Situated in the old town of Vittoriosa, or otherwise called Birgu, the Inquisitor’s Palace is the only building of this kind in the world, which is opened to the public. The major part of such places was destroyed in revolts against the Catholic Church or simply didn’t withstand the test of time. The Maltese Palace suffered many changes made by all the 62 Inquisitors and other tenants of the building. Almost 5 centuries of the local history imprinted in its walls continue attracting tourists over and over.
The building was constructed in the 1530s and initially it served as a place of civil law courts, known as Castellania. In 1574 it passed to the first Inquisitor in Malta – Pietro Dusina, officially referred as general inquisitor and apostolic delegate of the Maltese islands. The palace was named as Palazzo del Sant'Officio then. After that the building was passed to every next general Inquisitor for all the 200 years of the Inquisition’s presence in Malta.
The building served as headquarters of the Inquisition and the Inquisitor’s residence. It also provided the premises for prisons and tribunal. Since every inquisitor transformed the palace according to his own purposes and cultural preferences, by the middle of the 18th century they managed to redesign the entire building into a Roman typical palace with tenuous Baroque features. A small courtyard with a Gothic groin vault cloister is all that remained of the Castellania.
It must be mentioned that a lot of important historic decisions were made there. Numerous powerful people of those times visited the Palace. Thus, the Inquisition often played a role of the intermediary between the Knights and Bishops until the Order was exiled by the French in 1798. Some of the Inquisitors who resided there occupied places of Vicars of Christ. Thus, Fabio Chigi became Pope Alexander VII, Antonio Pignatelli became Pope Innocent XII.
After the French invasion the building’s role changed considerably. It was used as a military hospital by the French. Under the British it was a mess -house. Then it was a refuge for Dominic Friars. In times of foreign rule there was even a period when the building was transmitted to the civil authorities in exchange for certain property of Valetta. The Public Works Office planned to demolish the Palace to build there apartments but, happily, it never came true.
Today the house accommodates the Museum of Ethnography, which mostly focuses on the role of religion and its branches in Maltese culture. It has a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Inquisition’s impact on the Maltese society. There is a display that shows the connection between the liturgical calendar and cults spread on the islands.
Visitors of the Museum will be able to see such premises of the Palace as inquisitor's bedroom, a kitchen cellar, a courtyard, a prison yard, a tribunal hall, prison cells, a prison warden room and a torture room. Among the most interesting exponents one will find there the Inquisitor’s costume, a magical hat with a spell in Arab, Muslim magical sheets, and various Inquisitors court documents. Don’t miss a chance to study the case against 40 witches accused of love witchcraft in 1625. Another case to know about concerns 3 Knights accused of apostasy and possession of the prohibited books.
In general, having visited the Inquisitor’s Palace, you can come out with a completely new picture of the historic events of that period. You will know a lot of human stories which will show you a real reflection of those times. History of the Inquisition without cinema exaggeration would seem completely different. You will know how courts were really held, what kind of tortures was really used, how Carravaggio or Vittorio Cassar participated in courts and many other interesting facts.