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The bakeries in Valletta of the Order of the Knights of St John

A model of the former Order’s bakeries in Valletta, in Heritage Malta’s reserve collection at the Inquisitor’s Palace, Vittoriosa.

A model of the former Order’s bakeries in Valletta, in Heritage Malta’s reserve collection at the Inquisitor’s Palace, Vittoriosa.

Apart from being the capital city of Malta, Valletta is a fortified city built by the Order of St John shortly after the Great Siege of 1565. In order to sustain its vast population, and to be self-supporting in a time or war or a siege, various amenities were required.

These necessities included bakeries, which occupied an entire block and were located opposite the Augustinian convent and church.

The main façade was in Strada San Giovani Battista, which the British later changed to Old Bakery Street, while the other sides were in Melita Street, St John Street and Strait Street at the rear.

Construction of the bakeries is attributed to the Order’s Capo Maestro Gerolamo Cassar, possibly in 1584 (Liber Bullarum, vol. 439, fol. 270), during the reign of Grand Master Hughes Loubeux de Verdalle, although it is believed that there were some smaller, earlier bakeries on the same site dating back to the 1570s.

Their façade was architecturally balanced, composed of a central bay with two sloped roofs and an equal section on either side, three storeys high.

The bakeries’ foundations in Strait Street. Photo: Denis DarmaninThe bakeries’ foundations in Strait Street. Photo: Denis Darmanin

Entrance was from two main doors in Old Bakery Street, although there were others in Strait Street leading to the first floor, owing to the discrepancy in the level of the terrain.

The bakeries remained in use until the middle of the 19th century, in particular to supply the British forces.

Following the building of the Naval Bakery at Vittoriosa in 1845 to the design of William Scamp, the bakeries in Valletta were first used as stores but later became derelict, so much so that part of their structure was considered dangerous.

It is reputed that the son of an English family who lived in the neighbourhood was playing with friends on one of the upper levels, when part of the building collapsed. He fell into the yard and died.

Sometime in the mid-1930s, architect Gustav Romeo Vincenti (1891-1960), who was a great exponent of Art Nouveau in Malta, purchased the entire site and demolished what had remained of the bakeries. In their place he erected a block of apartments, shops and offices that still bear his name today: Vincenti Buildings.

As part of the construction project of the new block, Vincenti em­bark­ed on widening Strait Street by setting back the building to nearly double the street’s former width.

In the mid-1930s, architect Gustav Romeo Vincenti purchased the site and demolished what had remained of the bakeries. In their place he erected a block of apartments, shops and offices that still bear his name today

Was he really setting a new building line or was it just to facilitate the flow of traffic and accommodate his property?

During road works in this part of Strait Street in 2010, an entire length of the former bakery’s foundations was uncovered.I was probably the first person to note this fact and to report it to the authorities (The Times, March 17, 2010).

Among the artefacts of the Heritage Malta reserve collection at the Inquisitor’s Palace, Vittoriosa, there is a model of the bakeries of the Order of St John in Valletta.

A 17th century map of Valletta. The red square marks the bakeries’ location.A 17th century map of Valletta. The red square marks the bakeries’ location.

The model is made of wood, possibly Red Deal, and very professionally executed as it is composed of a number of detachable parts, all in a lot of detail, which depict every section of the building, including all internal facades of the inner courtyards.

The model measures some two metres wide and one metre deep, and although the maker or makers are unknown, it is believed to have either originated at the former Admiralty’s dockyard, the Public Works Department or by students from the Faculty of Architecture.

The original idea behind the model is unknown as its condition and workmanship resembles others of the British era.

Was it a student’s project or possibly intended to be used for restoration works?

Maybe it was a model made to remember the bakeries after their demolition?

But whatever the aim, it has left us with a miniature likeness of the bakeries that once stood there and served for many years.

I wish to acknowledge the assistance by Saviour Grima, and of Kenneth Gambin, Pierre Cassar and Catherine Tabone from Heritage Malta.

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