Malta Diary That was The Rock that was – Malta’s greatest all-time robberies from the Museum of Natural History
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The expression I hate most – used mainly exclusively by Maltese people posting on Facebook – is when they have been overseas and return and announce they are “Back on The Rock”.
Right, so Malta is one large rock, but it’s home for 420,000 of us (the population right now, enormously inflated by thousands of illegal arrivals and EU Schengens seeking relief and employment here in a booming economy) as well as those from practically every corner of the world, no matter how remote!
However, now that we have started on a Rock and rocks in general – let’s continue.
All countries at all times have great robberies and burglaries that remain outstanding long-time. Take Britain for example. In the early 1960s there was the Great Train Robbery, a robbery so outrageously cheeky and well-planned it remains a robbery hallmark todate. Recently a solid gold loo was stolen from a museum and estimated to be worth a million Sterling.
Robbery targets are usually cash, jewels and precious metals such as gold or platinum or precious stones like diamonds, sapphires and rubies.
Malta being the exception to the rule – as with many other things – well, Malta has to be different of course. One of Malta’s greatest robberies is/was … a lump of rock! Not an ordinary rock mind you; a rock out of this world; in fact, a lump of Moon Rock.
This was a lump of Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock donated by Richard Nixon’s US Government to Malta which was stolen from Malta’s Museum of Natural History in the former capital city of Mdina on Tuesday, 18th May, 2004 – and has never been seen since. Naturally, it was one of the most popular exhibits
The lump of Moon Rock is estimated to be worth €US5 million Dollars and is estimated to be one of Malta’s greatest robberies. How it was stolen and where it ended up is still shrouded in mystery.
At the time, the US television station NDTV reported thus:
“Rare art? Priceless jewels? Nothing so terrestrial.
“West Virginia lost one, until it turned up one June day on a bookshelf in the basement of a retired dentist. New York has one in a vault at a museum in Albany, but another one given to the state for safekeeping was not kept very safe, because it appears to be missing, though the attorney general’s office has started looking into the case.
“A long-lost one in Colorado resurfaced at the home of a former governor, and another one in Arkansas was found among former President Bill Clinton’s memorabilia.
“Somebody swiped one from a museum in the island country of Malta, and somebody else who got his hands on one in Honduras and tried to sell it in Miami to an undercover federal agent.”
However, there are many, many others things housed in the museum worth seeing – including the building itself. The museum is in Mdina’s Palazzo Vilhena, just as one enters the walled city that for many years served as Malta’s capital city before Valletta was built on the waterfront in 1568. The Palazzo is French Baroque and was built in 1726 by the Grandmaster of the Order of St John, Antonio Manoel de Vilhena.
The museum opened for Natural History in 1973 and is now managed by Heritage Malta, as with all other heritage sites and monuments with many activities and visits organised throughout the year.
The display areas cover various topics of Malta’s natural environment and ecosystems, including that underwater and focus on the endemic plants and birds of the Maltese Islands as well as the marine life around them.
Displays include a large variety of geological minerals as well as fossils, insects, reptiles, birds, mammals, fish and extensive sections that explain Malta’s geology and palaeontology history.
Different Maltese habitats are showcased with dioramas that depict the local cliff habitat of birds, traditional rubble walls in fields and valley habitats. One of the halls contains a wide selection of over 850 rocks and minerals.
Naturally, much highlighting is focused on the carved stonework in Malta’s Neolithic temples and numerous catacombs, as well as animal skeletons found in the Ghar Dalam cave which clearly identify that at some time in the mists of historic time Malta was the central part of a land bridge between what is now Europe, and Africa. The minute islands of Filfla, Comino and St Paul’s are also featured as well as Dwejra’s Fungus Rock and its supposedly magic mushrooms.
A museum visit is well worth it. Sadly, plans are being mooted for a relocation of the Museum of Natural History to a more central locality – which would be a great pity and the loss of a wonderful setting.
“Humiliate me and I will humiliate you – until death carries me off”
Self-explanatory – a pledge of a lifetime’s revenge.