Malta is an island nation located in the Mediterranean Sea. Considered part of Southern Europe and located 80 km south of Italy, Malta is an archipelago that has a total area of 316 km2 and an estimated population of 493,559. The country is governed as a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic, and the President serves as head of state while the Prime Minister serves as head of government. The official office of the president is the Grandmaster's Palace, which is located in Valletta, the capital of Malta, and the official residence is San Anton Palace, located in the town of Attard.
History of San Anton Palace
San Anton Palace was constructed at the beginning of the 17th century as a private residence for Antoine de Paule, who was a knight of the Order of St. John. de Paule obtained the land in 1600 and soon built a country villa, and later expanded the building and enlarged its gardens after being elected as Malta's 13th Grand Master in 1623. The palace was named after St. Anthony of Padua, who was de Paule's patron saint, and was built with several rooms to accommodate a large number of guests and staff, which included wig makers, pantry boys, physicians, torch-bearers, food tasters, a clock winder, and cooks. Following de Paule's death in 1636, the palace served as the residence of subsequent Grand Masters, and was renovated several times over the years, which changed the building's configuration from a T-shape to a Latin Cross. Between 1798 and 1800, during the revolt of the Siege of Valletta, the palace served as headquarters of the rebel National Assembly, and later served as the residence of Malta's Governors, Civil Commissioners and Governors-General. During the period of British rule, certain modifications were made to the structure of the palace, such as reducing the tower’s height after it was struck by lightning in 1819. In 1974, the palace was designated as the President's official residence.
San Anton Palace contains two chapels that are dedicated to Our Lady of Pilar and St. Anthony. The Chapel of Our Lady of Pilar was constructed in the 18th century by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena. St. Anthony's Chapel, which is also referred to as the Russian Chapel, was a Protestant chapel constructed in the 19th century, and was later was converted into a Russian Orthodox Church for Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, who was the wife of Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The chapel was later converted again, this time to a Catholic Church, and was restored in 2013.
One of the main attractions of San Anton Palace is the gardens that feature numerous sculptures, garden paths, an aviary, and ornamental ponds. The gardens contain a wide variety of flowers and trees from different parts of the world, including araucarias, jacarandas, cypress, and palm trees. It was a common tradition for heads of state visiting Malta to plant and tree in the garden to commemorate their visit, and some of the trees in the gardens are now three centuries old.