The Duke of Cambridge arrived in Malta on Saturday to represent Her Majesty, The Queen as part of celebrations to mark 50 years since the country gained independence from the United Kingdom on the 21 September 1964.
Arriving at approximately 15:00, local time, William made his first visit to the San Anton Palace, the residence of the Maltese President, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca. As tradition dictates for visiting Head of States, William planted a tree within the Palace gardens, which themselves have been open to the public since 1882. The Palace also played host to The Queen and Prince Philip in 2005, when they visited the country as part of their 60th wedding anniversary celebrations.
Upon leaving the Palace, the Duke travelled to the Auberge de Castille, which was originally built in the 16th century. Here, he met with the Maltese Prime Minister, The Hon. Dr Joseph Muscat and his wife before moving to the Guardia Pageant in the Palace Square, Valetta to view a re-enactment of an historical event. Amongst a variety of military drills, the Grand Bailiff of the Order of the Knights of St John will inspect the fort and garrison.
William’s engagements were reminiscent of The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s previous visit, when they both met with the President and also took lunch with the Prime Minister at the Auberge de Castille. The Queen also inspected an honour guard in St George’s Square shortly after her arrival in November 2005. The purpose of that visit was to open the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) which took place at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valetta.
After his viewing of the re-enactment in the Palace Square, the Duke of Cambridge moved to the National Library to view a number of historical documents. Amongst these were letters from King Henry VIII & King George II and the original citation awarding Malta the George Cross.
On his walkabout, William was greeted by large crowds outside the Library, the majority of which were smiling and happy to see him. He apologised on behalf of his wife, saying “Sorry Catherine can’t be here. She’s doing so-so.”
Catherine, who is currently pregnant with the couple’s second child, is still suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum. The visit was originally intended to be her first foreign solo visit but the last-minute change was made last week on the advice of the Duchess’s doctors.
William’s final engagement for the day took place at the Upper Barrakka Gardens and culminated in an evening celebration of Independence, including a large fireworks display and a spectacular view of the Grand Harbour, Valletta. Speaking at the event, William thanked the country for his welcome and read a message from The Queen:
“Your Excellency President of Malta, Honourable Prime Minister, Honourable Ministers and Parliamentarians, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen – thank you so much for such a warm welcome on the occasion of Malta’s fiftieth anniversary of independence.
While I know that you were not expecting me until a few days ago, I must admit that I feel honoured to be able to represent Her Majesty in a country so beloved by her.
Catherine has asked me to say how very sorry she is that she couldn’t be the one to pass on The Queen’s greetings to you all. She was looking forward to coming here, and I know she hopes very much that she will be able to visit in the future.
It is now a great privilege to deliver a message to the people of Malta from Her Majesty The Queen.
“Prince Philip and I send our congratulations to the President, the Prime Minister, and the people of Malta, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Independence.
We have such fond memories of your country at different stages of our lives, first as a young married couple when we lived in Malta, and then again when we returned at the time of our 60th wedding anniversary in 2007.
Over the years we have seen Malta grow and develop into the confident and proud nation we see today. Next year you will showcase your country as hosts of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Prince Philip and I are grateful to the people of Malta for always making us, and our family, feel so welcome.
I send my warmest good wishes to you for your celebrations this week, and for the continued success and prosperity of Malta in the future.”
Your Excellency, Honourable Prime Minister – thank you so much for your warm and generous hospitality. This really is a most beautiful country. I very much look forward to exploring more of it in the next 24 hours and hope that you all have a wonderful evening.”
Day Two – Sunday, September 21st 2014
The Duke began his second day of the visit at St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, where he joined the congregation for an Independence Day service before viewing paintings by the 16th Century Italian painter, Caravaggio, including one of his most well-known works, depicting ‘The Beheading of St John The Baptist’ which is displayed in the position for which it was originally commissioned.
Prior to joining the congregation, William received the salute of a Guard of Honour by the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) outside the Cathedral. The Maltese President, Marie Louise Colerio Preca, and Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, both inspected the Guard of Honour.
After the service, William moved to the Agenzija Zghazagh (Agency for Youth) in Vittoriosa. The Centre is a government agency running a number of initiatives for young people. The Duke heard about the work that the agency does from the young people who use the centre and facilities and obliged in a game of table football shortly before leaving.
Taking the short walk through Vittoriosa Square, William visited the Church of St Lawrence to view a number of Maltese artworks; amongst them, the main altar piece by Marria Preti, depicting the martyrdom of St Lawrence. The present church was founded in 1681 and construction was completed, 15 years later, in 1696.
During the Second World War, the church was badly damaged by German air raids. Both the sacristy and the chapter hall were destroyed in January 1941 and the Sacrament and dome were destroyed in March 1941 and April 1942, respectively. The destroyed parts of the church were rebuilt by 1952.
On his way to the Grand Harbour, The Duke met more locals and tourists and viewed a folk performance by dancers from Malta’s neighbouring island, Gozo. William took a short boat trip across the Grand Harbour to take in some of the views between Vittoriosa and Valletta, incidentally using the same boat, the St Angelo, which transported The Queen on her visit to Malta in 1949.
The final engagement for the second day, and to conclude the visit itself, was an Independence Day celebration hosted by the British High Commissioner at his residence. William greeted guests at the Garden Party and took the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.