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Malta History

Historic MaltaThe Auberge of Aragon

The Auberge of Aragon, dominating the little square near Archbishop Street, has not changed very much since its construction in 1571. It consists of a groundfloor, and has spacious halls which surround a central courtyard.

The residents of this Inn were knights from the regions of Aragon, Navarre and Catalonia. The head of the Langue was the Grand Conservator i.e. the Chief of Supplies of the Order. The knights of Aragon were entrusted with the defence of St. Andrew's Bastion, that part of the Valletta fortifications near the Upper Barracca Gardens.

For several years between 1921 and 1972 the Auberge of Aragon was the Office of the Prime Minister. Nowadays it houses a Ministry.

The nearby church of Our Lady of the Pilar belonged to this Auberge.

The Auberge of Castille

This imposing edifice, the largest and most elegant of the Inns of Residence in Valletta, catered for Knights from Castille and those from the regions of Leon and Portugal. The Auberge dates from 1574, but Grand Master Emanuel Pinto de Fonseca restructured the facade thereby giving this building a touch of majesty.

The facade's impressive features are the three rows of windows with their scroll and shell ornamentation, and the stately doorway surmounted with a bust of Grand Master Pinto, in an array of banners and triumphal motifs. Pinto's coat-of-arms, consisting of five crescents, tops the central window. The Arms of Castille, Leon and Portugal surmount the massive cornice framing the roof of the building.

The Langue of Castille was very important in the Order. Its chief was the Grand Chancellor. The Knights of this Langue were expected to defend the bulwark of St. Barbara, a part of Valletta's fortifications.

The Church of St. James, in nearby Merchants Street, served the religious needs of the resident Knights.
During the British occupation, the Auberge was the military headquarters of the Army. In World War II, the right wing of the building was badly damaged during an air raid.
Nowadays, this beautiful building houses the office of the Prime Minister.

The Auberge of Italy

The Auberge of Italy, in Merchants Street, was built in 1574 but substantial renovations were carried out in the last decade of the 17th century at the expense of Grand Master Gregorio Carafa. The building is one of the finest in Valletta.

The bust of Grandmaster Carafa adorns the facade and is surrounded by banners and warlike trophies; the Carafa escutcheon surmounts the wide doorway which leads to the vestibule, and hence to a large central courtyard.

Members of the Langue of Italy were responsible for defending the bastion of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The head of the Langue of Italy was the Admiral in Command of the Order's navy.

The Church of St. Catherine of Italy, dating from 1576, is attached to the Auberge.

This Auberge was, for several years before the War, the National Museum of Malta. Later it was used as the Superior Law Courts. During the War, it suffered heavy damage.
At present, the Auberge of Italy houses a number of Government offices, including the a Post Office.

The Auberge of Provence

The Auberge of Provence, built in 1575, occupies a long section of Republic Street. Its facade is plain but very attractive with its characteristic quoins and a large columned doorway. The building's graceful interior is notable for the superb hall in the piano nobile.

The Langue of Provence was under the charge of the Grand Commander, who also presided over the Treasury. Provencal knights were entrusted with the defence of St. John's Bastions and the Cavalier Tower, near Hastings Gardens.

The Church of St. Barbara, just across the street from the Auberge, provided for the religious needs of knights of this Langue.

During British rule, the Auberge of Provence housed the British Union Club. Today, the building is the seat of the National Museum of Archaeology.
Ghar Dalam Cave, Malta

Ghar Dalam Cave

The underground cave of Ghar Dalam (The Dark Cave) is not a prehistoric temple. In fact, it is a cave which served as the abode of the first neolithic settlers of these islands about 6000 years ago.

Moreover, Ghar Dalam Cave provides special interest in relation to Malta's geological past.

Excavations carried out between 1933 and 1937, yielded an enormous quantity of animal bone deposits from the lower strata of the cave's subsoil. These remains belonged to prehistoric elephants, hippopotami, deer and other animals which roamed all over Europe a quarter of a million years ago. The deposits confirm that at that distant age, the Maltese Islands formed part of the European mainland.

Thousands of these bone deposits - some semi-fossilised, others cemented in hard rock, are now exhibited in showcases in the small museum on the site. Full-scale animal skeletons are also displayed to give an idea of the wild fauna that frequented these islands. The skeleton models are of modern animals.

The cave itself is 200 metres long, 18 metres wide and 3 to 6 metres high. It was formed several million years ago by chemical agents in rain water acting on the soft limestone. During the excavations a pillar was left standing in the cave to demonstrate the succession of the various layers and of the bone deposits.

The bones, which were the remains of animals that died here during many ages, were carried by torrents of water and accumulated in the cave.
It is a notable fact that when the first human settlers reached our shores on primitive rafts, they found refuge within this spacious cave.

