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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Inquisitor's Palace

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The Inquisitor's Palace

Triq Kan. L. Fenech, Birgu; tel: +356 21 827 006; www.heritagemalta.com

Monday to Sunday: 9.00-17.00, last admission: 16.30; closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and Good Friday.

Regular ticket (18 - 59 years): €6; subsidised ticket: 12-17 years, Senior Citizens (60+), Students: 4.50; children (6 -11 years): €3.00; children younger than 6 years of age may visit at no charge.

Multi Site Tickets: Visit all the area museums in one day and save on the admission fee.
Adults (18 - 59 years): €9.00  Students (12 - 17 years), Senior Citizens (60 years and over), ISIC Card Holders, EURO<26 Card Holders, ISE Card Holders, ICOM Card Holders, University of Malta and MCAST Students: €7.00. Children (6 -11 years): €4.50 Infants (1 -5 years): Free

Special Exhibitions: there may be a separate charge for temporary or special exhibitions


 

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History of the Inquisitor's Palace

Long, long ago - when freedom of thought was not a highly prized concept, the Pontiff would have ascertained that Rome retained her clutches on the minds of the People. So he appointed delegates to ensure that none would stray from the path of Righteousness as expressed by Rome in her Holy teachings. Those convicted of such contraventions as blasphemy, sorcery, heresy or sexual misbehaviour would have been tried and if found guilty, punished in the torture room or worse.

This building located on Main Gate  Street may have been designed by Fra Diego Perez de Malfreire. It was constructed in the 1530's by the Knights and functioned as the civil Courts of Justice until 1571. Between the years 1574 and 1798, the palace was the official residence of successive Inquisitors. In subsequent years, it served as a Military hospital and also accommodated the Dominican Friars when their church and monastery met their fate in World War II.

 

What to See

The Ground Floor

The Law Courts used to be located on the ground floor. There were also a number of prison cells here but this use was abandoned as they were deemed unsuitable for this purpose, largely due to a lack of proper ventilation. A detailed model of Birgu is currently on display on the  ground floor. This was created by Ruzar Calleja in the early 20th Century and is undergoing restoration. A large collection of religious statuettes and accessories by Carmelo Agius precedes the kitchen and dining room complex. The kitchen is complete with a stone oven, stove and sink; the dining room is also well-equipped and contains a large solid wood table, utensils, mortars, wine barrels and a well. 

The garden was constructed by Inqusitor Fabio Chigi who would later be elected Pope Alexander VII. Three doorways in the garden lead to three prison cells. The one on the right hand side was occupied by a certain Katerina Dimech who aged forty five, was imprisoned here for having worked as a prostitute and for having practised the occult. Nearby, a flight of steps will take you to the male section of the prision – eight out of the twelve cells constructed by Inquisitor Messerano survive until today. A further flight of steps up will take you past the male quarters: two Quaker English ladies, Sara Cheevers and Catherine Evans were imprisoned here on 4th April 1659 on account of their adherence to their religion, only to be released some four years later when a newly appointed English consul – Alphonse de Clous requested the Inquisitor to set them free.This request was acceded to by Rome through Cardinal Barberino on the 30th August, 1663.

You may next proceed to the courtroom – this is the room where those convicted of heresy and other shortcomings would have been tried: depending of the nature of the crime, punishments ranged from subsistence on bread and water, confession and the Eucharist, pilgrimages, flogging, prison sentences, public humiliation or social work. Crimes of a more serious nature were punishable with slavery as an oarsman on the galleys, exile or even death.

 

Works of Art

The next room contains an art collection, notable amongst which is an 18th Century ornate headboard decorated with a painting of the Immaculate Conception; a Maltese  model of the Last Supper from the late 19th Century, St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Gio Nicola Buhagiar and a cartoonish sculpture showing St. Michael triumphing over Satan.

Works of art in the Camera d'Udienza, where the Inquisitor met with his guests and dignitaries include a Maltese rococo style pulpit from the 18th Century. Also from the 18th Century is a Maltese painting showing the Madonna of the Rosary with St. Dominic and St. Catherine. In the ante-camera, or waiting room further paintings include a work by Stefano Erardi, showing San Giacobo (St. James) de Compostela; another work showing the Madonna with St. Anne and the Child Jesus, by Alessio Erardi; and a depiction of St. Anthony the Abbot, from the early 17th Century.

Past the Chapel installed by Tommaso Ruffo in the late 18th Century is the Inquisitor's Apartment (The Ruffo Apartment). A life-size sculpture of the dead body of Jesus takes centre stage here. Nearly as impressive is a wooden statue of the battered Christ – the Ecce Homo, an Italian work from the 18th century. There is also a collection of liturgical publications from the 19thand 20th centuries and a complete collection of statuettes, representing the passion of Christ until his deposition in the tomb.

An interesting item within this room is a “clapper” that used to take place the ringing of bells during Holy Week.

A smaller hall contains the Via Martiris by local artist Chris Ebejer; this is a collection of clay statuettes showing the seven sorrows endured by the Virgin Mary.

 

The Prison Warden's Chamber

Further on, you may take a peek inside the prison warden's chamber, one of the lowliest employees of the Inquisitor's office. This contains his bed, desk and other basic amenities. His job description including checking on the prisoners' state of health, the proper enforcement of the sentence handed to them, basic maintenance of torture equipment and running errands on behalf of the inmates. Look out of the small window just outside the chamber and take some time to make out a rudimentary sun-dial, scratched by a meticulous warden – Leonardo Palombo, to assist him in the proper execution of his duties.

 

The Christmas Collection

Albert and Lina McCarthy donated several items from their personal collection of items relating to Christmas – exhibits come from such diverse locations as New Zealand, Bali and Iran. There is also a Christmas tree and cribs and nativity scenes from the Americas. A collection of Maltese cribs resides in the next room.

 

The Library

On the top-most floor is the Library, which used to serve as an archive for copies of correspondence exchanged between the Inquisitor's office and Rome, and other documents. This was also a repository for banned publications. This room now houses a collection of exhibits pertaining to life in early 20th Century Malta. Prominent here are statuettes by Paul Scicluna, showing three categories of workers: the blue collared manual labourers; the professionals; and the clergy.

 

Once again at ground level prior to your exit, you may catch a glimpse of the torture room interior. Some of the vehicles of torture are still there, together with an hour glass on the desk as torture sessions could not take longer than half an hour. 

Those exiting the torture room would not have had the opportunity to visit the souvenir shop in the gloomy days of the Inquisition - here you may pick a trinket or publication to preserve the memories of this visit for posterity – a visit that we hope you have thoroughly enjoyed.

 

 

 

Inquisitor's Palace in a nutshell

  • It is here that people accused of heresy, witchcraft and blasphemy met their fate.
  • Houses exhibitions: art and Christmas items. May also hold temporary exhibitions.
  • Highlights of the visit include: the courtyards, the courtroom, the prison cells, the Warden's room, the Inquisitor's room, the torture chamber.
  • The Library on the topmost floor used to hold copies of correspondence exchanged between the Inquisitor's Office and Rome. Also served as a repository of banned books. Now houses an exhibition about life in early 20th Century Malta