The Inquisitor’s Palace is essentially both a historic house museum and the national ethnography museum. On its own merits, however, it may also be considered as a site since the building itself is an integral part of the experience being presented; a power-house of the Holy Roman Inquisition that dominated Malta for over 224 years.
Built in around the 1530s, what today is known as the Inquisitor’s Palace initially housed the Magna Curia Castellania Melitensis, a civil tribunal established by Grand Master Juan de Homedes y Coscon in 1543, until the institution moved to the then-newly built Valletta in 1572.
Two years later, Pietro Dusina arrived in Malta as its first Inquisitor and Apostolic Delegate of Pope Gregory XIII. Grand Master Jean de la Cassière offered him this building and thus it got the name still in use to date. Inquisitors in Malta served in their dual role as supreme judges of the Holy Office and Apostolic Delegates representing the Vatican’s interests in Malta. The Palace is an architectural gem, very well documented and so full of contrasts for it was fashioned to generate awe towards a powerful ecclesiastic diplomat in a sophisticated residence, and inspire reverence and repentance through a a tribunal, inclusive of an austere prison complex.
The Inquisition was abolished by the French upon their arrival in 1798. The building served French and British rules, as well as the Dominican Order for a period of time after the WWII. In recent years Heritage Malta, has strived to strike the right balance between a historic house museum, reflecting the building’s past political importance as one of the three centres of power in early modern Malta and a National Museum of Ethnography, highlighting the impact of the Inquisition on Maltese society and the role of religion in everyday life. It also comprises a wing dedicated to the National Textiles Collection housed within the same building.
The current experience is divided in three distinct sections, the domestic and historic kitchen area at ground floor level is complimented by the piano nobile which includes both official halls and private quarters extending on two floors. The third part of the visitor’s experience are the spaces pertaining to the Holy Office itself including the tribunal chamber, torture chamber and prison complex. The museum experience is complimented with an emphasis on a busy outreach programme of events and educational sessions.