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THE PALACE Grand Master Antoine de Paule (1623 -1636) was over 70 years of age when he was elected to the supreme rank of the Order. Soon after his election, he utilised the site of his small villa, near the hamlet of Balzan, to build a Summer Palace. He laid out an extensive garden with numerous fruit and ornamental trees; and he named his new domain San Anton, to perpetuate his own name.

De Paule was always a pleasure-loving man and he entertained at leisure at San Anton. At one time he even clashed with the Inquisitor, Fabio Chigi, later Pope Alexander VII, who considered the Grand Master a self-indulgent and dissolute old man.

Grand Masters de Vilhena and de Rohan enlarged the Palace, and the former built the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pilar. At a later time, British Governors built the arcaded verandah beneath the turret, and made San Anton their private home. The palace has several spacious halls decorated with paintings and objects of fine art. San Anton Palace today is the residence of the President of Malta.

In 1798, when the Maltese revolted against the French regime, the Palace was the meeting place for the local insurgents. Later, Sir Alexander Ball, who commanded the allied troops, made it his Headquarters. After the surrender of the French, the treaty of capitulation was signed in the Palace.

SAN ANTON GARDENS, the largest and loveliest garden area in Malta, lies on the confines of the Three Villages - Attard, Lija and Balzan. The garden we know today was opened to the public in 1882.

The President's private garden extends towards Lija at the back and sides of the Palace.

Palms, cypress, jacarandas, araucarias and other exotic plants, some of them over three centuries old, adom the garden, together with graceful fountains, pools, statues and colourful flower-beds.

Enclosed sections are reserved for orange and other citrus trees. Bougainvillas bloom profusely on the wall of an elevated terrace beneath the Palace front.

In addition there are glasshouses with indoor plants and an aviary. A small enclosure, with a few camels and desert animals, is a major attraction for children and parents alike.

Nowadays, the Garden is the venue of the Annual Horticultural Show and of frequent other exhibitions. During summer, the spacious centrai court becomes an open-air theatre for drama and for musical performances.

Text courtesy of the National Tourism Organisation - Malta.