Inquisitor's Palace

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The Inquisitor’s Palace, in Birgu, is a surviving relic of a fascinating but sinister period in Malta’s history. It charts more than two centuries from the mid 1500s – a time when the Catholic Church took extreme measures to ensure the island’s population stuck rigidly to its beliefs. It was also a time when confidential confessions and torture were common!

The saga starts in 1542 when the Catholic Church was in crisis – besieged by the growing popularity of the Protestant faith. To counteract this swing in beliefs, Pope Paul III established the Inquisition to persuade Catholics to stay loyal at any cost. By 1562 it had spread to Malta and an Inquisitor was dispatched to the island from Rome.


He originally ‘set up shop’ in Valletta and though what he did behind closed doors was strictly confidential, he rather worryingly decided he needed a place that came ready-equipped with cells! So, in 1574 the Inquisitor moved to Birgu, one of the famous Three Cities, and took up residence in the building that had been built by the Knights of St John to serve as their law courts.


That building came to be known as the Inquisitor’s Palace and was subsequently used by 61 more Italians sent from Rome over the next 200-plus years to keep Malta staunchly Catholic. Though the methods employed within it were much more tame some used in other countries, it is known that torture certainly took place. Records state that sessions were restricted to half an hour and there was a doctor present but that hardly justifies the practices ordered by the Church!


The reputation of the building back then was as a fearsome place, not least because anyone who passed through its doors was sworn to absolute secrecy about what they had encountered within – or suffer severe consequences!


Today, visitors enter in a much better humour and come to see what is an architectural jewel as well as a historic relic. The building is, after all, a rare surviving example of a style of Roman Palace that would have been found all over Europe and South America in the early modern period.


There are display areas in the tribunal room, the prison complex and the kitchen, as well as a permanent exhibition on the impact of the Inquisition on Maltese society.


Look out for the display called ‘Passio et Resurrectio – The Passion and Resurrection of Christ’ – an artistic church model set up for Holy Week of two life-sized sculptures that are paraded in the traditional Good Friday processions. There are also two fine18th century paintings portraying Our Lady of Sorrows and Christ crucified.


This is the only Inquisitor’s Palace open to the public in the world and is also the home to Malta’s Museum of Ethnography, which focuses on the popular devotions and religious values in the Maltese culture. It is an appropriate home for this concept given its religious connections.


You can visit the Inquisitor’s Palace every day from 9am to 5pm and admission is €6 for adults with lower rates available for children, students and OAPs. Children under five years of age enter free of charge.


If you’re looking to visit the Maritime Museum in Birgu as well than it’s worth looking into the Vittoriosa Multi-Site Ticket. This gets you admission to both attractions for €9, provided you visit both in one day.


Birgu, which is also known as Vittorioso, is across the Grand Harbour from Valletta and is easy to reach by car or bus.

Further Information

Address: Main Gate Street, Vittoriosa CSP 08
Phone: +356 2182 7006

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