The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

A historic house of treasures

Wednesday, 21 March 2018, 12:35 Last update: about 9 months ago

Casa Rocca Piccola, over 400 years old and filled with amazing treasures is one of Valletta's Baroque buildings with a difference.

In 1580, an Italian admiral of the Order of the Knights of St John, one Don Pietro La Rocca, had a palazzo built which was known as La Casa Con Giardino because it had a garden and at that time houses in Valletta were not allowed gardens. Casa Rocca Piccola is part of that palace. And today the changes it has undergone over the centuries and it amazing collections and treasures make it unique.

Here can be found the largest private collection of antique costumes, both formal and informal wear from the 18th to the 20th century, in Malta and the largest private collection of Maltese lace.

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The Archive Room


Silver, art, books and furniture of equal importance fill the exquisitely decorated rooms, among them dining rooms, bedrooms, libraries, kitchens, the family archive room and the family air raid shelter. As only the second such shelter to be dug in Malta it served its purpose well during World War II.

And it is these vastly different rooms which are the key to what make this house different. Aside from housing its incredible history and contents Casa Rocca Picolla has been a family home for generations and the family has made it a point to preserve its heritage and share its beauty in every way possible.

Part of the air raid shelters 


Its archives have been used for research projects at the University of Malta and the University of Oxford. Collections, including magnificent pieces of Maltese furniture and artefacts, are on display. Books have been written, exhibitions staged and competitions held to illustrate the place this unique Valletta home holds, not only in the city's development and social history but that of the whole country. It is truly a precious 'custodian of culture' in our capital.

 


And a family home

We spoke asked Clement DePiro how he values living in a house of such importance.

 

How would you describe having a family home that is also such an important part of Valletta's cultural heritage?

A real privilege!

 

Can you share one or two of the outstanding events and experiences in which Casa Rocca Piccolahas played a part over the years?

We get a great mix of celebrities coming to see us which is always exciting. A couple of years ago we hosted a dinner for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas and a couple of months later we had Meghan Markle here who insisted on trying on a faldetta. Did you know she's got Maltese blood?

 

Wonderful collections, going back centuries, can be seen all over the house; but have more recent pieces been obtained which refer to the heritage of the house and its future as well?

We are always adding to our collection.Recently we acquired a Favray portrait of a German Knight of Malta that's on show nowand we are always looking for items that are relevant to the house, to the de Piro family and anything that we think would interest our visitors.

Portraits fill a small sitting room


What restoration has taken place to show how the house has adapted to the challenges it faced throughout its history?

We are restoring the ceiling frescoes of the back entrance of the house that will provide access to some rooms so that tourists will be able to stay in part of the property. We have a lift for disabled access now and will soon have an audio tour so that visitors can see the house without a guide. Museums are now very competitive and visitors have higher expectations so you have to adapt.

We also have been working with the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in partnership with the FondazzjoniPatrimonjuMalti who are digitizing our extensive private family archive that has a wealth of information about how we lived in the 17th and 18th centuries.  We have found references to a member of the famous musical Scarlatti family and plenty of evidence of the entrepreneurship of the Maltese. When the archive is fully available online it will give a new angle to the study of Maltese history and could contain a few surprises!

 

The Sala Grande


How do you see the loved family home you have maintaining its relevance as an example of Valletta and even Europe's social and cultural history?

I think what makes Casa Rocca Piccola relevant as part of Malta's history is that there is something that all Maltese people can identify with here. You can see for example the French influence on Maltese portraits, the Italian baroque influence on our furniture and architecture, the British influence on the 19th Century portraits and the underground WW2 shelters give you a taste of more recent Maltese history. We are committed to doing our part for education and that is why we allow Maltese school children to visit the house for free with their teachers.

The Family Chapel


Television serials and media sites today encourage the public to look for more and more detail and actual 'experiences' from historic houses. How are you ensuringvisitors to Casa Rocca Piccola will enjoy a realistic and lasting impression of its uniqueness?

It was a great experience having StradaStretta (Malta's answer to Downton Abbey!) filmed here and it is true that the public are demanding a higher standard of reality and authenticity from TV and media and from visitor sites. We are very fortunate that we don't need to try too hard to create an experience because it is to a certain extent exactly as it has always been. This house feels the same as it was when my grandparents lived here and probably when their grandparents lived in Valletta too!


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