History of Palazzo Falson in Mdina
Palazzo Falson museum is the second oldest building in Mdina and an architectural monument dating back to thirteen century. Experts in the architectural field believe through stylistic studies that the oldest part of the house dates back to around 1240.
The name of the house is associated with the famous family Falsone who were residing there in the early sixteenth century. The first owner of the Palazzo was Ambrosio de Falsone who was also the Head of the Town Council. Afterwards, the house was inherited by his cousin the Vice-Admiral Michele Falsone. Falsone was later quartered on counts of heresy, as the family had converted to Lutheranism. The palace together with land owned in Girgenti was split between the three authorities of the time, the Grand Master, the Inquisitor and the Bishop.
An important event was taken place in Mdina and specifically in Palazzo Falson where the famous Grand Master Philippe Villiers de I`Isle Adam was accommodated in 1530. What is curious is that Gollcher in his additions to the house, a coat of arms carved on the fireplace, bore the inscription 1531. This seems to imply that Gollcher, an avid researcher, believed that the Grand Master stayed in the palace in 1531 rather than 1530.
Of course the Falsone family were not the only ones who were inhabiting the building since the documentation stretches back till the 1500`s and the house existed a long time before.
In 1927 Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher bought the house and gave it a new name “The Norman House”. Captain Gollcher was a very educated man, a son of a famous Swedish shipping merchant, who was very interested in history and archeology. His passion was also collecting arts and historical objects as one can see his numerous fascinating collections of paintings, silver, furniture, armory and oriental rugs which are still kept and preserved in the house. Actually he formed a foundation called Gollcher Foundation which would take care, conserve and preserve his collections of valuable objects in its best way after his death. He had always wanted to make available his collections to the public as he did after his death in 1962.
The Foundation eventually found itself in financial trouble, and signed an agreement with Wirt Patrimonju Malti. Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti is a non-profit organization which main objective is to spread awareness about the heritage of the island not only at a local level but also internationally through various ways such as exhibitions, publications and museums itself. The organization restored the property and opened it as a museum to the public whilst taking over management, whilst ownership still belonged to the Gollcher Foundation.
It is interesting to note that the rooms have been set up in a way that may not reflect their original condition or layout, for example in Gollcher’s time the current chapel was used as a bedroom. Patrimonju Malti, however through studies found out that noble houses of this size often had their own private family chapel, and certain architectural features in the house seems to indicate that it was once used as a chapel. The chapel has a rich collection of religious items. The most curious is a portrait of Inquisitor Fabio Chigi, who developed the palace of the Iinquisition to its current state. Gollcher seemed to have some form of fascination or admiration for Chigi or the Inquisition in general, as he also went through the expense of furnishing the palazzo with furniture from the period.
Moreover, from the exclusive Captain Gollcher`s collections one understands that he had the opportunity to travel to many destinations in Europe and the East from where he acquired these valuable objects and paintings. However, not all the items of his vast collections were bought by him, some of them were inherited and some were given to him. One of the most interesting objects he gained was the 10 hour revolutionary French watch.
Furthermore, some of the key dates in his lifetime are the period of 1906-1908 when Gollcher was studying in the Dulwich College. After a few years of his graduation he joined the British army and as a result of his services he was awarded a medal of Montenegro. But the most impressive honour which he gained was the O.B.E, most excellent order of the British Empire in the year 1937. In 1938 Gollcher married Teresa Lucia (known as Nella), a very good-looking and bright woman as one can see of the numerous portraits found in the house. Gollcher`s ancestors were also very famous persons, people who contributed to their nation in one way or another. For example, the maternal uncle of Gollcher, Balbi not only translated from Spanish the Siege of Malta in 1565 but also published studies on the Order of St. John.
Main objectives of the museum
The museum`s main objectives is not only to provide an enjoyable and unforgettable experience to the visitors but also to educate them. The museum has also supplied visitors with audio-guides in a variety of languages and established a route through the house. It is easy to move and orient in the house since all the rooms are numbered and named.
Another aim of the museum is to record all the achievements of Captain Gollcher and display his collections in a sustainable way, for example, protecting them by glass so that children and visitors would not damage them. One can find a label under each valuable object or fine art together with a brief explanation. The purpose of the management is to disseminate knowledge about the house regarding its restoration and preservation as well as its collections. Due to the vast and variable collections found in the museum, the management tries to encourage further academic research about them including the house itself.
