Situated on Republic Street in Valletta, not too far from Renzo Piano’s City Gate and the Old Opera Ruins, is the Auberge de Provence. As you might expect from a military order, the Knights of St John were a well organised bunch. The knights grouped their members by language and culture into administrative groups, called langues. Each langue had its own headquarters, called an Auberge, and the Knights of the Order from the langue of Provence were housed in the Auberge de Provence.
Construction was started around 1571, though the building wasn’t habitable until 1575. Built in the Mannerist style, it was important to the knights that the building be self-sufficient, with its own bakery and horse-driven mill, a garden with Oleander trees to keep it cool in the summer months, a slaughterhouse, storage cellars, and its own stables.
But time marches on, and less than a century later part of the Auberge was demolished to make way for shop fronts. The modifications also provided the opportunity to redesign the building in the then popular French Classical style, and even now, the Auberge is a prime example of Baroque architecture.
Auberge de Provence – Its life as Museum of Archeology
In the years that followed, the Auberge was refitted to fulfill a myriad of functions. For a while it housed officers of the colonial government, it was an auction house, various shops, and then in 1826, following extensive restoration works, it became the Malta Union Club.
A venue for the well-to-do to hold society dinners and high teas, this was to be its identity for a long while. It counted many illustrious folk among its members, including the likes of Sir Walter Scott, the author of Ivanhoe, and King George V.
In 1955, the Union Club’s lease expired and was not renewed, and in 1958, the Auberge de Provence opened its doors as the newly inaugurated National Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology. Eventually, the fine arts section was moved elsewhere, and now the Auberge is home, not to knightly tenants, or soldiers, but to a vastly important treasure: the breadth of heritage of the Maltese isles.