The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Candles and more at the Auberge de France

Tuesday, 18 October 2016, 10:59 Last update: about 4 years ago


I had no idea that the Auberge de France still existed. I thought it had been bombed. I was very excited to discover that in fact it is now the seat of the Local Council of Birgu, the Town Hall, and continues to be restored.

What took me there during Birgufest was an invitation from perfumer Stephen Cordina who has expanded his range with new scents and now has wrought iron candle stands made by one of his brothers, too. He told me that his other brother makes models. A gifted family. That evening Stephen was giving a 20% discount on his creations which was a tempting offer indeed. There were diffusers, gift hampers, shower gels and so much more for personal use and the home. And of course loads and loads of candles of all sizes.



The ambience was truly magical as you can see from one of the photos on this page. I have every admiration for people who start from nothing and build something worthwhile in an honest manner. That is Stephen for you. The other Gozitan whom I greatly admire is Francis Sultana, another artist who built a reputation in interior and furniture design abroad.  Together with his partner David Gill they have lovingly transformed a palazzo in St Ursula street into a very special abode.


It was not easy parking in Birgu with so many people turning up to Birgufest. The narrow streets were lit up with candles - beautiful. Of course there was the inevitable singer in the piazza accompanied by very loud music which always spoils any ambience but as a nation we seem to be so fond of it. It is the destroyer of conversation and ambience wherever you go.


Mr Boxall the mayor of Birgu was present at the exhibition-sale and told me about the Auberge de France and its restoration.  They had to sacrifice one of the rooms below, where the exhibition was being held and turn it into a toilet as tourists were constantly coming and asking for one.  I must say it is very unobtrusive and a good place to go when nature calls.


Imagine that this building , with its patina of age, was constructed way back in 1533 or thereabouts. It housed the Knights of the Order of St John from the langue of France. The knights of Provence and Auvergne  had their own auberge in the collachio, the ancient part of the city. Imagine what stories the auberge has to tell, stories which will never be told. 

The knights remained in this building until Valletta was built after the Great Siege but they retained it  until around 1586 even after they moved to their newly built auberge in Valletta around 1571.  It was subsequently sold to private owners. In the early 19th century, it was acquired by the Vella family who were rich enough to be able to afford to purchase it. It became informally known as Il Palazz tal-Miljunarju (the Millionaire's Palace.) It was then leased to the government as a primary school. Mr Boxall told me that in 1921 it was rented to a certain Lorenzo Zammit Naro and he converted it into a furniture factory. Mr Boxall is acquainted with people who still own some of his furniture. Finally the government acquired it  and Agata Barbara, as Minister of Education turned it into a political history museum. But it did not work. It was subsequently planned to turn it into a museum of the Maltese language, but that fell through too. The Museums Department  passed it on to Heritage Malta in 2010 and it is now being rented to the Birgu Local Council.


This was truly an excellent  location for the Stephen Cordina event. I had missed the launch of his shop at The Point and was very happy that I had made the effort to come to his event in Birgu.  I wish him continued success which he richly deserves.

Prof. Richard England is holding an exhibition of drawings Melit et Gaul at 1, Library Street, Victoria, Gozo. In his own beautiful poetic words:

“In the middle Sea under the eternity of stars two continents meet oscillating between remembrance and desire. Islands cast in my prayers islands shaped in my fantasy islands fashioned in my thoughts.”

Today is your last chance to see the works of ten well-known artists who are exhibiting at the Union Club at 1, Tigné Street, Sliema.

The ten artists are Debbie Caruana Dingli, John Borg Manduca, Kenneth Zammit Tabona, Mario Mallia, Arnold Sultana, Damian Ebejer, Catherine Cavallo, Marco Arcidiacono, Alex Cachia and Andrew Diacono. The exhibition curator is the well-known art historian and academic Dr Charlene Vella.

The public is welcome to view between 10:30 and 12:30, and between 17:00 and 20:00. The receptionists will assist non-members with where to view the exhibition. The exhibition was officially opened last Friday. The Malta Union Club can be contacted on 21332011, 21332012, [email protected]

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