Malta Diary Malta at war – a history of insurgence, upheaval, sieges, and military battlefields – in museums
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As you may have been reading/seeing/hearing in the hyped-up international and local media over the last two weeks, Malta is at war again – this time, with itself! This has given rise to the usual hysterical reports of “massive” demonstrations, tensions, and insurgencies etc – all media tactics to fill blank newspaper spaces and void air spaces with something to attract the attention.
Yes, there have been a few demos attended by a few hundred protestors; yes, the Government is currently in turmoil trying to pacify situations; and yes of course, the Opposition has been making political capital out of the situation after seven years of electoral debacles to try and regain some credibility – that is when they are not too busy trying to demolish themselves – as they have been doing.
Otherwise, life goes on as normal. Schools are open daily, football matches played as scheduled, restaurants and cafes continue to do a roaring trade, Christmas lights have been switched on and – Christmas is on the way!
This is a big faked storm in a teacup in a country that over 2,000 years has become inured to war situations, a country that has been invaded by the Romans, the Moors, the French, the Axis powers and has been occupied by so many foreigners, including some of the afore mentioned together with the Phoenicians, the Arabs, the Knights of St John and the British (among many others) and thus has been in continual war situations, survived two tremendous sieges, two World Wars but – above all, Islands that have retained their own distinct identity.
To capture these historic developments, among its museums, Malta has an Armoury and a National War Museum, mainly devoted to the Second World War.
The Armoury, housed in the Presidential Palace in Valletta and formerly the Palace of the Grandmasters of the Knights has an extensive collection of armour and weapons dating back to the times when the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem made Malta their home base for almost two centuries in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
It is has been classified as one of the most valuable historic monuments of European culture. The Armoury itself houses one of the world’s most extensive arms collections in its original buildings and contains one the most symbolic reminders of the past strengths, triumphs and glories of The Knights of St. John in Malta.
Always highly conscious of strengthening the Order’s patrimony and heritage and in entrenching their own name in history, Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt in 1604 established the Armoury at the Palace where it remained in the same hall for 370 years, but in 1975 the whole collection containing 5,721 pieces was moved to its current location on the ground floor.
There was a moment of commotion and turmoil when in the 1850s the British drew up plans to transfer the whole collection to London “to keep safe from future attacks”, in other words to purloin it and establish it in a London museum, but they dropped the idea after stiff resistance by the Maltese.
The Armoury was officially opened in 1860 to become Malta’s first public museum and today still houses a great number of authentic items of German, French, Italian and Spanish origin. The collection also contains a very rare and unique example of a working arsenal surviving in its original building and naturally attracts many visitors.
The more important pieces in the collection are the Italian “Sallet”, the most fascinating suit of armour worn by Grandmaster Jean Parisot de La Vallette during the Moorish Siege of 1565 as well as the Wignacourt parade armour, the ‘Pompeo della Cesa’ armour, the Cuirassier armour, swords and rapiers, early crossbows, the Italian ‘snaphaunce’ pistol, heavy bronze artillery pieces as well as a smaller bronze canon.
Also under the care and supervision of Heritage Malta, Fort St Elmo in lower Valletta houses the National War Museum in a location that was also originally constructed by the Knights of Malta because of its superb views over the Grand Harbour and later used by the British very much as a focal point of defence. The collection hosts a superb collection of artifacts that go back to prehistoric times.
Understandably, right on the day when Malta became involved in the World War II conflict, on 11th June 1940, Fort St Elmo suffered the first aerial bombardment on the islands.
Visitors to the Fort may experience the impressive grounds of the fort, including the splendid architecture of the two chapels dedicated to St Anne. Among the most notable artifacts in the Museum, one finds a considerable collection of armour used by the Knights and the Ottoman Turks, the Gloucester Sea Gladiator N5520 “Faith” that was part of a trio of Gladiator aircraft used in Malta’s WWII defence, the others being “Hope” and “Charity”, the ‘Husky’ jeep used by Theodore Roosevelt when he visited Malta in WWII on his way to the Yalta Conference and of course the George Cross Medal awarded to Malta by King George VI for bravery in 1942.
“The ingredients of a soup are only known to those who concocted it”
The intrigues of a situation are only known to those who have meddled in it.
“Listen to everything but only believe as you feel and judge”
With all the fake news swirling around the world today, solid words of advice.