Palazzo Vilhena

Palazzo Vilhena
Il-Palazz De Vilhena

Forecourt of Palazzo Vilhena
Former names Connaught Hospital
Alternative names Vilhena Palace
Magisterial Palace
General information
Status Intact
Type Palace
Architectural style French Baroque
Location Mdina, Malta
Coordinates 35°53′5.3″N 14°24′14″E / 35.884806°N 14.40389°E / 35.884806; 14.40389
Named for António Manoel de Vilhena
Construction started 1726
Completed 1728
Owner Government of Malta
Technical details
Material Limestone
Design and construction
Architect Charles François de Mondion
Heritage Malta

Palazzo Vilhena, also known as Vilhena Palace (Maltese: Il-Palazz De Vilhena) or the Magisterial Palace (Maltese: Palazz Maġisterjali), is a French Baroque palace in Mdina, Malta. It is named after António Manoel de Vilhena, the Grand Master who commissioned it. It was built between 1726 and 1728 to designs of the French architect Charles François de Mondion, on the site of the meeting place of the Università. The palace was used a hospital in the 19th and 20th centuries, and it became known as Connaught Hospital after 1909. Since 1973, it has been open to the public as the National Museum of Natural History.


Background and construction

The site of Palazzo Vilhena has been inhabited since ancient times, and post-Punic remains have been found in the area.[1] In around the 8th century, a Byzantine fort was probably built on the site, and in the Middle Ages it developed into a castle known as the Castellu di la Chitati. The castle's inner walls were demolished in the 15th century, and the remaining part was converted into a palace by Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam in the 1530s.[2] The palace was called the Palazzo Giuratale, and it housed the civil administrative council known as the Università. The structure was damaged in the 1693 Sicily earthquake.[3]

Interior of the palace

On 3 November 1722, the newly elected Grand Master, António Manoel de Vilhena, issued orders for the restoration and renovation of Mdina.[4] The city entrance was completely rebuilt, and the seat of the Università was demolished to make way for a summer palace for the Grand Master. A new Banca Giuratale was built to house the Università following the demolition of its meeting place.[5]

Construction of Vilhena's new palace began in 1726, and it was completed two years later in 1728. The building was designed by Charles François de Mondion in the French Baroque style that was popular in Parisian hôtel palaces,[6] and it was constructed under the supervision of the Maltese capomastro Petruzzo Debono.[7]


The palace served as a temporary hospital during a cholera outbreak in 1837.[8]

On 12 June 1860, the palace was converted into a sanatorium by the British military. The palace was leased for £160 a year, and conversion of the building into a hospital cost less than £1000. The hospital was temporarily closed down in 1890, and it briefly served as a barracks. It reopened soon afterwards, and was finally closed down in 1907.[9]

The palace was reopened by King Edward VII on 22 April 1909, as a hospital for patients suffering from tuberculosis. It was known as Connaught Hospital after Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, who donated £800 to buy new equipment for the hospital.[10][11] The hospital was closed down in 1956.[12]


The palace was inaugurated as the National Museum of Natural History on 22 June 1973. Its collections include samples of flora and fauna, fossils, rocks, minerals and dioramas of Maltese habitats.[8]

The palace's forecourt was restored in the early 2000s at a cost of around Lm46,000. It was inaugurated by the President of Malta, Guido de Marco, in July 2002.[13]

The building was included on the Antiquities List of 1925.[14] It is now a Grade 1 national monument, and it is listed on the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands.[7]


The arch leading to the forecourt

Palazzo Vilhena is a large building which is considered to be "an excellent example of French Baroque." It has a U-shaped forecourt which follows the plan of the original castle, and it possibly contains some remnants of the 16th century palace incorporated into the structure.[2] The forecourt is approached through a gate decorated with Vilhena's coat of arms. The central façade of the palace contains the ornate main doorway, which is flanked by Corinthian columns and is surmounted by a bronze relief of De Vilhena and another coat of arms.[7]

The palace's interior is irregularly planned, contrasting sharply with the regularity and balance of the exterior. The building also contains an inner courtyard.[7]

Palazzo Vilhena is linked to the Corte Capitanale, which was built at the same time as the palace and was also designed by Mondion. This building served as Mdina's law courts, and its linking to the palace was a symbolic gesture to convey that the courts were under the jurisdiction of the Order of St. John. The Corte Capitanale now serves as the seat of Mdina's local council.[15]

See also


  1. Sagona, Claudia (2015). The Archaeology of Malta. Cambridge University Press. p. 314. ISBN 9781107006690.
  2. 1 2 Spiteri, Stephen C. (2004–2007). "The 'Castellu di la Chitati' the medieval castle of the walled town of Mdina" (PDF). Arx – Online Journal of Military Architecture and Fortification (1–4): 3–11. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  3. Wright, Angela; Overmyer, Corbin; Darmanin, David; Clarke, Tim (2008). Executive Malta. EPH Ltd. p. 116. ISBN 9789948038139.
  4. De Lucca, Denis (1979). "Mdina: Baroque town planning in 18th century Mdina". Heritage: An encyclopedia of Maltese culture and civilization. Midsea Books Ltd. 1: 21–25.
  5. "Mdina". Archived from the original on 27 October 2015.
  6. Thake, Conrad (1994). "Architectural Scenography in 18th-century Mdina". Proceedings of History Week. Historical Society of Malta: 74. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 April 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Palazzo Vilhena" (PDF). National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands. 28 December 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 November 2015.
  8. 1 2 "National Museum of Natural History". Heritage Malta. Archived from the original on 5 January 2015.
  9. "Regimental Hospitals and Military Hospitals of the Malta Garrison". British Army Medical Services And the Malta Garrison 1799 – 1979. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015.
  10. Bonnici, Joseph; Cassar, Michael (2004). A Chronicle of Twentieth Century Malta. Book Distributors Limited. p. 38. ISBN 9789990972276.
  11. "Behind The scenes at the Natural History Museum". The Malta Independent. 18 April 2008. Archived from the original on 29 November 2015.
  12. Botev, Radosław. "The Vilhena Palace, Malta". Archived from the original on 29 April 2015.
  13. "Restoration Project: Vilhena Palace – Mdina" (PDF). Baroque Routes. Institute of Baroque Studies (4): 4–5. December 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 December 2015.
  14. "Protection of Antiquities Regulations 21st November, 1932 Government Notice 402 of 1932, as Amended by Government Notices 127 of 1935 and 338 of 1939.". Malta Environment and Planning Authority. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016.
  15. "Corte Capitanale" (PDF). National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands. 28 December 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 November 2015.
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