Top Malta Attractions from the Knights of St. John Period

St. John’s Co-Cathedral and Museum

One of the most visited Malta attractions is St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta. This impressive rich cathedral was built by the Knights of St John between 1573 and 1578.

malta attractions st john's co cathedral

It was commissioned by Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere.

In the old days, the cathedral used to be the most important church of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John, also known as the Knights of Malta.

It is believed that at one point, the cathedral served as a "showcase" to prove that the Catholic church was still strong and powerful. This was mainly during those times when the Catholic faith was being persecuted and in the eyes of the common people worldwide, the church was starting to get a bit too weak and disorientated.

To this regard, the Knights of Malta took it upon themselves to create a massive cathedral wherein all sorts of riches were put on display for all to see - signifiying the church's power and prosperity.

Each Grandmaster in fact, added even more statues, coats of arms and countless silver and gold decorations than the Grandmaster that reigned before him!

Designed by the famous Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar, it’s mostly the cathedral’s interior which attracts thousands of visitors each year.

The interior of the cathedral was mostly decorated by Mattia Preti, an Italian artist and knight.

Mattia Preti offered to paint the cathedral's ceilings for free. Although he did ask that he be given something in return. He in fact asked that he be made a knight. And so following his extensive work in the cathedral, Mattia Preti was made a knight.

Originally the ceiling was painted dark blue with stars as was customary during those times. In fact, the Vatican's Sistine Chapel was painted in this way too, before Michelangelo painted it!

St. John’s Co-Cathedral has 8 chapels. In one of the chapels, namely the one dedicated to St. George, you can see an impressive painting made by Mattia Preti. This painting is considered to be one of his masterpieces.

Another highlight of the church, is the collection of marble tombstones in the nave. There are more than 300 tombstones in the cathedral! It was here that important knights used to be buried. Richly decorated, each tombstone has images and stories relating to the knight’s life.

Although today you can see countless decorations and riches in the cathedral, during Napoleon's short "stay" in Malta, he ransacked and stole practically everything that he could lay his hands on in the cathedral!

So most of the decorations that you see now, have been created and added again after Napoleon left the Maltese Islands!

During World War II, the cathedral "escaped" unscathed, except for that one incident, when a bomb struck near the entrance. It is said that the bomb blast was so strong, that the front door ended up on the cathedral's central altar!

Top Malta Attractions: The Caravaggio!

Another reason why so many people visit the cathedral is the famous painting by Caravaggio which depicts The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

malta attractions caravaggio

The painting is found in the oratory and was painted in 1608.

This true artistic gem is considered to be one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces and is the only one which he ever signed! Art critics say that this painting shows the artist’s chiaroscuro style at its best.

This impressive painting is one of the top Malta attractions and as soon as you see it, you will understand why.

In the oratory, you can also see another painting by the turbulent Italian artist Caravaggio, namely St Jerome.

The museum next to the Cathedral, hosts an impressive amount of art objects, ranging from tapestries to paintings of Grandmasters and sacred art.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral and Museum

Location: Republic Street, Valletta.

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday from: 9.30am to: 4.30pm and Saturday from: 9.30am to: 12.30pm. The cathedral and museum are closed on Sundays, Public Holidays and during services.

Telephone: 21 220536

Entrance fee: Euro 6.00. The entrance fee includes an audio guide which is available in 6 languages (Maltese, English, Italian, French, German and Spanish).


You may also be interested in the following Malta attractions

  • The Most Visited Attractions in Malta - Learn more about Malta's most popular attractions and decide which ones you'd like to visit.
  • The Blue Grotto - Be sure not to forget your camera when you visit Malta's most photogenic cave!
  • Ghar Dalam - Discover where prehistoric people used to live and wonder in awe at this fascinating cave in the south of Malta.

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