St George’s Square Through the Centuries
History has been made time and again on Valletta’s largest square.
Since moving to the capital in 1944, Caffe Cordina has witnessed many of Malta’s historic moments on neighbouring St George’s Square.
Also known as Palace Square, or Misraħ il-Palazz in Maltese, St George’s Square is Valletta’s largest and most important open space. It is situated right in the city centre in front of the magnificent Grandmaster’s Palace – and is home to Caffe Cordina.
The square’s size and prominent position at the city’s heart have made it the venue of choice for a catalogue of the greatest events in Maltese history, from the time of the Knights of St John through both World Wars to today. It has hosted kings and prime ministers, soldiers and sailors, and brass bands and orchestras.
Here, we browse through top moments in the history of Malta’s most well-known square to relive these key events and celebrate our journey at Caffe Cordina alongside it.
Construction in the time of the Knights
St George’s Square was designed and developed by the Order of the Knights of St John around the 17th century. Even then, it was the central hub for the city of Valletta, which the Knights were still in the process of building.
The square was created to flank the spectacular Grandmaster’s Palace, which still stands there today. This beautiful baroque masterpiece originally served as the Knights’ headquarters and would go on to become the seat of government in Malta for centuries, as well as the official office of the nation’s President.
While the Grandmaster’s Palace overlooks the square on the south-eastern side (with Caffe Cordina to its left), three other baroque buildings also sit on St George’s Square.
On its south-western side is the palace formerly known as the Casa del Commun Tesoro, which the Knights built to be the house of the national treasury. The building would later become the Government Treasury and the British Packet Office, before being converted into the Grand Hotel by the late 1800s and then taken over by the social club Casino Maltese in 1914.
Meanwhile, the north-western side hosts the Main Guard Building, which the Knights built to house the Palace Guards, while the final side of the square is flanked by the Hostel de Verdelin.
Malta’s war years – and the arrival of Caffe Cordina
Fast forward a few centuries, and Malta had radically transformed since the time of the Knights. Yet, the nation’s capital had remained largely the same, with many of its baroque-era structures and architectural wonders still untouched – that is, until Malta became embroiled in the Second World War.
Having endured years of hardship and perpetual bombing that razed to the ground many of the island’s best-loved buildings, including Valletta’s Opera House, the people of Malta were rewarded for their extraordinary courage even as the war raged on around them.
The aptly named, but bomb-battered, St George’s Square was host for the momentous occasion when, on 13 September 1942, the George Cross was officially presented to the people of Malta in recognition of their ongoing resilience and bravery. King George VI penned an accompanying letter thanking the Maltese for their heroism, which would later be displayed on the square.
In 1944, just two years later, Cesare Cordina acquired the building on St George’s Square that would serve as home to Caffe Cordina from that day to this – and afforded it a front-row seat to the Victory Parade that passed through the square the following year marking the end of the war.
The Carnival epoque
Ever since the time of the Knights, when young dancers would wait under the Palace balcony for the Grandmaster’s go-ahead, St George’s Square has been synonymous with Malta’s Carnival.
The traditional Carnival celebrations held each February have evolved through the centuries. They reached their heyday around the 1950s and continue to today.
Yet, St George’s Square has always been at the heart of the event, welcoming the crowds to watch the procession of colourful Carnival floats as well as marching bands, children and youths in costumes and family-friendly performances by dance groups.
The modern era on St George’s Square
Over the decades, St George’s Square has taken on many different iterations from car park to concert venue. And Caffe Cordina has grown in parallel.
By the late 1960s, the Cordinas had adapted their products and services to the changing times, transforming the Caffe’s original business model by adding an underground level to create an in-house factory. This subterranean facility centralised operations and is still used today to create the Caffe’s unique range of cakes and treats.
Then, when Cesare Cordina passed away in 1986, John Cordina took over the business, continuing his father’s legacy by focusing on innovation and expanding the Cordina team from fewer than 50 to more than 130.
Following a similar transformation, in 2009 St George’s Square was unveiled as an open space for the enjoyment of Maltese people, families and tourists. Today, it remains a ‘people’s square’, hosting all-star international rock concerts and local musical performances, as well as art exhibitions, flower festivals and the monthly Changing of the Guard ceremony.
The square also often serves as the stunning backdrop for Valletta’s lavish New Year’s Eve celebrations, as another new year is welcomed in a location that has already witnessed centuries of history – and continues Caffe Cordina’s 180-year-long legacy.
For more information about Caffe Cordina’s history and our home on St George’s Square in Valletta, visit our Caffe page.