Palazzo Parisio – A Historic Overview
Built in the early 18th century by Bishop Sceberras on the site of two former houses in Merchants Street, then known as Strada San Giacomo, Palazzo Parisio consists of three elements, each two storeys high, enclosing a central courtyard. A new third storey was added after the First World War.
By the late 18th century the property became the town house of Chavalier Paolo Parisio Muscati, a Neapolitan Maltese nobleman who had married Donna Anna Muscati, grand-daughter of Donna Maria Sceberras, mother of Bishop Sceberras. Paolo Parisio played an influential role during the latter years of the Order of St. John’s rule in Malta. It was during this period that the site acquired its lasting epithet of Palazzo Parisio.
On 13th June 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte landed in Malta and took residence at the Palazzo. During his seven eventful days’ stay at the Palazzo, prior to embarking for his Egyptian campaign, Napoleon dictated the transformation of Malta’s ancient legal and administrative structures in the Republican ‘Code Napoleon’. Less than three months, later these imposed, deep rooted and abrupt changes instigated the insurrection of the Maltese against the French.
With French forces blockaded inside Valletta, Chevalier Parisio left the city to join the Maltese peasant army at the head of the Naxxar battalion. Following the establishment of British rule (1800) Paolo Parisio resumed his involvement in his country’s affairs and was held in high esteem by the local British authorities. Visiting British military officers, including Generals Abercrombie and Graham, took up temporary residence at his Palazzo and he was one of the first Maltese to be honoured with the Order of St. Micheal and St. George.
An interesting phase in the Palazzo’s history relates to the period preceding the Italian unification, when leading intellectual and artistic personalities of the early ‘Risorgimento’ became forced exiles in Malta. While in Malta, they found a natural affinity not only with those of a kindred spirit who had been agitating for local self-government, but also with the local intelligentsia; gradually infusing a fresh expression in local art and literature, is known to have befriended such a milieu and used his residence to hold cultural activities of note. One such event was held in the evening of 12th August 1821 when Gabriele Rossetti, an acknowledged poet of the Italian Risorgimento, composed and read a poem about Malta under the title ‘San Paolo che naufraga in Malta e se ne dichiara il protettore’.
Following Paolo’s death and lavish state funeral, the property passed to the de Piro family and by 1886, the Palazzo was in a sorry state and co-owned by close to one hundred individuals. The newly appointed Postmaster General, Sir Ferdinand Inglott, who at the time was searching for a new site for the postal operations, persuaded the owners first to lease and then sell the property to the Government. Fully restored and refurbished, Palazzo Parisio formally opened its doors to the public on the 8th of May 1886, as Malta’s new General Post Office. The top storey of Palazzo Parisio was completed after the first World War to house the Audit Office. During the Second World War, the Valletta palace was partly destroyed through enemy action, and in the repairs that followed, the exterior was left unaltered, though it was not possible to restore the decorations on the walls and ceilings. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs moved from the "Old Chancellery", Palace Square, to Palazzo Parisio in October 1973.