11 Must-see museums in Malta
by Yellow 14 Days
Malta is known for its rich and colourful history. It’s no wonder that this small island is peppered with museums - all eager to share their story. Here is a selection of museums that offer a glimpse into the way people in Malta lived, played… and tortured.
We picked these 11 museums to offer variety as well as an overall picture of what Malta's fabric is made of at its very roots. From the way people lived and adapted during the war, to the gruesome, medieval practices that once existed. Then we fast forward to more recent times to see how people in Malta communicated through the postal system.
HOW THE MALTESE LIVED
Maltese archeological museums and sites
The National Museum of Archaeology, located in Valletta’s Republic Street, exhibits a spectacular range of artefacts dating back to Malta’s Neolithic period (5000 BC) up to the Phoenician Period (400 BC). Here you’ll see the tools which prehistoric people used during their daily tasks as well as “drawings” of animal and human figures - which not only show the artistic skills of the first dwellers on the island but also give insight into their daily lives.
Highlights include the Sleeping Lady from the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, the Venus of Malta from Ħaġar Qim, bronze daggers recovered from the Bronze Age layers at Tarxien Temples, the Horus & Anubis pendant and the anthropomorphic sarcophagus, both belonging to the Phoenician Period.
The museum’s Gozitan counterpart - the Gozo Museum of Archaeology - is located behind the original gateway to the Citadel. The museum illustrates the cultural history of Gozo from prehistoric times to the early modern period. Its exhibits showcase themes like burial, religion, art, food and daily life, making use of material from various archaeological sites in Gozo.
Malta At War Museum
The Malta At War Museum is housed in 18th century army barracks located at Couvre Porte, Vittoriosa. It documents the ordeal which the Maltese and their defenders endured during the Malta Blitz (1940-43) in WW2.
The museum offers a rich collection of period artefacts and memorabilia ranging from personal items, documents, medals, uniforms and weaponry. It also features period newsreels and sounds. Here you can watch the first documentary ever made on the island. Entitled 'Malta G.C.’, the short film was released in January 1943 on the initiative of King George VI who wanted his subjects to witness Malta’s endurance at a time when Malta received the George Cross for bravery. Digital copies of this film are available from the museum.
Tucked away in one of the narrow winding roads within the walls of the Citadel in Victoria, Gozo, is the Folklore Museum inside Gran Castello Historic House opened in 1983. Visitors can view items related to rural trades and skills such as sickles, spades, forks, shovels and ploughs, as well as a selection of grinding mills. Also on display are domestic Gozitan crafts, such as lace.
The first floor hosts an exhibition related to hobbies, such as hunting and modelling of churches. The exhibition also shows several furniture pieces, a collection of traditional costumes, as well as items once used by traditional fishermen. Other items that can be found are a stone oven, a cotton gin and a vegetable grading machine.
Malta Postal Museum
The Malta Postal Museum, located in Valletta, is one of Malta's newest heritage attractions - having been inaugurated in 2016. The museum explores centuries of postal history starting way back in the 16th century during the time of the Order of St John in Malta. It contains every Maltese postage stamp issued from 1860 (the Halfpenny Yellow) to 2010.
The collection not only marks historic milestones. It also tells the stories of numerous people who played a part in the development of Malta’s communication. It includes a functioning post office, a gift shop, a section dedicated to children, and two galleries for temporary exhibitions.
SEA AND SKY
Malta Maritime Museum
Housed within the Old Naval bakery, the Malta Maritime Museum charts 7,000 years of Malta’s maritime history within a Mediterranean context. It also illustrates the global nature of seafaring and its impact on Malta’s society.
The museum houses a unique collection of over 20,000 artefacts belonging to Malta’s maritime past. It showcases some unique artefacts including the largest known Roman anchor in the world, the earliest known ex-voto paintings (left as a religious offering in fulfilment of a vow of gratitude) on the island, the largest ship model belonging to the Order of St John, the largest collection of cannons on the island, the Napoleonic figurehead of the 110 gunship HMS Hibernia, a 1950s working marine steam engine, and a collection of over 60 boats!
