The National Museum of Archaeology is housed in the Auberge de Provençe, in Republic Street, Valletta. The building is an example of a fine Baroque building erected in Malta’s capital city, Valletta. The Auberge de Provençe, which dates back to 1571, was house to the Knights of the Order of St John originating from Provençe, France. The way the façade is embossed with Mannerist characteristics seems to imply that the construction of the Auberge was probably entrusted to the local architect Ġlormu Cassar who was assigned to build all the important buildings in Valletta at that time. When compared to other auberges, the Auberge de Provence has a superior design, expressing some of the best Baroque architecture in Malta and reflecting the fashion being employed throughout the rest of Europe at that time. Of particular note amongst the myriad of fascinating features of the Auberge is the large top floor salon, the Grand Salon, with its richly painted walls and wooden beamed ceiling. It was used by the Knights as a place to negotiate business, and as a dining and banqueting hall, where the Knights feasted, seated at long tables according to seniority. Nowadays this Grand Salon is used for temporary exhibitions and is also rented out for conferences and other activities.
1798 saw the taking over of Malta by the French army who forced out the Order of the Knights of St. John out from Malta and took over and administered the property during their two-year occupation of the Islands. Malta once again changed hands during the 1800, passing on to the British Government. During that time the Auberge served a myriad of purposes amongst which, a military barrack and a hotel. In 1826 the Malta Union Club leased the premises for its own activities and events, a lease which was however terminated earlier than agreed, on 12 August 1955, when the Auberge was allocated to house Malta’s National Museum.
The museum at the Auberge de Provençe was officially launched in January 1958 by Ms Agatha Barbara, then Minister of Education. The first director of the museum was Captain Charles G Zammit the son of Malta’s most illustrious Maltese archaeologist Sir Themistocles Zammit. The collection at that time included not only the archaeological collection but also the Fine Arts collection. The collections started growing till they reached an extent that made it necessary to separate the collections and house them into different edifices. The Fine Arts collection was transferred to the Admiralty House in South Street, Valletta where it was inaugurated as the National Museum of Fine Arts in 1974. The National Museum at the Auberge de Provençe was then renamed as the National Museum of Archaeology. Exhibition display development along the years dictated that the museum display be refurbished, an exercise that saw the newly refurbished museum open in 1998 after two years of closure.
The National Museum of Archaeology currently houses a spectacular range of artefacts dating back to Malta’s Neolithic period; from the Għar Dalam phase (5200 BC) up to the Tarxien phase (2500 BC). On display at this museum are the earliest tools used by the prehistoric people to facilitate their daily tasks; representations of animal life and also human figures, both elements showing the great artistic skills of the dwellers of the island at the time also giving us an insight on their daily lives. Highlights include the ‘Sleeping Lady’ from the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, the ‘Venus of Malta’ from Ħaġar Qim and the large altars from the Tarxien Temples. The National Museum of Archaeology presents the visitor with a good introduction to the prehistory of the Maltese Islands and is the catalyst to the other archaeological sites in Malta. Works are currently undergoing to include the Bronze Age, Phoenician, Punic, Roman and Byzantine period displays on the Upper Floor.
Source: Heritage Malta