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Other people’s homes – Casa Rocca Piccola, Valleta, Malta

Yes, I raised my hands. I have admitted it. I have an insatiable appetite for searching other people’s homes.

No. I am not a “peeper”. When I looked up the definition of “Peeping Tom” in my dictionary and concise Collins thesaurus, I was told that Peeping Tom is a man who sneakily watches women undress. It’s definitely not me. But yes, I confess that I peek to the side when I go for a walk to see how much I can see through any window that is not covered with mosquito nets. I prefer to think that I am curious, that I have a natural curiosity to discover what puts the soul in a home … what inspires people and what treasures (or sometimes not) are hidden behind the front door.

Fortunately I can legitimately satisfy my curiosity, because there are so many beautiful houses and gardens open to the public to visit both in this country and abroad.

On a recent summer trip to Gozo with my husband, we decided to take the ferry back to Malta and drive to Valletta. There I found the Casa Rocca Piccola, at 74 Republic Street, the 16th century home of a Maltese nobleman. It is now the home of the 9th Marqués de Piro and his family. Frances, the Marchioness is English and she is the one who greets you when you walk through the front door. The history of Casa Rocca Piccola dates back more than 400 years, to a time when the Knights of St. John, having successfully fought the Turkish invaders in 1565, decided to build a prestigious city to rival the European capitals. The house is named after the first owner, Don Pietro La Rocca, Admiral of the Order of Saint John in the Langue of Italy. In later years, it was leased to a succession of aristocratic Italian knights and sold to a Maltese nobleman in the second half of the 18th century.

Casa Rocca Piccola is not a museum: it is, in a sense, more than that. It is a living relic of a past life form loaded with the claims and aspirations of the Maltese lineage. There are numerous memorabilia that can be viewed, not only for their artistic merit, but also because they bring reality to the scene as a whole.

Climbing the ornate marble staircase you will see, dominating the upper landing, a coat of arms of Piro carved in wood. This was the last work of the Maltese artist Edward Pirotta. Above is an enormously intricate chandelier from Bohemia. The first room that you will visit on your tour is the Chapel in which the walls are painted to simulate damask. There are two crosses on the altar: an ivory crucifix granted a 200-day indulgence by Cardinal Godfrey in 1960. The second cross houses a particle of the True Cross behind a small red curtain. Its authenticity is confirmed by no less than seven Vatican stamps on the reverse. As was the case with most European noble families, it was customary for the youngest son to become a priest and for that particular reason, many patrician families were privileged to have a chapel in the house. The marquis’s grandfather represented George VI and his medals are kept here along with an exquisite pair of shoes known as papal buskins and a pair of silver filigree earrings, a gift from the Bishop of Gozo to Nicolina de Piro after her husband donate land to build the famous Ta’Pinu church in Gozo.

Next to the Green Room where the walls are really green! Here is a magnificent marquetry bookstore that particularly caught my eye. Made around 1640 during the reign of the French Provençal Grand Master Lascaris, it carries his arms at the door. The panels are embedded inside and out. A fascinating work of art. They told me that the veneer was a mixture of olive and orange wood. There are many portraits hanging on the walls and a photograph of the 8th Baron and Baroness who attended Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 is proudly displayed. Moving on to the Canopy Room, the only room in the house that is not in use , The Bed is a masterpiece that is reputed to be the great-grandmother Orsola’s double bed. Married in 1867, she had 9 children: 7 boys and 2 girls. They all survived childhood, so the bed is considered lucky.

The next room is the Sala Porfirio, so named because the walls were once painted to imitate porphyry marble; then the Blue Room or the small room with modern paintings collected by the family. Among them works by Annigoni, The Rathmells, Rowley-Smart and Durer. The style of the Dining Room that once had an open terrace overlooking the small garden contrasts with the rest of the house and is considered “crazy”. Built by the grandfather of the current family in 1918, its white pillars and its luminous appearance undoubtedly make it very different from the rest of the house. It gives the impression of being a greenhouse due to its lightness and spaciousness. The last room is the carriage room that was once a stable for a mule but, coming back, maybe my favorite room is the library. Here I found what can only be described as the most outstanding piece of furniture imaginable. A portable chapel. When closed it appears to everyone like a large black lacquered desk, yet it opens to become a fully functioning chapel with its own tabernacle, relics and the Stations of the Cross. It is richly decorated with images of exotic birds and flora and panels depicting Saint Francis Zavier in Japan and Goa. The idea was that you could have a Chapel in any room in your house and then close it to make it look like a secular piece of furniture. An absolutely stunning piece.

One of the treasures of the house that I must not forget to mention is a gilded sedan chair made for the Knight of Malta, Fra Victor Nicolas de Vachon Belmont, reputed as a romantic figure who led his men personally, oh, and finally ” April “the family tortoise found in the little garden. Interestingly, Casa Rocca Piccola was one of the few houses in the time of the knights that was allowed a garden. It was a great privilege for its owners as water was scarce and gardens were technically off limits.

So if you ever find yourself strolling down Republic Street in Valletta, Casa Rocca Piccola gives you a unique opportunity to see the inside of one of Valletta’s last unconverted private palaces that is still lived in today. . It comes highly recommended for anyone like me, with a curiosity and an inquisitive appetite to see inside other people’s houses.

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