This prison was first established in Victoria, inside the Cittadella, by the Knights of the Order of St. John in the mid-sixteenth century. One of the early inmates was Jean Parisot de La Valette, who went on to become an inspirational leader when as Grand Master he resisted an attack on the islands from the Ottomans.
There’s a larger common cell, which is now the museum’s ticket office, and then six smaller cells in the older part of the prison. It was all once connected to the Courts, which are still located next door. Above is a recreation of a prisoner sitting in one of the smaller cells.
The cells remained in use until 1962, although they had been used in conjunction with another prison from the late nineteenth century. There was also another floor of cells located above the original block which were added at a later date, and towards the end this prison was primarily just used for those awaiting trial.
Visitors can go in two of the prison cells, the others are visible only through the little windows on the doors. The sanitary conditions in the prison were actually of a decent standard, especially given the period in which they were in use, with inmates allowed to shower frequently and they also had access to a doctor.
Above are images of the graffiti which are visible all around the cells, etched into the limestone. This must have been a frustrating situation for the prison guards, who would have found it difficult to stop the graffiti given how soft the rock is. There is today a large sign telling visitors not to add any graffiti to the walls, something which the Cittadella itself is suffering from.
However, the graffiti made by the prisoners is interesting, especially when it’s dated. Above are photos with some examples of the graffiti, such as hand prints, ships and also lines which indicate how long a prisoner has been incarcerated. The graffiti lasted so long as there was a thick layer of lime whitewash pasted over the top of it, which has only recently been removed.
I visited with my Heritage Malta pass which I obtained on my first trip to the islands, but the entrance fee is relatively cheap, costing €5 for all the museums in the Cittadella. I was suitably amused by some reviews of the site on-line complaining that the museum isn’t very big. Quite how some people expect the museum to magic up more space in a nearly 500-year old prison is a mystery to me, but such is the delight of reading these reviews….