The Castellania Palace used to serve as both courthouse and prison during the time of the Knights, who rebuilt it on the site of an even earlier courthouse that dated back to 1572. The current building follows the baroque style and is the work of architects Francesco Zerafa and Giuseppe Bonnici.
The building itself, which is around the corner from St John’s co-Cathedral, dominates the middle section of Merchants Street with its elaborate facade and the marble centrepiece that makes it stand out from its neighbours.
Its history is also closely tied to Nelson’s Hook, which for a period of time was used to publicly humiliate convicts freshly found guilty at the courthouse.
The Castellania Palace – its use through history
The Castellania Palace has been put to wildly different uses throughout Maltese history. From the solemnity of a courthouse in the time of the Knights, in the mid-1800s it was turned into an officer’s mess for the Maltese militia. Eventually, it started being used as an exhibition centre in a project that failed, until the building was split into three parts with part of it used as a girl’s school, another part as a gas office and the third section as housing accommodation.
Other uses for the Castellania through the years included serving as headquarters for St John’s Ambulance and as premises for the Malta Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Eventually it was decided that the building should be given a more permanent use and, in 1895, it became the seat of the Chief Government Medical Officer, which later became the Public Health Department.
The building’s fate continued to be closely tied to health, with the source of Mediterranean Fever (brucellosis) being discovered by Sir Temi Zammit while conducting his research at the Castellania. The Public Health Department continued to be housed there until 1998.
Nowadays, the ground floor of the Castellania has been converted into shops, with the rest of the building mostly closed to the public except on special occasions like Notte Bianca.