The management is also interested in developing programs to engage students and children and provide them with knowledge and curiosity about the variety and enjoyment of fine arts. Their major issue of ‘bringing the house to life’ is completed as one can get the feeling when walking in the different rooms that the house is still inhabited by the famous Captain Gollcher. In other words, the management has successfully retained the homey atmosphere in the museum.
Restoration and Conservation
Restoration and conservation processes are vital factors for the preservation of cultural heritage both for present and future generations. Those include the continuous process of research, documentation and conservational treatments which are to preserve the property in question “as close to its original condition as possible”. In the case of Palazzo Falson, the continuous use of the historic house, and its associated data and collections, depends on the long term commitment to a conservation program.
Such a program usually consists of a specific action plan and well defined tasks, schedules and cost of operations. Before creating a conservational program a significant amount of research is required. This research would aim to help the museum`s curators and conservators to establish levels of environmental agents (such as light, temperature, humidity, etc.); to establish the current condition of the museum`s objects and their original purpose and history; to define proper techniques and procedures for handling, storage and exhibit of collections.
The conservation treatment itself consists of two broad stages namely stabilization and restoration. The stabilization process aims to improve a particular object`s condition to a stable and acceptable level. The restoration process involves an attempt to bring an object as close to its original appearance and purpose as possible.
Another important feature of a restoration process is the consolidation with the Code of ethics. The Code of Ethics is a single document which provides a straightforward guidance for dealing with issues connected with the proper treatment and conservation of cultural properties. The basic guidelines of the Code of Ethics include the consideration of cultural sensitivity and the application of interpretational, promotional, managerial and educational principles.
Though research, and during the restoration process, the house was proven to be one of the oldest buildings in Mdina. Initially the building was a one storey courtyard house build around the first half of the 13th century. The house was designed to have two entrances, one being the main entrance, built as a covered passageway, and one serving both as a back entrance and as a church. More detailed information about the usage of the house and its owners, as well as prove for more significant architectural changes, comes from around 1524, when the house was inherited by Vice-Admiral Michele Falsone. During this period and in later years, when the house was donated to the Knights of St. John, most of the rooms were rebuilt and adapted in a way to suit the needs of those who used them during that time. The last owner, Captain Olaf Frederick Gollcher, bought the palazzo in 1927 and named it “The Norman House”. Being a collector of books, paintings, historical and artistic objects, Captain Gollcher wanted his house to be preserved as a museum, which in recent years has reached its realization.
Palazzo Falson opened as a museum to the general public in 2007 after five years of restoration. In 2001, the Maltese Heritage Foundation undertook the project of the house restoration. The project included the restoration of the building and its belonging features and collections. Prior to the beginning of the project the house has not been used for at least 40 years during which time severe damages had occurred. Those included water infiltration into the walls, deterioration of wood features and objects from the collections, major damages on the roof, cracked stone arches, damages to the terrace and the fountain, etc.
Actions taken to restore the original state of the palazzo and to secure the heritage for future generations included the usage of materials, which are able to prevent future damages that might be caused by certain weather conditions, such as excessive rain and humidity. For the purpose of proper restoration some of the house structures were rebuilt and reconstructed. The walls were rendered with porous lime mortars, which are able to control the level of dampness and salt concentration in order to protect the walls. The wooden apertures were also restored by stripping of the old pain, filling of wood cracks and woodworm treatments.
Book conservation was another important part of the restoration process. The books, which are around 4500, were moved to separate secure locations. Each individual book was dusted and sprinkled over with special substances for protection. Due to the excessive weight of the books, the old wooden shelves were restored and supported by additional metal fittings.
Additional actions taken for the house conservation included the installation of special museum lighting, various security alarms and a CCTV system. Furthermore, on the roof there has been installed the Evalon-V Solar system membrane, which is to reduce the museum`s carbon footprint and to convert solar energy into electricity for the house. In this way the museum does not only supports the conservation of the house but also works towards environmental sustainability.
The museum management has tried, to the best of their abilities, to preserve and present the original appearance and usage of the house. The only new additions include a gift shop and a panoramic roof café, which are considered to be necessities in a modern day museum experience. By means of on-going research and restoration, the museum works towards its mission of sustaining the culture heritage for future generations and of offering enjoyable and educational experience to its visitors.
The Collection in Palazzo Falson
The collection comprised within the historical house museum, Palazzo Falson can be defined as the material side of diverse cultural movements and eras, capturing a vast horizon of history. The collection like every other detail in this house museum vividly reflects Olof Gollcher’s daily routine and particular interests which he had. A paradigm of the latter are the array of armor and weapons found in Palazzo Falson, depicting his interest in combat techniques, wars etc.
