Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, the demand for operas, pageants, theatrical and dramatic productions boomed as the Maltese embraced what had previously been entertainment reserved solely for the Nobility. Shows put on by amateurs and theatre professionals were then housed at the Knight’s Auberges around the city or in the open.
In 1731, António Manoel de Vilhena, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, commissioned and personally funded the construction of this central building to serve as a Public Theatre.It was constructed in just ten months and cost 2,184 scudi. The Portuguese Grand Master built the theatre to keep the young knights of the Order of St. John out of mischief but also to provide the general public with "honest entertainment." This motto was inscribed above the main entrance to the theatre, which still reads today: "ad honestam populi oblectationem". The first performance on the 19th January 1732 , was a classic Italian tragedy, Scipione Maffei’s Merope. The players in that production were the Knights themselves, and the set was designed by the Knights` chief architect, Francois Mondion.
The management of the theatre and the censorship of the performances was in the hands of a knight who was called “Il Protettore”.
In those days, opera performed by professionals was performed at least as often as drama. Works by the great master of "opera seria" Johann Adolf Hasse were often performed during the theatre’s early decades, but just as popular throughout the century was the rival "opera buffa" by leading composers like Nicolo` Piccinni, Baldassare Galuppi and Domenico Cimarosa.
The continuous theatrical exchange between Naples, Palermo and Valletta made Teatru Manoel a natural stepping stone for aspiring artists `to step up the ladder leading to La Scala or Covent Garden`.
All Souls Church
This church was built in 1569 by the Greek Catholics as their Byzantine Rite parish church. In 1639 the Parish Priest, Papas Giovanni Metaxi, without prejudice to the parochial rights, conceded its use to the Sodality of the Holy Souls which re-built the church. In fact the church is commonly known by this name nowadays.
The church suffered considerable bombing damage during WWII and was repaired by 1951. Nowadays it is also used by the Serbian Orthodox congregation.
St. John's Co-Cathedral
Dedicated to the Patron Saint of the Order of the Knights of St.John, their church was given Co-Cathedral status with the Mdina Cathedral in 1882. Before it was built, the knights' Conventual church was located at Birgu. Building started in 1573 under Grand Master La Cassiere who paid for the initial cost. The architect was Gerolamo Cassar. It was solemnly blessed by Bishop Ludovik de Torres in 1578.
The church was administered by a chapter of 'cappellani maggiori' all of whom were ordained members of the Order of St.John. The church has a central nave with chapels on each of two aisles, each chapel corresponding to a Langue of the Order, namely: Auvergne, Aragon, Castile, Leon & Portugal, Anglo-Bavarian Langue, Provence, France, Italy, Germany and the Chapel of Our Lady of Philermos.
The floor consists of 400 ornate marble gravestones over the graves of the knights who died in Malta. In the crypt lie the remains of several grandmasters in ornate graves. In the courtyard on one side of the church lies a mass grave of the knights who died during the Great Seige.
The Jesuits' Church
This Jesuit church was built on architect Francesco Bonamici's plan. It is the church of the old University of Malta and is incorporated in the University building. It occupies nearly half the building and was built between 1592 and 1600. The entrance is a magnificent Baroque design.
When the Jesuits were expelled from the island in 1768, the college was constituted as a University. Work continued throughout the 17th century but the 2 storey early baroque facade of the church still looks incomplete. It contains a disproportionately large number of spiral columns in its three aisle plan. The titular picture is Mattia Preti's 'Liberation of St.Peter'.
The President's Palace
The Grandmasters’ Palace stands in the very heart of Valletta and besides being the Office of The President, the Palace also serves as the House of Representatives and also hosts The Armoury which reflects the past glories of the Order. The first structure on this site was built during the reign of Grandmaster Jean de La Cassiere (1572-1581) in order to serve as the Grandmaster's Palace. Subsequent Grandmasters enlarged and embellished the original structure until it took its present shape during the mid-18th century.
Following the French occupation between 1798 and 1800 The Palace was taken over by the British administration, thereby serving as the Palace of the Governor. It also saw Malta's constitutional development as it was the seat of Malta's first Constitutional Parliament in 1921 and, following Independence in 1964, the seat of Parliament and also of the Head of State.
The Throne Room, originally known as the Supreme Council Hall or Sala del Maggior Consiglio, was used by successive Grandmasters to host ambassadors and high ranking dignitaries visiting the island and is now used for state functions held by the President of Malta. The cycle of wall paintings decorating the upper part of the hall represent salient episodes of the 1565 Great Siege of Malta and are the work of the Rome-trained painter Matteo Perez d’Aleccio (1547-1616). Of particular interest is the original coffered ceiling and the late 18th century - style chandeliers.