The space opposite the Grandmaster’s Palace is officially called St George’s Square, but you will find that locals tend to refer to it as the Main Guard. This is due to the presence of a plain and simple building that ‘hides’ on the back of the square, a building that is considered one of the strongest symbols of British rule in Malta.
The Main Guard, flanked by the Fontana dell’Aquila, actually predates the British period and was originally built by the Knights in 1603. Called the Reggimento della Guardia, the building’s purpose was a military one from day one and was used to house the personal guards of the grandmaster at the time.
In 1814, Governor Thomas Maitland decided to extend it, adding a neo-classical portico in the Greek Revival style. At the time, this style of architecture was very uncommon in Malta and the Main Guard is one of the first buildings designed in this style.
The Main Guard – modern day use
Once the British left Malta the building was turned into a Libyan Cultural Centre, resulting in the hiding of the British coat of arms that had been sculpted by Vincenzo Dimech. Much to the dismay of the many remaining British supporters on the island, the coat of arms was covered by means of a wooden box which bore an Arabic inscription. However, with the 1987 change in government, the original coat of arms was uncovered and the Libyan Cultural Centre moved elsewhere.
For a time, the building was converted for use by the Attorney General’s office, whose main headquarters were in the Grand Master’s palace opposite. In 2009 the regeneration of St George’s Square started, and with it the Main Guard was given the attention it deserves, with the building being handed over to the stewardship of Heritage Malta. Restoration works on site are ongoing, and there are plans for the location to be transformed into an interpretation centre for all Heritage Malta sites.