Surrounded by rustic walls adorned with green ivy and climbing plants, San Anton Gardens in Attard is considered to be one of the most beautiful man-made locations in Malta.
The gardens are laid out in a formal manner, with graceful walkways, stone sculptures, ornamental ponds and fountains. It not only contains a large variety of trees and flowers from around the world, but also offers a spot for peace and contemplation – somewhere to sit and rest while enjoying nature in a stressful and chaotic world. Palm trees, cypresses, orange trees, lemon trees and apple trees, some of them centuries old, enrich the atmosphere, creating a spot of paradise. Myriads of colourful flowers run riot, especially in spring.
One section contains a small animal park containing donkeys, ponies, cranes, goats, emus, peacocks and other small animals. The ducks and swans frolicking in the ponds are particularly something to enjoy, especially by children. One could even perhaps spy the turtles hiding under the lily-pads. Full information about the different kinds of flora and fauna is given on posters and plaques nearby. Sit on a park-bench and enjoy the sunshine, stroll along between the plants towards the fountains adorned with ornamental urns, and don’t forget to admire the frisky goldfish before you head towards the small aviary to be found in the inner section of the garden.
The garden itself was built by Grand Master Antoine de Paule in the early 17th century. At the time, De Paule was still a knight of the Order of Saint John. When he later became Grand Master in 1623, he expanded the garden, as well as San Anton Palace, his summer residence.
The garden in fact, acts as a foil to the Palace, which was later used as residence by other subsequent Grand Masters. The French stayed there briefly during their two-year long occupation of Malta between 1798 and 1800, however these were ousted by the British who later installed their own Governors and Officials in the Palace, until Malta declared its independence. As of 1974, San Anton Palace has been the official residence of the President of Malta.
The largest parts of the gardens were opened to be enjoyed by the general public in 1882. In 1954, 1967, and 2005, when Queen Elizabeth II visited Malta, she stayed in San Anton Palace and used it as her temporary residence.
San Anton Palace boasts two small chapels, one dedicated to Our Lady of Pilar, built in the 18th century by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, and the Chapel of Saint Anthony, also known as the Russian Chapel, built in the 19th century.
A number of important yearly events are held at San Anton, including the Annual Horticultural Spring Show, the Citrus Fruit Festival, as well as a number of charity events hosted by different organisations and NGOs, such as the Community Chest Find and Din l-Art Ħelwa. San Anton Gardens also acts as a venue for a number of open-air theatre performances, as well as dance and musical shows during the warm summer months.
Fans of the popular fantasy T.V series ‘Game of Thrones’ will also recognise San Anton Gardens as it was used as the prime location for the filming of the gardens at King’s Landing in Westeros, during the first season of the show.
San Anton Gardens open daily from 7.00am till 6.00pm from June to September, and from 7.00am till 5.00pm from October to May. Entrance is free.