Malta Aviation Museum
The Malta Aviation Museum is an aircraft museum situated on the site of the former Royal Air Force airfield in Ta'Qali. The museum, based in three hangars, covers the history of aviation on the island.
The museum is involved in the preservation and restoration of the exhibits’ aircraft, some of which are of airworthy condition. This aircraft-enthusiast heaven includes a WWII Spitfire Mk IX and a Hawker Hurricane IIa, salvaged in 1995 after 54 years at the bottom of the sea off Malta’s southwest coast. Other aircraft on display include a vintage Flying Flea, a De Havilland Vampire T11, a Fiat G91R and a battered old Douglas Dakota DC-3.
Museums of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History is situated in an 18th century palace in Mdina. One of the main attractions includes the largest squid found in Maltese waters. The display areas cover various topics such as Maltese geology and palaeontology, exotic mammals, marine fauna, insects, shells and birds and other topics like human evolution. Here you’ll also find a collection of some 850 pieces of rocks and minerals, with both raw material and worked pieces of art and jewellery.
Meanwhile, in Gozo’s Citadel, the Gozo Nature Museum focuses on Gozo’s natural resources and their use by the island’s inhabitants. The geology section includes marine organisms deposited on the seafloor between 35 and 5 million years ago and fragments of fossil bones. An exhibit not to be missed is a tiny specimen of a moonstone accompanied by a small Maltese flag. The stone was brought from the moon’s surface by the crew of Apollo II and donated to the Maltese people by American President Nixon.
TOYS AND MORE
Malta Classic Car Museum
Located in Qawra, the Malta Classic Car Museum contains over 80 classic cars and motorcycles - ranging from T-Birds to Spitfires and Fiats to Fords - spread over 3,000 square metres of the museum.
The cars have been restored to a pristine condition. As you stroll around the Malta Classic Car Museum, it feels as if you are walking back through time and revisiting the golden eras of motoring. To really take you back in time, the museum also contains a collection of antiques and memorabilia from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Gramophones, antique television sets, jukeboxes and even the fashions of yesteryear, all frame the collection and help put it in context.
Museums of toys
The Toy Museum in Valletta holds a collection of toys from the 1950s onwards. These include model planes, boats, matchbox cars, farmyard animals, trains and dolls. This museum was opened by Vincent Brown in 1998 and displays his personal collection accumulated over 30 years.
Another museum dedicated to toys is the Pomzkizillious Toy Museum in Xaghra, Gozo. This privately-owned museum was originally set up by Susan Lowe in Devon, England, in the 1970s and has toys from all around the world. The earliest objects on display are a late 18th century Maltese doll with a carved wooden head and some Italian Presepio and figurines dating from the 1790s.
THE SCARY STUFF
Not for the faint-hearted, the Mdina Dungeons Museum showcases dramatic, mediaeval torture methods that took place in these underground passageways, chambers and cells.
Housed beneath the noble Magisterial Vilhena Palace in Mdina, the museum displays life-size figures. The episodes described range from different periods in Malta’s history - Romans, Byzantine, Arabs, Knights and French. Visitors get a glimpse of what crucifixions, beheadings and public executions looked like at a time when these were commonplace occurrences.
The Inquisitor’s Palace, situated in the heart of Vittoriosa, is one of the last few surviving palaces of its kind. The palace was built in the 1530s and served as law courts until the 1570s when it became the tribunal (and prison) of the Inquisition - tasked to find and suppress heresy. The first general inquisitor to use the palace was Mgr Pietro Dusina who arrived in Malta in 1574 as an apostolic delegate of the Maltese Islands.
Today, the palace houses a small museum. The most fascinating parts of the building include the former prison cells, with elaborate carvings by prisoners on the walls, and the torture chamber, with its rope contraptions for extracting confessions.
If you enjoy travelling back in time by visiting museums, you’ll find more listed on Yellow. Alternatively, you could head to one of Malta’s bookshops and read up about the island’s fascinating history.
Uncover the past. Discover local - www.yellow.com.mt.