The Mediterranean Conference Centre is a major landmark near the tip of the Valletta peninsula. This 16th-century structure, with magnificent views of the Grand Harbour, now provides cutting-edge conference facilities as well as an important venue for exhibitions, product launches, banquets, theatrical performances, and a variety of other events. Originally, however, the structure was intended for a completely different purpose: known as the Sacra Infermeria, it rose to prominence as one of the best hospitals in the world at one point in time.
The Sacra Infermeria is a legacy of the Knights of St. John, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, and reflects their original founding purpose and mission during the Crusades. In fact, the Knights of St. John can be traced back to the early 12th century, when a group of individuals established a hospital in Jerusalem to care for sick and injured pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. Although the organisation eventually became a military as well as a religious order, its continued hospitaller character and mission set it apart from other similar chivalric institutions. And they took their vocation seriously, establishing hospitals wherever they went to provide nursing and medical care to the poor. Indeed, the modern version of the Order of St. John still does this work all over the globe to this very day.
When the Knights arrived in Malta in 1530, they completely transformed the local medical scene. They constructed a new hospital in Birgu, brought foreign doctors with them, and introduced new medical concepts developed in Renaissance Europe. When they officially relocated to Valletta in 1571, the decision was made to construct a new hospital there. It was to be located near the sea in order to provide the patients with fresh air that would aid in their recovery, as well as to be away from the noise of the city’s main part. Construction began in 1574 during the reign of Grand Master Jean de la Cassière, most likely under the direction of the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, although the building we know today is the product of several later enlargements and re modelling over the centuries.
Within a few years, the Sacra Infermeria would become known as one of Europe’s leading hospitals of the time, with several visitors to Malta praising its excellence in diaries they kept during their stay.
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. (1997). Outlines of Maltese Medical History. Malta: Midsea Books Ltd, p.25-33