National Museum Of Natural History
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The history of Malta has been incredibly well documented but the episodes that are widely known are all of a human perspective. There’s another aspect to this island’s past, however, that is just as fascinating – the history of its geology, plant and animal life – for an insight into that head for the National Museum of Natural History in Mdina .
They say first impressions count and this facility certainly scores well in that department because the collection is housed in an 18th century palace, which could be a tourist attraction in its own right. It’s called the Vilhena Palace, dates from the 1720s and was the former home of Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena.
The building was created in the French Baroque style and also once housed the law courts, which explains why there are still a number of cells to be found inside.
During a cholera outbreak in 1837 the palace was drafted into service as a temporary hospital and later that century was used as a sanatorium for British troops. It was still in medical use in the early years of the 20th century, providing beds and care for patients with tuberculosis.
The palace sustained serious bomb damage during WWII and so even though it had been intended to use it as a museum as early as the 1960s, it was not until 1973 that it had been repaired, renovated and inaugurated as a National Museum of Natural History.
It is now the official national repository of biological specimens and contains several collections that are considered to be historically important. These include more than 10,000 rock and mineral samples, 200 mammals and 200 fish species, 3,500 birds, birds’ eggs and nests, as well as thousands of local and exotic shells and insects and a very impressive fossil collection.
The display areas have been given an overhaul fairly recently to keep them looking fresh and interesting. Highlights inside include a section dedicated to Malta’s national bird, the blue rock thrush, and its national plant, Maltese centaury.
There are also areas dedicated to palaeontology and the remains of the Maltese quaternary period, where highlights include a tusk of a pygmy elephant, the teeth of a pygmy hippopotamus, and a lower jaw of a giant dormouse.
You’ll find displays dedicated to reptiles too and these include several local and exotic species of lizards, snakes and turtles and a small hall full of exhibits that come from marine ecosystems.
Don’t miss the ornithology hall because in here there are some excellent dioramas. Look out too for the collection of local shelled and exotic animals (where the most notable item is the large, flying squid that was washed ashore in 1989 at St Paul’s Bay).
You’ll find the National Museum of Natural History in San Publius Square in Mdina. It’s on your right hand side almost immediately after you walk through the main city gates. Admission is €5 for adults with concessionary rates for children, students and OAPs. The museum opens Monday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm.
Address : Vilhena Palace, St Publius Square, Mdina, Malta
Phone : +356 2145 5951
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