Wandering around Mdina’s quaint and winding streets one is tempted to look through the occasional door left unthinkingly ajar; to get a glimpse of what’s behind a palazzo’s sturdy doors. But most doors in the silent city seem to remain permanently shut and will not easily disclose what’s inside – with one notable exception.
Palazzo Falson on Villegaignon Street, formerly the home of one Captain Olof Gollcher OBE, bucks the trend and is nowadays the premier house museum on the island. Olof Gollcher (1889-1962) was quite an extraordinary man. The descendant of a successful Swedish shipping agent who had made Malta his home (the company still operates to this day from offices in Valletta) Gollcher was a multi-faceted personality: an artist, scholar, philanthropist, and above all an ardent collector of objets d’art and all manner of historical artefacts. Gollcher acquired the palazzo in the inter-war years and, apart from making it his home, soon set about filling it up with his ever-growing collection. After Gollcher’s death the palazzo and its contents eventually passed into the hands of the Gollcher Foundation. In 2001 the Maltese Heritage Foundation (Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti) entered into a management agreement with the Gollcher Foundation, and proceeded to restore the palazzo and all its contents to their former glory, thus fulfilling Gollcher’s wish to bring this extraordinary collection to the general public.
The Palazzo itself traces its origins as far back as the 13th century with modifications carried out over the following three centuries. It is a typical medieval palace set on two floors nestled around a shady central courtyard.
The collection is a treasure trove, an eclectic and varied one. The first room on the ground floor is a refectory and is one of the oldest parts of the house. Next to it is a small armoury which contains swords, pistols and some exquisitely crafted Persian armour. The large kitchen comes next – this contains a generous tiled fireplace and a walled-in oven plus an assortment of cooking utensils including the ‘baqra’ (cow) – a curious container in the shape of the familiar bovine and used mostly for that quintessentially Maltese speciality – rabbit stew. The last room on the ground floor recreates Gollcher’s art studio complete with easel and other artist’s paraphernalia. Most of the paintings on display depict townscapes Gollcher painted on his travels.
The upper floor is essentially the palazzo’s living quarters and altogether a more refined affair. The well-lit landing contains a maritime collection featuring paintings, prints and ship models. The adjoining sitting and drawing rooms contain an array of fine paintings and antique Maltese furniture while the library must be every bookworm’s idea of a hideaway for reading and study. The adjacent dining room is pristinely set out and highlights here include Venetian glass and fine examples of antique Maltese silverware. The next room is a chapel with some notable icons as well as other ecclesiastical items and next to that is the palazzo’s master bedroom with a canopied four poster bed and a number of portraits.
The last two rooms contain two different collections. One is a carpet gallery which features a number of fine oriental rugs. The other contains an array of archaeological finds as well as a number of important historical documents including illuminated manuscripts. From here a door leads to the palazzo’s roof which features a modern day cafeteria.
But notwithstanding Palazzo Falson’s exquisite collections, the place is more than the sum of its parts. There is a certain warmth and intimacy about the whole place and one can almost feel the old captain’s presence hovering around, and possibly beaming with pleasure at how his old abode has been transformed into such a magical corner of the silent city.
Palazzo Falson Historical House Museum in Villegaignon Street, Mdina is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10.00 to 17.00 hours (last entry 16.00). It is closed on Mondays as well as New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
More info: http://www.palazzofalson.com/
Words and photos: Steve Bonello
Photography by kind permission of Palazzo Falson Malta