Potsherds and scarce neolithic material were recovered from the site, and these constitute the first man-made relics found in Malta. In this context, Ghar Dalam lends its name to the first phase of our prehistory as the scene and site of the obscure origins of stone-age man in this country.

Strangely enough, Ghar Dalam Cave continued to be inhabited throughout the years up to 1911, when its last occupants were evicted by the authorities before excavation works started on the site.
Ghar Dalam Cave Museum

The Inquisitor's Palace

As in other Catholic countries, Malta had its Inquisition, or Holy Office established here in 1 574 shortly after the Council of Trent, for the purpose of suppressing heresy.

The Grand Master, the Bishop and the inquisitor had their own court and jurisdiction over their respective territories.

The inquisitors Palace in Main Gate Street, Vittoriosa, had its origin in the Norman period, and it had served as the Castillania or Court of Justice. In 1 574, Mgr P. Duzzina, Apostolic Delegate and first inquisitor in Malta, enlarged the building to its present size and made it the seat of the Holy Office. Sixty-two inquisitors, usually members of the Dominican Order, resided in the Palace. Twenty-five of them became Cardinals of the Church. Inquisitors Fabio Chigi and Antonio Pignatelli became Popes and took the names of Alexander Vll (1655-1667) and innocent Xll (1691-1700)

The inquisition was suppressed for good in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte soon after the islands conquest by the French.
Inquisitors's Palace, Malta

The inquisitor's Palace was restored in 1966. The interior of this ancient palace is impressive. The main hall has a timber ceiling and a frieze of painted coat-of-arms of all the inquisitors serving in Malta . considerable interest are the tribunal chamber and its adjacent chapel with their original fittings, and the prisoners' cells and dungeon, with graffiti inscribed by the inmates.
The Palace has now been converted into a museum. Exhibits include antique furniture, old household utensils, tools and implements, religious accessories and a variety of curios relating to ancient customs, crafts, trades and other activities of the past.

The Lascaris War Rooms, Valletta

The Lascaris War Rooms are dug in the rock beneath Lascaris Bastion, near Barracca Gardens. They were part of an impregnable underground complex of rooms and passages, which formed the nerve centre of Malta's defensive system during World War 2.

These were refurbished and are now open to the public. Important events of World War 2 to which these rooms are related, are introduced to visitors by means of audio-visual displays, diagrams, authentic photographs and a personal audio-guide.

Catacombs Of St. Agata & St. Cataldus

ST AGATHA'S CATACOMBS lie in the garden area just across the street from the St. Paul's complex. These catacombs belong to the church and are in the care of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. The graceful church of St. Agatha stands near the steps which lead to the catacombs.

As in the St. Paul group, one can see here the same features, including the curious Agape Tables. All types of tombs are well represented loculus, canopied, saddle-backed, floor-pits, and good examples of the Arcosolium form.

A small chapel decorated with a fine altar is located at the foot of the staircase.

Recent restoration works on the site have exposed ancient wall paintings of great importance.

St. Agatha's Catacombs are situated in lovely surroundings among trees and green shrubs.

ST. CATALDUS CATACOMBS are small in size when compared to the two already described. This group lies beneath the 1 8th century church of St. Cataldus, very near the Rabat Civic Centre. An Agape Table and various types of tombs make Up this underground burial place. Like St. Agatha's, this site lies on church property.

The Roman Catacombs

It was a custom of ancient Rome to bury the dead in catacombs or underground cemeteries outside the city walls.
In Malta, the boundary walls of Roman Melita extended to where today is the Rabat Civic Centre and St. Paul's Parish Church. That explains the presence of a number of catacombs beyond this area of Rabat.

The most important catacombs are those of St. Paul, St. Agatha and St. Cataldus. Several smaller ones are to be found in the same area.
The catacombs, probably date from the 2nd and 3rd century A.D., and they served only for burial purposes. There is no indication that, in Malta, they were used as hiding places for Christians as in Rome. Most of the tombs were despoiled a long time ago, and there is nothing left except the bare tombs. Earthenware jars and small lamps displayed in museums may have come from these catacombs.

Among the interesting features of the catacombs are the "Agape Tables". These consist of low circular structures cut in the rock, with a bench on the same level and a little niche in the front. These served for the partaking of food by the deceased's relatives after the burial ceremony = a well-established Roman practice. Tombs in the catacombs are of various types.
The most noteworthy are:

i) Loculus - small tombs cut in the wall, mostly used for infant burials.Historic Malta & Gozo
ii) Floor Pits, rectangular in shape, for single and multiple burial;
iii) Canopied tombs - table-like graves, single or double, beneath an arched structure;
iv) Saddle-back canopied tombs - consist of a carved saddle-like lid with a burial chamber cut beneath it. The chamber is reached through an opening in one side;
v) Arcosolium - an arched structure with steps leading to the tomb.