Thus, the same collection is a fine balance of artefacts directly related with Olof Gollcher’s life, things which he owned, objects which he collected and objects which he inherited. The plethora of artefacts truly offers a clear delineation of Olof Gollcher’s principal notion being that to create a museum.
However, the same array of artefacts are presented in such a manner, that accompanies the concepts of a historic house museum, as the same artefacts are portrayed as if they are found in a home where people reside. The staggering amount of pieces of art are all brought together in a fascinating manner where visitors can enjoy every detail of every artefact on itself while linking such items with Olof Gollcher’s life and interest.
On the other hand as certain areas of the house were created as part of interpretation exercises to complement the ultimate display, appearance and feeling of the museum, one of the latter being the chapel. The altar in the chapel is the only artefact which is not interrelated with Olof Gollcher.
The collection itself encompasses a wide assortment of pieces of art varying in their past usage, links with Olof Gollcher, their corresponding eras, and nature. However, the range is all arranged accordingly to portray one thematic unit such as the armoury room.
The silver collection in Palazzo Falson may be considered as the epitome of an exalted silver assortment. Apart from diverse artefacts, the same museum contains an extensive collection of silver cutlery decorated adequately in the dining room as if Olof Gollcher was having guests for lunch or dinner.
Nef is a medieval French word originally delineating a ship. However, the term also altered its meaning to reflect a glamorous type of gold or silver vessel placed on dinner tables. The use of the nef may have varied as many historians account different usage for the same artefacts. For example the “nef was an important part of Continental elegant dining, bearing in its hollow hull the spoon, knife, napkin, spices of the host. When the use of great dining halls waned, the hull was fashioned to hold wine, sweetmeats or a variety of special condiments” (Silvercollection.it).
Silver Model of a Queen
This model comprises permanent attributes that associate it with the “Neresheimer firm in Hanau, which was founded in 1890 by August and Ludwig Neresheimer with Jean Schlingloff”. The same firm was a significant manufacturing centre for ornamental pieces while also encompassing an array of skilled silversmiths. Silver from the dame firm was exported to Britain as Neresheimer had a very thriving buisness relationship with with Berthold Hermann Mueller, their agent in London, who sold a number of their items in the shop he opened in Wardour Street in 1893. ( Palazzo Falson (h) ).
Robert Robin Fob Watch
Considered as the most valuable artefact from the whole collection, the Robert Robin Fob watch found in Palazzo Falson, is one of the three which exists. It was made in Paris around 1797. The watch has a distinctive feature that of following the decimal principle. As in 1793 the “Gregorian calendar was to be abandoned in favour of the Republican Calendar which divided the day into 10hours with one hundred minutes each comprising one hundred seconds” . (Palazzo Falson, (d))
Lucretia stabbing herself by Mattia Preti
This painting is one of the most prestigious pieces of art found in this historic house museum. The same painting dates back to the 17th century and was attributed to the painter Mattia Preti by “Professor John T. Spike, a noted authority on this artist” (Palazzo Falson (c)).
Charles Beale II Portrait of a Man
This painting dates back to 1684 (Palazzo Falson (e)) done by Charles Beale. The same artist “went on to have a successful career of his own, and is even known for his portrait miniatures. He also produced a number of remarkable red-chalk studies of family members and friends, which are among some of his most accomplished works” Palazzo Falson (e)
The historic house museum comprises a wide variety of weapons, protective armour such as helmets, depicting different eras and armoury coming from all around the globe. For example as part of the collection there is a helmet dating back to the Great Siege of Malta and also oriental style armour.
“This round convex shield, known as sipar, is etched with figures in Persian style costumes, and various foliage patterns, using a Damascening technique”. “Damascening involves inlaying soft or precious metals such as gold or silver, onto a carved ground of hard metal such as iron, bronze o r steel”, where such a technique also features in the Persian Helmet (Palazzo Falson, (g)) . Moreover similar to the Persian Helmet is the “damascened band of Kufic script, and scrolling tendril motifs” (Palazzo Falson, (g)).
Known as the Kulah Khud, this bowl shaped helmet is “mounted with an adjustable nasal guard, two plume holders, and a chainmail neck guard suspended from the skull” (Palazzo Falson (f)). The same helmet is decorated with “foliage and figures” and “bears an inscribed band of Kufic script along its border”. The same helmet dates back to the 19th century and was used throughout Persia India and countries embracing Islamic religion and political belief. (Palazzo Falson (f)).
