Giovanni Francesco Abela

Giovanni Francesco Abela

Giovanni Francesco Abela (1582-1655) was a Maltese of noble birth who in the early 17th century wrote an important work on Malta, Malta illustrata con le sue Antichità ed altre Notizie (Malta illustrated, with its Antiquities, and other information).

Giovanni Francesco Abela was born in Valletta to Marco Abela and Benarda Vella whose great great grandfather was Barone di Pietra Lunga and whose ancestors ruled Malta on more than one occasion and were part of the royal family of Spain. (Abela Family Tree 2006)

Malta illustrated is still an important source of first-hand information on a number of subjects of Melitensia, such as folklore, placenames, the Maltese language, History of Malta and archaeology. His Description of the Maltese Islands was translated into Latin by G.A. Seinero in 1725, Latin being the universal language of science and culture of that time. This translation was incorporated in Johann Georg Graevius Thesaurus antiquitatum et historiarum Italiae.

He became Auditor of Grand Master de Paula, Chaplain and finally Vice Chancellor of the Knights Hospitaller. He is also remembered as the promoter of the first Notarial Archives for Malta.

Gian Francesco Abela visited archaeological sites on the islands and made some valuable observations. He appears to have been the first to note that the ancient temple of Hercules was to be identified with the remains on the hill at Tas-Silg rather than those of Borg in-Nadur. At Tas-Silg he observed foundations and courses of stones ‘ben lavorate e messe insieme,’ and in support of his identification he recorded the discovery of ‘medaglie, pezzi di statue d’idoletti, e d’altre cose, minimi avanzi di quella vana gentilità e falsa religione, quivi ritrovate sotto il Magistero del Principe Wignacourt, mentre alcuni nell’istesso luogo cavando, scioccamente pensavano far acquisto di ricco tesoro.’

We do not know whether Abela ever conducted any excavations himself but he certainly did collect objects which he thought to be ancient. His personal collection of antiquities formed the nucleus of Malta's National Museum of Archaeology.

He is buried in the Chapel of Our Lady of Filermos (today the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament) in the Co-Cathedral of St. John in Valletta. The Junior College in Msida is named after Abela.


  • Anthony Bonanno (1983) Giovanni Francesco Abela's legacy to the Jesuit college Paper
  • James Abela (2006) Abela Family Tree

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