Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Malta Experience and Sacra Infermeria, Valletta, Malta

The Malta Experience is a dramatic film that tells the history of the island from the ancient past (5000 BC) up to the modern day. We went because everyone from our bed and breakfast owner to the tourist information person and all our guide books said it was good. The film does give a comprehensive view of the history of Malta, a small chain of islands in between Sicily and North Africa. They are a natural stopping point for trade ships crossing the Mediterranean. As such, they've been visited/controlled by every naval power in the history of the Mediterranean, from the Phoenicians to the British. We enjoyed learning the history of the island.

My knight pal and your humble author

L with the knight

The ticket includes a tour of the Sacra Infermeria, the Holy Infirmary of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. Originally the knights were based in the Holy Land and provided medical care and hospitality to pilgrims of any faith. They were slowly driven west by Muslims attacking first the Holy Land and then Rhodes. They settled on Malta and built the largest hospital at the time.

A knight inside the Sacra Infermeria

The Long Hall on the main floor provided hundreds of beds for the sick. The hall is 155 meters long (170 yards) and is lined with small alcoves that were used as toilets by the patients.

The Long Hall

Where the toilets used to be

The care was the best in the world. In addition to the light and air the tall ceilings provided, the interior courtyard had a garden where the ambulatory ill could spend time. The Order also used silver plates and utensils since they were the easiest to clean and thought to be the safest. When Napoleon conquered Malta, he threw out both the knights and the patients but sold the silver to pay for his Egyptian campaign.

Upstairs also has a small chapel where services were held. Some of the sacred decorations, such as medallions of the evangelists at the base of the dome, are still visible.

Two evangelists by the dome

Where the altar was

Another ward is downstairs. After the British took over, the Infermeria was used as both a military hospital and as stables. The horses were kept in the downstairs hall (accessible by a long ramp). The building was converted into a conference center in 1979 and now the downstairs is used as a banqueting hall.

A fireplace downstairs

The hall underneath the Long Hall

Coats of Arms from the Grand Masters of the Knights cover the alcoves where the toilets used to be!

They also have a large theater (which has replaced the courtyard area) for concerts and another exhibit on the Knights Hospitallers which is available as a separate tour. One tour was plenty for us.

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