Among the tools used by the museum to support its marketing strategy and enhance visitors’ experience:
Palazzo Falson leads a dynamic life in the digital world. The museum shares its exhibition and offerings with a worldwide audience on its website www.palazzofalson.com. The website is up to date and offers combined information on its mission and its collection. A section is dedicated to Captain Olof Gollcher. When visiting the website, visitors have the opportunity to make their choice about when to visit, how to join and even when to shop and have a snack at the Museum café and what prices to pay for the tickets. Children too are invited to surf through the website as there are sections devoted to them including downloads of drawing illustrations and curious facts. The portal www.palazzofalson.com has been developed utilizing ICON’S (www.icon.com.mt) technology which allows the staff of the Fondazzjoni to manage the content on the site.
As a recommendation, the museum can increase the consumer empowerment by offering the possibility of purchasing online tickets or products and services.
The museum is present also on a 360 degree tour experience on www.maltain360.com, which gives access to visitors to virtually navigate around its rooms and collections.
Regarding the digital word-of-mouth marketing, the staff at Palazzo found out through marketing research questionnaires related on media that Tripadvisor is the media through which people hear mostly about the museum. Conform to the curator they intend to explore more the museum’s social presence on Facebook.
Interactive devices versus traditional tour guide
The visitors do not need to switch off their mobiles during the tours anymore. As recommended on the website one can download the tour from the internet and hear it on their MP3 players or phones.
Modern audio guides in various languages are available and of course, the tourists can opt for the traditional approach of listening to a tour guide, as not everyone prefers technological devices while roaming around the house. During the museum visitation, one can follow a route marked by signs with numbers. However, according to the curator “the signs and written interpretation are not overwhelming” because they want to keep the idea of the original atmosphere of the house.
The most regarded sources of museum income are the tours. “Young children sometimes experience museums as uninviting places, built largely around visual experiences and offering few of the tactile experiences children enjoy” (Kotler, 2008). However Palazzo Falson organizes special tours for children based on competitions and hands-on creative interaction, mixing education with fun. According to the curator, the kids are given treasure hunts booklets. It all begins with a tour of the house. Children are invited to hunt for various art objects and choose one (a statue or a painting) from the exhibition and then, at the end of the tour, during a creative workshop, to create something similar. The experience culminates with a food party.
The marketing strategy also focuses on niche segments such dark tourism. According to the curator they have done research on the dark objects from the palazzo collection, and focus the tour on those items. One of these experiences named “Is that a Ghost?” had been organized in 2011 for the Medieval Mdina Festival. It can be accessed online on a 360 degree tour. The intention of the tour was to “show Palazzo Falson in a totally different light. Scary, gruesome and a bit edgy, these tours offer a completely different experience….!” (www.maltain360.com, source: Palazzo Falson).
A significant revenue source for museums is “making some of their public spaces available for rentals. (…) Over the last two decades rentals have been the most important growth center in the earned income of an increasing number of museums” (Lord, 2012). Among the rentals available at Palazzo: renting the court yard for small civil wedding ceremonies; hiring out the place in the evening for lectures; the refectory room can be rented for private dinners (in this room there are antique dinner ware sets exposed). According to the curator, by renting the venues in the evening the visitors experience the museum differently, as the place is all lit up, closer to the original atmosphere of the place.
Another income source is represented by filming, as there is an obvious interest from various movie makers for the 13th century palazzo’s atmosphere and history.
The museum advertises itself also through various lectures by means of which people are invited to study the collection. According to the curator they need to find specialists to study the objects, then share the knowledge to the public. Visitors can find out the dates and venues of the lectures from the museum’s website or from Facebook. Lectures are eventually uploaded on the website and can be accessed for free.
Souvenir shop and Museum café
Museums’ stores and their food services can furnish a large percentage of earned income, according to Kotler. “Reflecting the enhanced social role of museums, a rooftop café or a fine restaurant is often considered by many stakeholders to be the most attractive aspect of a new museum, expansion or renovation” (Lord, 2012). Palazzo Falson’s Museum Café located on its roof serves as a source of revenue and also enhances the visitor’s experience.
Opening Hours of Palazzo Falson
Tue-Sun: 10.00 – 17.00hrs (last visit 16.00hrs)
The Museum can be opened for After Hour visits and Special events.
Closed on: New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday.
Basic: € 10.00 (free audio guide)
Students & ISIC card holders: € 5.00 (free audio guide)
Senior citizen: € 5.00 free audio guide)
Children: 0 – 5 years – no entry permitted, 6 – 12 years – FREE (accompanied and no audio guide)