Description of Malta


Della descrittione di Malta (Description of Malta) was published during the first era of printing on the island of Malta. At the time, Malta was ruled by a religious order, the Order of the Hospital (also known as the Knights of Malta), which held the island as a fief from the Holy Roman Emperor. Because the order was exempt from the authority of the local bishop, there were often conflicts about ecclesiastical jurisdiction. To adjudicate between the order and the bishop, in 1561 the pope ordered a resident inquisitor to set up a tribunal on Malta, thus establishing yet a third ecclesiastical authority on the small island. When Grand Master Jean-Paul Lascaris de Castellar (1636–57) established a press in Malta in 1642 to print books for the use of the order, he assumed that its publications required only the imprimatur (permission to print) from the order and from the papal inquisitor. The bishop of Malta, Michele Balaguer Camarasa, disagreed. The dispute went to Rome for decision, and eventually, in 1664, the order's press—the only one on Malta—was shut down. Printing would not resume until 1756. The order’s first printed works were of minor local interest or utility to members of the order. This work by Giovanni Francesco Abela, vice-chancellor of the order, was a more ambitious undertaking aimed at a broader local audience. Abela was closely involved in administering the printing press and in censoring its output. His richly illustrated book showcased the technical skills of the printer, Paolo Bonacota. The book was mainly intended to instill pride and self-esteem among Malta’s literate classes. This was extraordinary for its time, as Malta’s rulers were not natives of the island.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Paolo Bonacota, Malta


Title in Original Language

Della descrittione di Malta isola nel mare Siciliano con le sve antichita, ed altre notitie, libri quattro


Additional Subjects

Type of Item

Physical Description

14 unnumbered pages, 573 numbered pages, 16 unnumbered pages : illustrations, map ; 31 centimeters


Last updated: April 10, 2013