Malta: The hospital of The Knights of St. John

The National Trust of Malta- Din l-Art Helwa

When I finally got around to thinking of this blog I read the theme: “The heritage of education” – and was trying to mentally go through the 17-18 odd sites that Din L-Art Helwa (The National Trust of Malta and an INTO member) manages and the 20 other sites and monuments – and could not immediately think of one that had a direct link to education. Then I looked up at a sign in the building I was about to enter– at the Mediterranean conference center – formerly the hospital of The Knights of St. John. The plaque reads in Maltese “The anatomy and surgery school was started in this building by Grand Master Cotoner 19th December 1676”. So, I decided to write this short blog on this building.

malta1The Knights of St. John, also known as the Knights Hospitallers or Knights of Malta were set up primarily to provide care for the sick. They came to Malta in 1530 after they had been driven out of Rhodes by Suleiman the Magnificent. Following the Great Siege of Malta (1565) which, though a decisive victory of the knights over the Ottomans saw them almost driven out of Malta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de La Valletta set the wheels in motion for the building of a fortified city. He laid the first stone in Our Lady of Victory Church in 1566 (Incidentally that same church is now being lovingly restored to its former glory by our organisation). Sadly he was not to see the city built as he died in 1568 and was buried in that same church and later moved to the magnificent St. John’s Co-Cathedral  (completed in 1577).

That city was called Valletta in his honour and became the capital city of our country. It was built on a hilly peninsula at the tip of which was Fort St. Elmo. This was land the Ottomans had used to attack the opposite side of Grand harbour, where the Knights were posted during the Great Siege.  The city was built with wide, straight streets, palaces and fortifications (some as high as 47m).

Getting back to our hospital, that hospital was built right there across from Fort St. Elmo at the lower end of Valletta. The first building was started in 1574 but the hospital was extended several times. The main ward was extended during the rule of the Cotoners (1660-66) to an amazing 155m in length – at the time “one of the grandest interiors in the world”. The hospital was also considered to be one of the best in Europe and could accommodate over 900 patients in an emergency.

malta2One of those same Grand Masters founded the School of Anatomy and Medicine in this building in 1676 which was the forerunner of the Medical School at the University of Malta. This same hospital was used by the British Military forces 1800-1920 and Sir David Bruce discovered the germ responsible for Brucellosis here. During World War about a third of the building was destroyed. Finally in 1979 it was reborn as a state of the art conference center which it remains today.  It is open to the public and right across from it one can visit the War Museum, The Malta Experience, and soon, Fort St. Elmo which is being restored. But in Valletta one can barely walk 50m without encountering a historical site, church or monument. The city still feels like the city of the knights in spite of all the offices and shops.

For more information on our organization, Valletta, Malta or this site please visit:


One thought on “Malta: The hospital of The Knights of St. John

  1. Pingback: Pâtisseries dans Valletta | ArchangelVoyage

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