The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Behind The scenes at the Natural History Museum

Malta Independent Friday, 18 April 2008, 00:00 Last update: about 8 years ago

The exhibits on permanent display in museums are only a part of the collection administered by Heritage Malta. Many items and artefacts are stored and kept in good condition to be used in research by curators and experts and are not usually accessible to the general public. From time to time, artefacts from this reserve collection are displayed in temporary exhibitions.

On Sunday 27 April, during the popular Sundays with Heritage Malta, which this month will be focusing on Mdina and Rabat, Heritage Malta will be giving the public an opportunity to view some of the exhibits stored in the reserve collection at the National Museum of Natural History in Mdina, during three “Behind the Scenes” tours which should leave participants in awe and with a better idea of the curatorial work that goes on in a museum.

During these tours, participants will see the large collections of stuffed birds, eggs and nests. Some of the specimens form part of old historical collections. The museum also has a large insect collection consisting of both local and exotic species. In a separate room, participants will see the large collection of land and marine molluscs from Malta and other parts of the world.

Weather permitting visitors will also be able to visit parts of the Mdina bastions, which are accessible only through the museum. Spectacular views await participants who will be touring these quarters of the bastions that are not normally accessible to the public.

The National Museum of Natural History is the national repository of biological specimens. Both life and earth sciences are represented in the museum, which has a particular focus on the Maltese Islands.

The museum is housed in the 18th-century Magisterial Palace of Justice within the medieval walled city of Mdina. The original building served as the seat of the Università, or local government. In the early 18th century, a new entrance to the city was constructed and the Portuguese Grand Master Antonio Manuel de Vilhena (1722-36) re-structured the building at personal expense and transformed it into the present palace. A bronze bust of the Grand Master of the Order lies above the main door and Vilhena’s coat of arms are sculptured on the main gateway and inside the portico.

In the early 20th century, the palace was converted into a hospital through the generous funding of HRH the Duke of Connaught and was officially inaugurated on 22 April 1909, by King Edward VII. Throughout the 40 or so years of its existence, it was popularly known as the Connaught Hospital. The National Museum of Natural History was set up in the palace in 1973.

The museum houses some historically important collections, namely Mamo’s choncological collection, Mizzi’s mineral collection, and the various collections of Giuseppe Despott. The reference collection holds over 10,000 rocks and minerals, over 3,500 birds, birds’ eggs and nests, 200 mammals, over 200 fish species, thousands of local and exotic shells and insects. The fossil collection is also noteworthy as it contains a number of large fish, numerous species of sea urchins and other marine fauna found embedded in limestone rocks.

The museum focuses mainly on the faunal aspects of natural sciences and the current displays cover themes such as human evolution, insects, birds and habitats and marine ecosystems. The geology and paleontology displays are of particular merit and are of both local and international interest. The museum also houses a reference library on natural sciences.

The “Behind the Scenes” tours will take place on Sunday 27 April at 10am, 11.30am, 2pm and 3.30pm. Meanwhile special guided tours of the museum will be held for children at 10am and 11.30am. These special tours will address the young audience in an entertaining way. In the afternoon children can participate in a “Museum Hunt” at the Natural History Museum which will start at 2pm and 3.30pm.

One multi-site ticket will be available on the day which will give holders access to the Domvs Romana, Saint Paul’s Catacombs, the Jewish Catacombs and the National Museum of Natural History. All children under 16 years of age enter free of charge and participation in the “Museum Hunt” is also free of charge.

Meanwhile on Saturday 26 April, Heritage Malta will be celebrating the “Night of Museums”. The façade of the Domvs Romana and the Roman remains will be specially lit up for the night. The site, together with Saint Paul’s Catacombs will be open to the public between 8pm and 10.30pm with guided tours. This event is being organised in conjunction with Studio 7 which will be installing a special lighting system to light up the museum’s façade and the Roman remains in different colours.

Tickets bought on Saturday evening for the tour can be used also on Sunday 27 April for visits to the Domvs Romana, as well as St Paul’s and the Jewish Catacombs in Rabat and the National Museum of Natural History. Tickets for adults, students and senior members cost e7 while Heritage Malta members can obtain tickets for e5.

Article supplied by Heritage Malta

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