At Maltalingua we aim to please our students, young or mature and each week we organise different activities to cater for different tastes. Many enjoy a quiet evening at the Valletta Waterfront, others like exploring medieval towns like Mdina, many are brave enough to sing at a karaoke night whilst some find Malta’s history appealing. Although we had a smaller number for this activity, our visit to the Inquisitor’s Palace in Vittoriosa was as successful as any other.
A couple of days before we went, I grabbed my books to brush up on my history. This came in quite handy as I played tourist guide on the day. Our visit to the palace coincided with Birgufest, an annual event that promotes the city of Vittoriosa (aka Birgu) through its history and historical buildings and museums. We were in for a surprise because we also had the opportunity to visit a roaming exhibition of Peasant and Noble Costumes entitled Insights into Rural Life and Society in the palace courtyard. The costumes are authentic and form part of the national collection.
It was interesting to see the difference between peasant and noble social classes through 16th and 17th century costumes which included baby wear, festa clothes, work clothes and special clothes worn only on Sundays.
The students were in awe of this magnificent palace even though it is one of the smallest on the island. It was built by the Knights of Malta on the 1530’s to serve as the Civil Law Courts until 1571.
This building has a long history of tenants. This palace served as the official residence of Malta’s first Inquisitor in 1574 for Mgr Pietro Dusina and all his successors. By the mid-18th century they managed successfully to transform the building into a typical Roman palace. The palace was also used by high ranking officials during the French Occupation. It was later turned into a military hospital and a mess house during British rule. It served as a refuge for Dominic Friars, and today it is the only Inquisitor’s Place open to the public in the world.
We started our tour by admiring the architecture in the courtyard and from there we visited the kitchen where a very old traditional Maltese oven is still in place. We couldn’t miss the beautiful garden with orange and pomegranate trees. Up the staircase we all went to visit the rooms in the upper floor. One beautiful hall is decorated with authentic murals and original paintings.
We also visited the Inquistor’s private quarters that served as a temporary apartment when the palace was set on fire in the 1600’s. These quarters include a luxurious authentic bedroom and the Inquisitor’s own chapel, complete with sacristy, which was used for prayer and welcome distinguished guests. We couldn’t stop wondering about tales of fear and terror as we made our way through corridors and the main hall. If only walls could talk!
The most important hall in the palace is undoubtedly the tribunal, where who know how many innocent lives were shattered when they were accused of blasphemy and witchcraft among other crimes. The torture chamber was the climax of tour visit, with torture mechanism still intact. We felt safe, however because the torture instruments are under lock and key and can only be viewed from a special window.
Each one of us was impressed by a particular part of this unique gem. Personally, I was touched by the feeling I got in the different prison cells. They undeniably ooze a feeling of pain and desperation. But most of all, I was impressed by the many etchings on the walls scratched, probably by their own fingers. Spooky!
written by Katrin Risiott