Ambitious exhibition commemorates Valletta’s varied history

Heritage Malta’s forthcoming major exhibition, in collaboration with Malta Libraries, commemorates the 450th anniversary since the laying of the first stone of the city of Valletta

1 August 2016, 9:38am
The challenge presented when thinking of the general concept of such an exhibition was the fact that it has to represent the development of the life and culture of the Maltese islands in these four and a half centuries
The challenge presented when thinking of the general concept of such an exhibition was the fact that it has to represent the development of the life and culture of the Maltese islands in these four and a half centuries
The story behind the city of Valletta is not only one of knights, buildings and historical happenings but a story of the people of Malta, Maltese society and the life of all those who in these last 450 years inhabited or walked the streets of the city – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – built during the baroque period. The exhibition Melita Renascens seeks to explore all these aspects in what has now become synonymous of Heritage Malta that is an exhibition of international standards from socio-didactical purposes right down to the design. 

Valletta 1566, Melita Renascens is a first in its nature especially due to the innovative set-up split between two venues, namely the National Library and the site of the former National War Museum at Fort St Elmo. “It is important to stress that these are not two complimentary stand-alone exhibitions but one story-line split between two venues. Having said this, a person visiting only one of the two venues will not get the full picture but on the other hand will get enough information with regard to one of the aspects of the vast history of Valletta. It’s one exhibition with two venues but each venue has a beginning and an end. Both venues share the same catalogue, design and general concept,” Godwin Vella, Heritage Malta’s Head Curator, said. 

The challenge presented when thinking of the general concept of such an exhibition was not only linked to Valletta’s history spanning 450 years but also to the fact that such an exhibition has to represent the development of the life and culture of the Maltese islands in these four and a half centuries. “Valletta was the gateway to Malta. It was not simply the capital city. Anyone arriving or leaving Malta did this through Valletta with Porta del Monte (Victoria Gate) serving as the main entrance. In this area you had the customs, the works registry, the health inspection office and also a number of large warehouses which are still present till this very day. It was today’s airport and today’s Freeport if you like.”

“The concept of the design of the exhibition is to replicate the grid layout of Valletta, a new and modern concept for the 16th century. Thus, as much as possible the visitor will visit the exhibition by walking through ‘streets’ with the artifacts and their furniture serving as the building blocks. The exhibition is divided into eleven ‘chapters’, each chapter in turn divided into themes and sub-themes, thus the whole exhibition will be reflecting what Valletta represented in the past and what it represents today,” Pierre Bonello, the manager in charge of the design of the exhibition, added.

When setting up such an exhibition, Heritage Malta seeks to choose the most apt artifacts to display and this could be rather challenging when holding an exhibition incorporating four and a half centuries of history. “We tried to give importance to certain objects which are most of the time overlooked by the public, such as the Chinese vases we normally find at the Palace and which are in reality gifts which were given to the Grandmaster of the time. Through these artifacts we intend showing all facets of the magnificent city which is our capital, that is the physical ambience, the political and administrative role of Valletta (for most of the 450 years the islands were governed from Valletta) and the social life within the city walls right up to the contemporary.”

Bonello also commented on the scope of these kinds of events. “Setting-up such exhibitions are always a big challenge, especially since all the work involved is carried out by the same staff that has to maintain all the other museums and sites, which adds further pressure. Installing one ‘chapter’ at the National Library increases such pressure even more, because staff must be divided in two totally different areas. Innovation is always present but not in the same dosage. The size and structural limitations at both venues restrict us a bit, however the visitor is guaranteed that his experience will be a very fulfilling one, both academically and aesthetically,” Bonello added. 

The exhibition is being held at the National Library and the Former National War Museum at lower Fort St Elmo, and will remain open for a whole year. For more information about Melita Renascens and other events organized by Heritage Malta, log on to www.heritagemalta.org or follow their official Facebook page.