This article provides information about a selected few of Malta’s most interesting museums, and places to visit in Malta during your holiday.
Malta is said to be one large heritage park, with over 7000 years of history. With over 30 museums on such a small island, clearly including all aspects of Malta’s heritage, it is no wonder that holiday tourists and heritage enthusiasts alike will be satisfied! The Citadella in Gozo, and Valletta, Malta’s capital city, each contain the largest number of museums on either island, all of which are perfectly situated within walking-distance from one another. However, instead of listing each museum in order of location, they have been listed here in order of theme, making it easier for you to spot those which interest you the most!
The first settlers of the island travelled by boat to Malta from Sicily around 5000BC and are said to be responsible for the superb megalithic Temple culture of the island, known particularly for its temples and for its distinctive array of figurines. Since the temple sites are open-air, most of the original features were replaced by replicas in order to ensure preservation of the originals in safe, indoor locations. The National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta is in fact the primary location for the original features as well as the finds from all the prehistoric sites. The same may be said for the Museum of Archaeology in the Citadel, Gozo, which houses the findings from the Gozitan sites, with particular attention given to the recent finds from the Xagra Circle prehistoric burial grounds.
The Phoenician and Punic period archaeology is also housed within the National Museum of Archaeology but the newly furbished floor is currently closed to the public and scheduled to open soon. As for the Roman Period, the Domus Romana in Rabat is a perfect portal through time, with remains of a townhouse that was active during the 1st-2nd Centuries AD, that included toiletry items, imperial statuary and spectacular mosaics. Within the heart of Rabat one can also find the St. Agatha Museum which is a small, crowded museum, with a collection of artifacts discovered by farmers through time, that were bought by a priest whose main interest was to protect the ancient material.
Architecture & Art in Malta
The National Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta displays an array of art from the early Renaissance to modern times, by a range of foreign as well as Maltese artists. Some of the most exciting pieces in the museum are surely those by Mattia Preti, Guido Reni and J. M.W. Turner. The Cathedral Museums, of Mdina and the Citadel, also display a range of artwork – mainly religious, relics, vestments, old manuscripts and more. St John’s Co-Cathedral and Museum offers a unique display of art, marble work, altar pieces and architecture dating to the time of the Knights. The highlight of this building, which attracts art-lovers from all over the world, is the ‘Beheading of St. John’ by Caravaggio.
Palazzo Falzon in Mdina, Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar, Casa Bernard in Rabat and Casa Rocca Piccola in Valletta are four spectacular palaces and noble houses that not only display art and antique furniture but also provide interesting information about the nobilities of Malta.
History of Malta
Being an island, the sea has always been an important factor in the history of Malta, and it is not surprising that there are two Maritime Museums to visit, one in Birgu and one in Nadur. These display an interesting story about the use of the sea from prehistoric to post-colonial times. The story of the traditional boat, the ‘Luzzu’, is also presented. The Palace Armoury in Valletta, Inquisitor’s Palace in Birgu and Old Prison in the Citadel all display another crucial period on the island – that of the Knights of St. John. The Armoury holds one of the world’s greatest collection of arms, still in its original building; the Inquisitor’s Palace displays the splendid architecture, old cells and antique furniture of the 1500’s civil law courts; and the Old Prison displays the graffiti-covered cells used by the Knights ‘to cool down’ its rowdy members.
World War II left an incredible echo in the history of the islands. Again, two museums are dedicated to this difficult time – The National War Museum in Valletta and the Malta at War Museum in Vittoriosa, with an original underground air-raid shelter forming part of the latter. These display original uniforms, insignia, parts of spitfire and wings, relics, convoys and equipment.
Maltese Traditions and Folklore
The Folklore Museum in the Citadel and the Garb Folklore Museum in Garb are two of the most charming museums on the Maltese islands and display a mixture of several Maltese traditional items that depict rural ways of life. These include items relating to traditional hobbies, agricultural implements, trades and skills. Similarly, the Ta’ Kola Windmill at Xagra which was built in 1725 and was converted to a museum, is almost a frozen moment in time and displays the rural life of the miller trade.
Other Maltese Attractions
Two other interesting museums are the Manoel Theatre Museum in Valletta, which includes old costumes and a history of the theatre in Malta, including a description of the rise and fall of the Valletta Opera House which was destroyed during WWII, and the Limestone Heritage which explains the creation of the islands and the use of its limestone throughout the ages. Other diversely themed museums include the two Toy Museums of Valletta and Xagra, the Natural History Museum in Mdina, the Natural Science Museum in the Citadel, the Aviation Museum at Ta’ Qali, and the relatively new Classic Car Museum in Qawra, opened only a few years ago.
There is surely a museum to satisfy everyone’s interest!