, and Caruan Dingli. The dining room, laid out with silver and china and Maltese lace, has tablemats embroidered with the family coat of arms.
Malta has a scarcity of water, and it was a condition when building these houses that they had to have a reservoir for storing rainwater draining from the roof. Limestone underlying the house made quarrying these tanks easy. The water containers for this house provided shelters from the air-raid shelters during the Second World War. One was available to the public and another reserved for the family. There being now open to visitors we were also able to view. The rock under Valetta is honeycombed with air-raid shelters. These saved many lives.
From journal Malta: History's Isle