Exhibition at Villa Bighi commemorates its use as a naval hospital

Fifty years ago Villa Bighi was used as a hospital facility for the last time after 167 years of continuous service.

A permanent exhibition at the interactive Esplora Centre commemorates the era when the building was used as a naval hospital when Malta was a British colony. The exhibition includes information about the architecture, the personalities and the medical technology used at the hospital.

The historic Bighi building is associated with Esplora but the elderly probably remember it as a hospital during the British era.

Villa Bighi was built in 1675 by Fra Giovanni Bichi, who was a Member of the Order of St John but was transformed into a hospital to deal with the plague epidemic of 1813 under doctors Luigi Pisani and Gio Batta Saydon.

The building was formally handed over to the British forces in 1822 and a decision was taken to use the building as a hospital with new surgical wards being added to deal with the spread of infectious diseases at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Esplora official Clayton Cutajar said it had been planned that beds would have plenty of air circulation for patients nd with large verandas and the medical care provided was rated to be among the best.

Cutajar said the hospital had an important role in three wars treating the wounded in the Crimean War of 1854 and later the two World Wars.

Unfortunately the hospital suffered considerably during World War II and much of it did not survive the aerial bombardments.

The British continued to make use of the hospital to 1970 but on 17th September 50 years ago they vacated the building. It then fell into a dilapidated state but ten years ago under the direction of the MCST CEO, Dr Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando it began another period of transformation and is today Esplora and one of the best science centres in Europe.

We visited an upper part of the building with large windows and airy corridors that give an indication of the hospital days and how the wards were. We also discovered that several personalities had been treated at the hospital.

In 1863, the son of Queen Victoria, Prince Alfred was treated there for a month and he placed on record the efficiency of the treatment he had received.

The key to the main door is remarkable and is a prominent exhibit together with a collection of stories and accounts describing the building’s evolution over the years. In 1847 an anaesthetic was administered for the first time at Bighi Hospital and even at the start of the 20th Century x-rays were used in surgical blocks on the other side.

The permanent exhibition: The Life of Bighi is housed in the lift building known as the cot lift that was the second lift in Malta to be powered by electric energy and was used to transport patients direct to wards from the sea.