The Inquisitor’s Palace is situated in the heart of Birgu a.k.a. Vittoriosa in the Three Cities, just a short ferry crossing from Malta’s capital city, Valletta. It is one of the few surviving palaces of its kind in the world and the only one open to the general public.
The first Inquisitor to be posted to Malta was Monsignor Pietra Dusina in 1574. The Grand Master, of the Knights of St John in Malta, offered him the unused palace in Birgu to be his official residence.
Nearly all the successive inquisitors in Malta added their own personal touch to the palace. It was fascinating walking through the palace rooms and seeing the changes in styles over the years. Although the building has been restored and refurbished, it’s incredible how it even survived the massive bombing that took place in the Three Cities during the Second World War.
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The Roman Inquisition
The Roman Inquisition was initially set up in 1542 by Pope Paul III to protect the Catholic Church from Protestantism. Its aim was to ingrain ‘correct behaviour’ that was expected from a Catholic.
During the 16th century, the main concerns of the Inquisitors were the reading of prohibited books that foreign Protestants brought to Malta. By the 17th century, the focus of the Inquisitors had changed. Now, they were increasingly concerned about the growing number of Muslim slaves practicing so-called magic and sorcery. By the 18th century, the Inquisition was more troubled with the increase of bigamy, blasphemy, and apostasy to Islam.
Overall, the Inquisition in Malta (1561 to 1798) was considered to have been much gentler than the Spanish Inquisition. (For all those Monty Python fans out there, I know what’s going through your minds right now!)
What Would Life Have Been Like In The Prisons Cells At The Inquisitors Palace?
Within the Inquisitor’s palace, there were two prison sections: one where you were detained while waiting for your trial and the other one for punishment after a sentence. Prison sentences were quite short, from just a few days to a few years.
Life in the Inquisitor’s palace prisons was not as harsh as the civil prisons of the time where people slept rough on the floor in crowded cells without sanitation. In the Inquisitors prisons, the cells had beds with straw mattresses and blankets, and they could use a candle at night. Some cells even had their own toilets, whereas in others, the prisoners would have been led to the large and I’d imagine rather smelly toilet pit by the prison warden.
The Inquisitor would also take care of the prisoners’ spiritual needs: they could attend Mass, and make confession in their own cell.
But What About Torture At The Inquisitors Palace?
Actually, torture was rarely inflicted by the Inquisition. It was only used during trials as a way of extracting confessions when the accused would insist on his innocence, but the Inquisitor was adamant he was guilty.
During the Roman Inquisition in Malta, there were three principal means of inflicting torture.
One of the punishments was to tie a person’s hands behind his back, lift him up in mid-air using a rope and pulley and leave him hanging for 30 minutes.
Another form of torture was the use of a stringitore, a wooden vice to crush one’s ankles.
Another popular form of torture at the time was to be forced to sit on a kavallett which looks like a wooden, triangular saddle.
June 1798 – The End of the Inquisition in Malta
The Inquisition came to an abrupt halt in Malta when the French, in June 1798, took over the Maltese islands. The Inquisitor was given just 48 hours to leave the island, and the Tribunal was closed down.
Overall, the Inquisitors Palace is an interesting place to explore for a couple of hours, and it’s suitable for all ages – yes, even the torture chambers! The layout is a little confusing, but to be honest, I find that in most museums. Note that the doorways to the prison cells are quite low, so watch your head.
Not sure if it was a temporary or permanent exhibition, and it seemed a bit random in the middle of the summer, but there was a room dedicated to nativity scenes.
There’s also a small, but really lovely museum shop with very reasonably priced books and other souvenirs and gifts, plus a tourist information office with helpful staff on site.
What Are The Opening Hours For The Inquisitor’s Palace?
- Open daily from 09:00 to 17:00
- Last admission 16:30 (but you would need more than 30 minutes to get around.)
- Closed 24, 25 and 31 December. 1 January and Good Friday.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit The Inquisitor’s Palace?
- Adults (18 – 59 years): €6.00
- Youths (12 – 17 years), Senior Citizens (60 years & over) and Students: €4.50
- Children (6 – 11 years): €3.00
- Infants (1 – 5 years): Free
- (Prices valid as at June 2019)
How To Get To The Inquisitor’s Palace?
Coming from Valletta, the easiest and most scenic way to get to the Inquisitors Palace is to take the Three Cities Ferry. Alternatively, take bus number 2, but it’s not such a picturesque journey.
Visiting Birgu from other parts of Malta? Check on Google Maps for details on where to change buses.
If you are driving, as with many places in Malta, parking is a bit of a nightmare, but persistence and a few choice swear words usually helps.