The history of Sacra Infermeria, located in Valletta, Malta, is one that has seen the building withstand the devastating effects of World War Two. Despite being hit seven times during Axis bombing raids, the structure has persevered and transformed into what is now known as the Mediterranean Conference Centre. In this article, we will delve into the story of Sacra Infermeria, exploring its wartime experiences and how it emerged from the ashes to become a vital cultural centre in Malta.
World War Two
During the intense fighting of World War Two, the former Sacra Infermeria was subjected to numerous Axis bombing raids, resulting in considerable damage to the building. The worst damage occurred in early 1941, when several key buildings and structures were completely destroyed, such as the Infirmarian’s Hall, the Upper Courtyard, and the pharmacy and its laboratory. The destruction caused by these bombings also severely damaged other parts of the building, leaving it in a state of ruin.
Despite the devastation, the remaining parts of the building were used in a variety of ways to support the war effort. For example, the Long Ward was used as a venue for entertaining troops, hosting theatre and cinema shows, boxing competitions, and a small canteen where food and drinks were provided. In addition, the Rediffusion studios, which had been bombed out of their Valletta premises, were relocated to the former Sacra Infermeria to broadcast important signals to the public, such as the ‘Air Raid Warning’ and ‘Raiders Passed’ alerts.
After the war ended, parts of the damaged complex were taken over by the Education Department to be used as a children’s theatre, named the Knights’ Hall, while other sections of the building were later used to temporarily house people who had been displaced from their homes in the Mandraġġ area. The Long Ward was adapted as an examination hall and also used as a counting hall during general elections. Following extensive restoration, the complex was inaugurated as the Mediterranean Conference Centre in 1979. However, in 1987, parts of the former hospital were severely damaged by a fierce blaze that occurred after a laser used for a conference accidentally set fire to some materials. The damage has since been repaired, and the building continues to serve as an important cultural centre in Malta.
The latest development in the long history of this historic building came only in the recent years, when a new virtual museum, titled ‘Reliving The Sacra Infermeria’, was inaugurated. The idea of a virtual museum, which brings together history and technology, was brought about by the need to satisfy visitors’ curiosity about the building’s former history without interrupting ongoing conferences or theatre performances that are regularly held here. Now, by downloading a mobile application that makes use of augmented reality, one can once more relive the building’s former days as a hospital. You can try out a free trial at home by downloading the application from here (IOS) or here (Android). If you have any problems trying it out, reach out to us on Facebook!
Cassar, P. (1983). From The Holy Infirmary of the Knights of St John to the Mediterranean Congress Centre. Malta
Savona-Ventura, C. (1998). Human suffering during the Maltese Insurrection of 1798. Malta: Storja 1998, p.48-65.
Ellul, M. (1989). The Sacra Infermeria since 1800: A Historical Survey. Malta: Maltese Medical Journal 20 Volume I Issue III