How did the aristocrats live in Malta?

The capital of Malta, Valletta, calls itself as “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen“. Among massive fortresses, stunning churches and amazing administrative offices, one can also find hidden places out from the public eye. There you have a chance to take a peak at the private life of these gentlemen and their families.

What does the life look like, when you take a step from the public sphere into the private? What was the daily life like for the wives of these gentlemen? How has the life of the Maltese aristocracy changed during centuries?

I had many questions on my mind, when I entered Casa Rocca Piccola, a family home built in 1580. For centuries, the place has belonged to de Piro’s noble family. At this time of its construction, the Grandmasters wanted to built a city so beautiful and prestigious that it would rival with Venice and Paris. Accordingly, the people wanted to build and decorate also their private homes to match with the beauty of Valletta. During the past 20 years, the Casa Rocca Piccola has been open to public, and with a 9-euro entrance fee, you are able to see, how the nobles used to live behind the closed doors. Guided tours take place at every hour, and you are not allowed to explore the building on your own.

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The tour starts at the garden, where a parrot greets us with funny sounds and postures. In the old maps, the Casa Rocca Piccola was referred as “the house with the garden”, since back in the old times, it was not allowed to have private gardens in Valletta. I can imagine, how the former residents must have enjoyed the cool shade under the trees during hot summer days. At least I did on that summer day in August! I could have stayed longer in the garden, but soon our guide came to start out tour around the house.

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During the tour we walked through different, beautifully decorated rooms. When we stepped in, we saw two large paintings on the wall portraying the invention of electricity and the development of agricultural machinery. Each and every room served a different purpose. There were a library, an archive room, a dining room, bedrooms, living rooms and balconies for noble ladies to spend their days by watching people passing by. Traditionally one of the sons in the family had to become a priest, so there was a private chapel also in the building.

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Every generation had added something into the house. The walls were covered with paintings of the former residents, and you could observe, how the fashion, the way to portrait people and the painting styles had changed during the decades. You could see black and white photographs next to brand new photos taken during the 2010’s. On the book shelfs, there were books from the 17th century almost next to modern paperbacks. Every generation had altered the house in one way or another. Some had done extensions to the house, others changed some of the rooms, some brought new furniture or added new collections of books, porcelain, stamps or whatever you could think of. I felt like every detail, artefact, painting, book or furniture had a hidden story to tell. Our knowledgeable guide told us several stories, but I felt that there was still a lot left to our imagination.

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We finished the tour by entering into the bunkers built at the time of the 2nd World War right underneat the garden. The former residents of the Casa Rocca Piccola, as well as some other people from Valletta, had been hiding there from the bombings. After the tour, we returned back to the garden, where the parrot was already amusing a new group. I left the building with many thoughts. During our 45-minute tour, we experienced hundreds of years of history, heard several stories and saw beautiful artefacts and paintings. My imagination was running wild.

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Casa Rocca Piccola was, and still is, a home for one family. It is also a stage, where you can find hints of what the daily life of the former nobels looked like. By visiting the building, you can get a glimpse of their routines, dreams, fears and pursuits. However, I believe that inside those walls, there are so much more history and human destinies, untold stories and hidden secrets waiting to be discovered. We were only given a quick peak of the life of the aristocracy, just enough to make us more curious for more. After Casa Rocca Piccola, I cannot wait to visit other palaces or nobel homes in Malta.

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