If you were a brand new Knight of St John, fresh from Aragon, Catalonia, or Navarre and just arrived in Malta, you would have found a place to stay at the Auberge d’Aragon. There were eight of these ‘great inns’, and the Auberge d’Aragon is the oldest surviving one.
While some might consider it plain, the auberge is an excellent example of Mannerist architecture, exuding solidity, and a quiet austerity. Designed by the Order’s resident engineer, Girolamo Cassar, the Auberge d’Aragon is also the only auberge that retains its original characteristics, since most of the others received extensive face-lifts during the 17th century.
The Auberge d’Aragon under the British
There’s little to be said about the Auberge d’Aragon during the French occupation. During the long period of British colonial rule, the building changed hands a few times before it was leased to the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in 1842. The character of the building was left intact, with only a few minor alterations, the biggest of which was the addition of a Doric portico covering the building’s main entrance, as well as a name change to ‘Gibraltar House.’
In the early 20th century the auberge was very briefly used as a school before it was taken over by then Prime Minister, Ugo Pasquale Mifsud. It continued to be used as the Office of the Prime Minister with a bit of a break for constitutional uncertainty followed by a short war, when it was turned into a hospital for the families of British servicemen.
After the war, and with the return of home rule, the Auberge d’Aragon was once again Office of the Prime Minister, and when the islands were granted their sovereignty, the documents marking Malta’s independence were drafted here.
The Auberge d’Aragon today
Today, the auberge is a government office housing the Ministry for European Affairs and Equality. If you pay the building a visit, be sure to check out St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral across the square, and the Carmelite Church, just around the corner.
In 2019, a large subterranean area was discovered beneath the building. Originally thought to have been a stable, it was believed to have been converted into a bakery in the 18 century, and then covered over during the British period. Rediscovered during remodelling works, it was decided this important piece of Valletta’s heritage should remain open to the public.