The tombs are single, double or in groups of four or more. The latter were family tombs and included small pits for children. Head rests for the corpse are carved on the rock-bed of each tomb.
The maze of narrow corridors between the tombs was lit by small earthenware wick-lamps which were placed in recesses carved in the walls.
The craftsmen engaged in digging the tombs were known as Fossores.

Roman House (Villa)

The remains of this ancient Roman House, discovered in 1881 give an idea of the life enjoyed here by the Roman masters who ruled over the Maltese islands. The house, (erroneously called Villa) which stands on high grounds overlooking the fertile valley beneath Mtarfa ridge, probably flourished in the first or second century AD.
The main features of the house are a Doric peristyle around a central court, a triclinium or dining room, and a few smaller chambers. The central court, paved with delicate mosaics, has an exquisite emblema with two doves on a fountain. The two adjacent rooms also have mosaic pavements, but no emblema. The house was decorated with marble busts and statues. Most of these are now exhibited in the museum.

Unfortunately, this rich town house was reduced to ruins by the Arab overlords who ruled the island after the 9th century. Part of the site was, in fact, utilised as a Moslem burial ground. The graves can still be seen at the back of the Museum.

In 1924, the site was built over for better protection, and the entire structure is now a Museum of Roman Antiquities.

The remains of the Roman House occupy the lower floor of the Museum building.

St. Paul's Catacombs

St. Paul's Catacombs consist of a labyrinth of narrow passages flanked by numerous tombs of various types. This group is the largest in the Maltese islands.
The entrance to the Catacombs is by a flight of steps cut in the rock. A number of loculus tombs are cut into either side of the wall. The chamber at the foot of the stairs was a chapel where funeral services were held.

The main room of the complex is next to the chapel, but at a higher level. Of special interest here are the twin Agape Tables which served for the wake, or funeral feast, after the burial
Passages from this hall lead to a maze of galleries lined with canopied, loculus and other types of tombs.

The tombs had been plundered many years ago; the stone covers are missing from the bare pits.

In the precincts of the St. Paul's complex there are a number of underground burial chambers.

ST. PAUL'S GROTTO, a sizable cave excavated in the rock, is a detached part of the St. Paul's Catacomb complex. It lies beneath the Chapel of St. Publius, which adjoins the parish church of St. Paul.

According to tradition, St. Paul lived here in captivity during the three months he spent in Malta after his shipwreck in AD 60. A marble statue of the Apostle, donated by Grand Master Pinto, stands in the centre of the Grotto which is, today, a shrine of religious devotion.

The Grotto is looked after by the canons of St. Paul's Collegiate Church.

The Sacra Infermeria, Valletta

The extensive edifice of the Sacra Infermeria (Holy Infirmary) occupies a large site which overlooks the Grand Harbour, very near Fort St. Elmo. This hospital, one of the first buildings of Valletta, started to function in 1574 under Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere. Originally, it consisted of a large ward. Under the rule of Grand Master Nicholas Cottoner (1663 - 80), the hall was enlarged; and in 1712 Grand Master Perellos commissioned a new building alongside Merchants Street, which included a chapel and a pharmacy.
Sacra Infermeria, Malta

The infirmary provided about 900 beds for male patients who included knights, soldiers, sailors and foreigners. Maltese patients and slaves were accommodated in another large hall below the Main Ward. In 1676, a school of anatomy and surgery was set up in the building.

The administration of the Sacra Infermeria was entrusted to knights of the French Langue, under the headship of the Grand Hospitaller. When the Knights were forced to leave the Island in 1798, Napoleons' troops used the hospital for their own personnel. The British, who took over Malta's government in 1800, renamed the Infirmary 'Station Hospital', and used it as such until the end of the First World War.

In 1920, the building was used as the Police Headquarters until the outbreak of World War II, when the police had to evacuate the building which was badly damaged by air raids.
Reconstruction and conversion started in earnest in 1977, and in February 1979, the grand old edifice was inaugurated as a first-class Conference Centre. It now consists of the main conference room which accommodates about 1,400 persons, and five other halls of varying sizes, all equipped with facilities for simultaneous translation. The complex has been renamed 'The Mediterranean Conference Centre'.

What used to be the main hospital ward, measuring 151 metres, is now used as "the lobby" when conferences are in session. The Lower Ward houses a restaurant with a capacity of 1,000 covers. Several offices, staff and rest rooms and a cafeteria are also provided.
Early in 1987, a fire totally destroyed the Main Conference Room and other parts of the complex. These have now been reconstructed, and in 1990 the Centre was re-opened for conferences and conventions.

