The National Museum of Natural History, situated in the medieval city of Mdina, would be a perfect destination for those who are interested in the comprehensive history of Malta and willing to know not only cultural and social history, but also the history of Malta’s geology, flora, and fauna. The museum has settled in the 18-th century Vilhena Palace, which used to serve various social functions before its present purpose.
Initially designed in the Baroque style, the building obtained some peculiarities with each of its further tenants. Built in the 1720s, originally the building was the Magisterial Palace of Justice. Since the palace housed the law courts, there are a lot of cells left inside. Then the building was passed to the Grand Master Antonio Manuel de Vilhena, who redesigned the building at his own expense and it served him as his residence. In 1837, when cholera epidemy broke out, the palace served as a temporary hospital, then – as a sanatorium for the British soldiers. In the beginning of 20th century it served as a medical establishment for the patients with tuberculosis. During the Second World War the palace was seriously damaged and it became possible to use the building as a museum only after it was completely restored in 1973. The same year a National Museum of Natural History was opened to the public.
Today the museum is a national repository of various biological specimens, mostly related to Malta’s terrain. Numerous priceless collections are stored in the museum. These are collections of Giuseppe Despott, Mizzi’s mineral collection, and many others. Quantities of the exponents stored by the museum are simply enormous. Thus, the reference collection consists of more than 10 000 rocks and minerals, more than 3500 birds, their eggs, and nests, more than 200 mammals, more than 200 fish, more than a thousand of local and exotic shells and insects. And this enumeration is far from the complete one.
There are some areas in the museum which are an absolute “must see” for those visitors who cannot stay there for long. Be sure to observe separate halls as they demonstrate the most important or most rare exponents. Separate spaces of the museum are devoted to the Maltese Centaury as the local national plant, and the Blue Rock Trush, as the local national bird. Several other areas are dedicated to the paleontology of quaternary period. There you will be able to see a jaw of a dormouse, teeth of a pygmy hippopotamus or a tusk of a pygmy elephant. Among the other displays you will also find the ones showing reptiles. Both local and exotic lizards, turtles and snakes are exhibited there. Another precious area is the ornithology hall. There you will find simply amazing dioramas. The most notable exponent of the hall is a large flying squid. It was found at St.Paul’s Bay in 1989.
It is difficult for a museum storing such valuable exponents to manage without any stories. Thus, in 2004 a case of robbery took place there: Malta’s Apollo 17 Moon rock was stolen. Its approximate value is about 5 million dollars. Unfortunately, the Moon rock has not been retrieved.