A visit to Malta’s National Library

30 January 2019

Situated in the glorious Pjazza Regina in Valletta, just a stone’s throw away from St. John’s Co-Cathedral, is Malta’s National Library or Bibliotheca. Now, this is no ordinary library- for book lovers and history buffs on their holidays in Malta, this is an absolute must-see. And best of all entrance is free!

Malta National Library

Where did it all begin?

The origins of the National Library of Malta’s collection date back to 1555, when Grand Master Claude de la Sengle decreed that all books belonging to deceased members of the Order of St. John were to be given to the Order's treasury. The founder of the Library was a Knight of Malta, Bailiff Fra’ Jean-Louis Guerin de Tencin, who on his death in 1766 left approximately 9700 books.

Who designed it?

The library is housed in a marvellous late 18th-century neoclassical building, a fine example of wonderful architecture from the time. The fascinating place was designed by Stefano Ittar to house copious rare and prestigious literary collections. The building work was completed in 1796, but it wasn’t until 1812 when all the books were transferred to their new enthralling home. 

What can you find there?

Most notably, the library is home to the complete archives of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta from the Middle Ages up until 1798. Indeed, the most important document there is the Pie Postulatio Voluntatis (“The request of a pious desire”), a papal bull issued by Pope Paschal II in 1113 recognising the establishment of the Order of St. John and confirming its independence and sovereignty. 

Lay your eyes upon rare items such as the drawings of Giorgio Grognet, an early edition of Nostradamus dating back to 1566, and a document written on papyrus dating back to the 4th century BC. The largest Melitensia collection in the world may also be found there, consisting of newspapers published in Malta during the French reign between 1798 and 1800. 

Malta National Library

Please note that nowadays the National Library is simply a reference library, which means that the books or other items (newspapers, periodicals etc) there cannot be borrowed. Rather, they must be read at the library itself. 

Running on a tight schedule?

Impressively, a digital archive of the documents at the National Library is up and running, enabling readers to download a copy of the first printed books dating back to the 15th century (known as incunabula) on any device and from anywhere in the world!

The National Library is just one of Valletta’s impeccable places of interest, brimming with historical significance, not just that relating to the Maltese Islands but also to the Mediterranean and Europe as a whole.  On your way out, be sure to grab a fresh cup of Maltese coffee from one of Valletta’s oldest coffee shops, Café Cordina, which sits conveniently opposite the library. Doesn’t this sound like the perfect cultural afternoon in our capital?

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