'The Malta Experience', is also within the complex.

San Pawl Milqghi (St. Paul Welcomed)

The small village of Burmarrad lies just outside St. Paul's Bay. Its inhabitants are the farmers who till the extensive fields at Ghajn Rihana and on the flat lands below the Great Fault.
The chapel on top of the hillside, dedicated to St. Paul, is called San Pawl Milqghi (St. Paul Welcomed). According to tradition, the Apostle Paul was received on this spot after his shipwreck in the neighbouring bay. It is said that Publius, the Roman Governor, had a palace in this locality.

Excavations carried out in the 1960's around the chapel have revealed a Roman agricultural estate of the 2nd/3rd century BC, which was eventually destroyed by fire and reconstructed in the 5th century AD

The material recovered on the site indicated that the main activity connected with the place was olive-oil extraction - an olive-pipper and other implements, found on the spot, support this assumption.

The present chapel of St. Paul dates from 1616. It was built on the ruins of a previous one of the 15th century.

The Italian Archaeological Commission, which directed the 1960 excavations, reported that remains of residential houses were traced. However, no proof had resulted as to the existence of the traditional villa of Publius in which St. Paul is believed to have been welcomed. A few inscriptions, of dubious origin, were not sufficient evidence to verify the persistent belief.
St. Paul Milqghi is reached by an uphill lane near the Church of Burmarrad. The site is now nun by the Museums Department.

The Mall

This rectangular space enclosed by a low wall was constructed by Grand Master Jean Paul Lascaris in the mid17th century, for the Knights to play a game of pallamaglio, a sort of tennis - hence the name Mall. Grand Master Lascaris, an austere man, wished the knights to spend their energy on lawful sports and games, rather than on wine, dice and sensual pleasures. A Latin stanza in this sense can be seen on the archway at the Valletta end of the Mall.

This playfield was converted into a small garden in 1805. It is adorned with marble and bronze statuary of prominent personalities in the fields of politics, art and philanthropy. The most important are the full-size statue of Sir Ugo Mifsud, a former Prime Minister; the bust of Sir Filippo Sciberras, a politician, and a bust of Sir Adrian Dingli, an eminent jurist. Outside the entrance stands the elegant bronze figure of 'Independence', erected in 1989 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the island's independence.

The Mall is frequented by old people from Floriana, who come here to relax and gossip under the shade of large ficus trees. After sunset the place becomes the habitual retreat of young lovers in search of peaceful seclusion.

The Wignacourt Aqueduct

When the new city of Valletta was built in the late 16th Century, the Knights reaUsed that it lacked natural sources of water. With the ever growing population, the position grew more serious daily. The inhabitants had to fetch their meagre supplies of water with great inconvenience, from the only spring in the vicinity of Grand Harbour.
Soon after his election in 1601, Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt began to take the matter seriously. A project was taken in hand, whereby water was to be brought to the city from natural springs and sources in the hilly region behind Mdina - a distance of 16km.
Aquaduct in Malta

Work started in earnest in 1610 under the direction of Natale Tomasucci of Messina, who succeeded in channelling the watfr, by underground means, down to Attard. Difficulties then arose because of the uneven contours of the terrain, The work was eventually entrusted to another engineer, Bontadino de Bontadini of Bologna, who solved the problem by constructing the famous aqueduct.
This consisted of a number of stone conduits, carried on a series of arches, all the way from Balzan to Hamrun. From here the water again proceeded through underground channels down to Floriana and VaUetta. The whole project was completed after five years of intensive work.
It was on 21st August, 1615, that Grandmaster Wignacourt, amidst popular rejoicing, inaugurated the fountain in the main square of Valletta. Another ornamental fountain was erected in Floriana, close to the Argotti Gardens.

At a short distance outside Hamrun, the line of arches turned at right angles across the highway to proceed onto the other side of the street. The part of the aqueduct across the road formed an archway with a large central arch and two small arched passageways. The whole structure was surmounted with decorative stone motifs, including three large Fleur-de-Lys which were part of Wignacourt's armourial bearings. A Latin inscription, on top of the central arch, spoke of the 'spirit of water' which flowed on to reach and give new life to the city of Valletta.
That commemorative archway was removed in 1942 to facilitate the traffic flow, but the district in which it stood is still officially called the "Fleur-de-Lys"
The impressive stretch of solid arches presents a pleasing sight on the Rabat Road from Hamrun to Attard. The Wignacourt Aqueduct is a living memorial to the Grand Master who conceived it, and whose name it bears to this day

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