Discover the history of the Auberge de Provence, the baroque building that houses the Museum, its function along the ages and current use housing various major archaeological collections
Auberge de Provence
The Auberge de Provence, with a design showcasing some of the finest Baroque architecture in Malta, and various tenants that modified its importance along the ages, is currently the National Museum of Archaeology.
The National Museum of Archaeology provides the visitor with an overview of the Prehistory and early history of the Maltese islands.
It houses a spectacular range of artefacts dating back to Malta’s Neolithic period (5200-2500BC) up till the early Phoenician period (8th - 6th Century BC).
The National Museum of Archaeology is housed in one of the most stylish Baroque buildings still distinguishable in Valletta, more precisely at the Auberge de Provence in Republic Street.
This building, originally built by architect Girolamo Cassar for the Provencal Knights of the order of St John, dates back to 1571.
The Auberge’s interior consists of rooms roofed by diaphragm arches, quadripartite vaults and wooden ceilings consisting of beams.
During nearly 450 years of diverse tenants, the building was adopted according to its various functions.
The Auberge de Provence, with its prominent position in the newly built city, was one of the most important landmarks since it housed the Gran Commendatore, also known as Pilier, who occupied the highest rank after the Grand Master.
Like most auberges, it had a courtyard and other amenities such as a bakery, a mule or horse-powered mill, cellars, store rooms and stables, thus making it self-sufficient.
Other than the domestic quarters, reference is made to a large dining room which would have probably been set with silverware, since it is reputed that the Auberge de Provence was second in riches only to that of France.
There are records that in 1817 a part of it was occupied by the Department of the Military Commissioner with the remaining areas being used for concerts, balls and to sell paintings, furniture and other antiques.
In 1820 an association was set up to organise winter balls thus turning the Auberge into a social venue filling its halls with dances accompanied by music and laughter as well as other social encounters, some not lacking a political influence.
In 1826, the Malta Union Club, an organisation formed by British officers and civilians serving in Malta, was founded and acquired the first floor of the Auberge.
The MUC later acquisitioned the ground floor in 1862 and on the 1st January 1903 the Club took over the entire building by title of emphyteusis for ninety nine years. However, the lease was terminated in 1958.
The museum at the Auberge de Provence was officially inaugurated in January 1958 by Ms Agatha Barbara. At that time, under the direction of Captain Charles G. Zammit, the museum consisted of the Fine Arts collection on the first floor and the Archaeology section on the ground floor.
In 1974 it was deemed necessary to separate the two collections to allow growth and development, and the Fine Arts section was moved to the Admiralty House in South Street, Valletta.
Malta’s National Museum was then renamed The National Museum of Archaeology
Highlights of the various features of this building and the different collections on display to the general public.
The façade is imprinted with Mannerist characteristics usually associated with Girolamo Cassar. Very little of Cassar's original design has survived, due to the extensive renovation in 1638 by architect Mederico Blondel.
On entering the National Museum of Archaeology, one can immediately admire the richly decorated ceiling of the lobby area. This allegorical decoration has been attributed to Nicoló Nasoni.
Richly painted and decorated, the main focus is the central panel. The main figure, holding a sword and a shield has been interpreted as representing ‘Religion’. The visible parts of the shield show parts of the eight-pointed cross, which is characteristic of the Order of St John.
A number of medallions surrounding this centrepiece depict various Biblical narratives.
Housed on two floors, the Museum exhibits a spectacular range of artefacts dating back to Malta’s Neolithic period (5200 - 2500 BC) up to the Phoenician Period (8th-6th century BC).
On display are the earliest tools used by the prehistoric people to facilitate their daily tasks and representations of animal and human figures
Such elements not only show the great artistic skills of the first dwellers of the island but also give us an insight of their daily lives.
On the other hand, the Bronze Age and Phoenician halls give an insight on the new generation of dwellers.
The introduction of metal, the practice of cremation, and the stylized figurines representing the human form bear witness to this cultural break.
Similarly, the next generation of inhabitants were highly influenced by the Phoenicians and the language marking the end of the prehistoric era.
The finest room in this building is undoubtedly the Grand Salon.
Located on the upper floor, it was used for the knights’ business discussions. It was also used as a refectory and banqueting hall, where the knights dined, seated at long tables according to seniority.
This room is one of the noblest rooms in Malta.
Its size and rich–painted walls add to the individuality of its wooden beam roof with coffered panels between the beams.
Currently, part of the ground floor has been transformed into the Mathurin Romegas hall. This space is entirely dedicated to host contained temporary exhibitions.
Sir Themistocles Zammit
A tribute to the man who promoted Maltese archaeology to international standards
Sir Temi Zammit, as he is better known in Malta, was one of the key persons who worked very hard to promote Maltese archaeology during times when it was very hard to do so, mainly owing to lack of public interest.
A doctor by profession, he was instrumental in discovering how the virus which caused undulant fever, which is also referred to as ‘Maltese fever’, was transmitted.
He was the first curator of the Museum, and in 1922 became the Director of the Museums Department, a position he retained until his demise in 1935.
In 1930, His Majesty King George V had bestowed upon him the title of Sir.
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