St Mark’s priory is situated in a narrow street in the hear of the town of Rabat – just a stone’s throw from Mdina. The first priory which existed in the area was demolished in 1551 during an attack by the Turks since its proximity to Mdina was deemed as a security risk. A new priory was built and completed in 1558 by architect Girolamo Cassar. Parts of the priory were later re-modelled by Tommaso Dingli in 1652. In 1740 the priory was largely rebuilt, since the original structure was almost completely dilapidated, this time according to the plan of Andrea Belli. The Baroque façade of the building we see today is probably one of the most elaborate in Rabat. During the French occupation of Malta by Napoleon and his troops, the friars were ordered to leave the priory and it was stripped of all decoration. The French also removed the emblems on the portico.
During WW2 the priory served as a school for boys and also as a home for male refugees from the Cottonera area (most people who lived in the Cottonera area were evacuated to towns further inland due to the proximity of the dockyard which was a prime war-time target).
The priory did not sustain any damage during the war and as a result has remained unchanged for over 250 years. I have walked past this priory hundreds of times but what lies inside is a mystery to me. The heavy wooden door is nearly always closed and it is only on very few occasions that it has been left ajar and I was able to catch a glimpse of the interior which, in contrast to the façade, appears to be very simple – long white-washed corridors surrounding an internal courtyard; glimpses of another world, of an almost forgotten way of life.
You may view a complete history of the priory here.