This grand palace in the heart of Birgu was initially built to serve as Law Courts during the Norman domination. The vaulted internal courtyard was built by the Knights of St John in the 1530s. In 1571 the Knights moved the Law Courts to the new city of Valletta. For three years the building remained vacant until the first Inquisitor, Pietro Dusina, took up residence. The Inquisitors remained in residence in this building until the French Occupation in 1798. The current façade was constructed in 1658.
Off of the courtyard is the palace kitchen, which boasts a very well-preserved wood-burning stove. A well in one corner of the room provided water for all the kitchen’s needs.
Also on the ground floor is a small walled garden that was designed by Inquisitor Fabio Chigi in 1634.
An imposing staircase (that I failed to get a photo of but which you can see here) takes you up to the piano nobile, a richly decorated room that runs the entire length of the building; the Inquisitor’s apartments and his private chapel.
Also on this floor is the Tribunal – the place were people were brought for trial after being reported, and sentences were pronounced. A much less grand staircase leads to the prison warden’s room, the torture room and the prisons. Another internal courtyard off of the prisons was used by the prisoners.
A total of sixty-two Inquisitors resided in this building until the last one left, together with the Knights of St John, following their expulsion by Napoleon in 1798. During the two years of French rule the palace was used as the official residence of the commander of the Cottonera district. When the British governed Malta, the palace was first used as a military hospital and then as a mess-house for officers of the army. In 1995 it was converted into a museum of folklore.
The Inquisitor’s Palace is a fascinating place. It served both as the official residence of the Inquisitor and also as an ecclesiastic tribunal and prison. The prisoners’ cells, with occasional graffiti carved into the soft limestone, are, perhaps, the most poignant reminders of this bygone era. Like the town of Birgu in which it is situated, the Inquisitor’s Palace has had a chequered history. But it has withstood the test of time very well and it continues to intrigue those of us with a natural curiosity about our heritage.
A NOTE ABOUT THE INQUISITION IN MALTA
The Maltese Islands fell under the jurisdiction of the Roman Inquisition, and not the more notorious Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition acted mostly as a watch-dog to guard against heretical beliefs. The majority of sentences were of a spiritual nature (e.g. fasting and prayer), although physical punishment (like public flogging or rowing on the galleys) was sometimes resorted to. Torture was rarely used and was usually much less severe than methods used by the civil authorities. I do not propose to go into a debate about this sore subject. All I will say is that the Inquisition was a product of its times – an era when almost none of the civil liberties that we take for granted today existed.
Location: The Inquisitor’s Palace, Main Gate Street, Birgu
Monday to Sunday: 9.00-17.00
Last admission: 16.30
Closed: 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January, Good Friday
Loree! It strikes me between the eyes reading this post and viewing these exquisite images -- you should be a travel writer!ReplyDelete
I am trying to feel what it is like to walk there. Absolutely superb.ReplyDelete
thanks a lot for sharingReplyDelete
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A great post, many thanks for taking the time to share this with us.ReplyDelete
Next time we visit Malta must get to Birgu.
Great post. What an incredible building. The history there seems absolutely endless.ReplyDelete
Glad to hear it wasn't as awful as the spanish inquisition! And strangely there
was a lot of self flagellation going on the church, for penance, whether you were in jail or not.
Crazy times! Thanks for the interesting post! :)
Popped in via Merisi in Vienna. I often visit her page, and the city too ! Yet I have also longed for ages to see Malta. This is a great blog, with fantastic pictures. Bookmarked and I will come back to look around properly.ReplyDelete
Thanks for loading up and sharing so much.