St Barbara Church
Malta is not lacking in churches, but some have a more fascinating backstory than others. St Barbara Church, located on the main Valletta thoroughfare, a few metres away from the Royal Opera House ruins, is one of them.
The church has one of the most fascinating architectural designs in Valletta, built in Baroque style and featuring traditional Maltese marble tiles and an oval dome centred over the altar at the end of a very long aisle. This church actually owes its look to a succession of artists – the original site was built in 1573 by order of the Knights of Provence, but completely rebuilt in the 18th century.
This is where things get interesting, as the exteriors of the building, which are extremely particular, were designed by Italian architect Romano Carapecchia. The building, in fact, shows the architect’s trademark baroque style, with the central pediment supporting a large gilded statue of Our Lady.
Carapecchia was very well-favoured by Grandmasters Ramona Perellos and Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, who both granted him numerous commissions during the Knights’ rule. He is responsible for bestowing upon Valletta the Baroque identity which the city is renowned for, and he signs his name to several other landmark churches and palazzi.
The church of St Barbara – a tale of two architects
Internally, St Barbara Church also follows the baroque style but is markedly different from the outside. The reason is that it was designed by Maltese architect Giuseppe Bonici, as Carapecchia passed away before the works could be finished.
The church remains functional to date, and every day services in English, French and German are held, making it very popular with the international communities. If you want a touch of local flavour, the 11AM service is held in Maltese and attracts many members of the original, elderly Valletta community, who are always happy to share an anecdote or two and will certainly make you feel welcome.
A fun fact that is not strictly related to St Barbara Church itself is the fact that the church is situated in a very prestigious part of Republic Street, surrounded by open air cafes and hangouts. It is also flanked by a rather convenient and comfortable staircase, which has led it to become an eagerly sought-after spot by buskers after the church closes its door for the day. If you pass by late afternoon or early evening you are likely to find a musician or some artist performing on the church steps, a rapt audience in front of them.