The layers of history in Valletta can be felt in its very buildings. This is what is being felt in the extensive restoration being carried out at Auberge d’Italia which within a few months will transform itself into the National Art Museum, known as MUŻA. This is one of the major projects being carried out this year while Valletta is celebrating the title of the European Capital of Culture. It is being carried out at an investment of around €10 million from EU funds.
This is considered one of the most ambitious projects being carried out in Valletta and the contemporary museum is expected to include interactive installations with public spaces. This used to be a beehive of activity during the time of the Order, and it was the building from where the Order’s fleet, which was in the hands of the Italian Knights, used to be managed.
Heritage Malta, which is working on the restoration, is carrying out extensive interventions in the area known as Camerone – which took its name from the huge size of this part of the auberge which used to serve as a grand dining hall during the time of the Knights of St John. The restoration of this part of the building will bring this hall back to its original appearance after it was divided in two during the British era.
Sandro Debono, the project leader at Heritage Malta, said that “during the mid-19th century it was divided in two. In fact, the intervention which is being proposed in the context of the MUŻA project is part of this space which up until recently was completely divided over two floors, and it will now be restored to the way it was originally during the time of the Order.”
The damages to this building were serious. Suffice to say that part of it had been directly hit by an air strike during the last war and the interventions which were carried from time to time indicate the attempts which were made to prevent the Auberge from collapsing. Long before that, during the 18th century, different architects even came to the conclusion that the building should be torn down and re-built from scratch.
“We need to give value to every layer of every historical period. Two interventions were carried out in connection with two particular historical periods and in our work we saw the significance of these interventions and we could better understand the story behind this historical building.”
In more recent times, the Auberge d’Italia also served as a National Museum, as a Court and as the Office for the Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism. In a few months, MUŻA will be a completely new experience for those who step inside the new National Art Museum.