Malta – Mdina dungeons

You should excuse my long absence once again, since i was moving back to the states and had to do loads of boring stuff like unpacking, rearranging my room, etc…Taking into consideration that i had more than 100 kg of luggage, no one can blame me for taking such a long time :grin:

As i have promised, this post will be about Mdina dungeons. Mdina is the old capital of Malta, which is about 7000 years old. Besides being an outstandingly beautiful place, one of Mdina’s attractions is the dungeon museum. The underground dungeons of Mdina recreate the dark parts of the history of Malta, starting with the Romans and ending with Napoleon. The wax figures in the Mdina dungeons portray the ingenuous cruelty of human minds expressed in torture – the dramatic scenes from the ancient past and the characters who were either the victims or the executioners.

Mdina dungeons – the entrance

The Roman period

From early times, Romans treated prisoners with great cruelty. Torture and punishment adopted by them took many forms, and consisted mostly of flogging, beheading or crucifying. St.Agatha, who is reputed to have dwelt in catacombs in Rabat, was atrociously tortured by having her breast cut off.

When the Roman empire got split up, Malta was assigned to the Byzantine part. In AD 637 a conspiracy took place against Emperor Heraclius, in which Teodorius, the Emperor’s nephew, was an accomplice. Teodorius was arrested and exiled to Malta, where on his arrival on the island he had his nose cut off and foot amputated as a further punishment.

The Arab period

The Arabs occupied Malta in AD 870. At this time it was recorded that Manas, Bishop of Malta, was imprisoned in Palermo, Sicily for having provided the Byzantine army with grain during the Arabs’ struggle for Sicily. The Moslems had their own punishments, one of which was pressing where the victim was crushed beneath a pile of stones after being tied spreadeagled on the ground

The illustrated examples refer to tortures supposedly inflicted on Christian slaves by Muslims in the Middle Ages. From the time of the Crusades onwards, Christians and Muslims enslaved each other without remorse.
The tortures illustrated reflect a 17th century christian fear of enslavement rather than realities of the Muslim treatment.
In the Muslim world, slaves were mainly used in domestic service, and the only widely practiced cruelty was emasculation to provide eunuchs for harems.

Bubonic plague

Since the Medieval period, Malta has suffered numerous outbreaks of Bubonic plague, which were increased by lack of hygiene and undernourishment. Sometimes plague reached Malta through visiting ships.The victims’ corpses were loaded either on mule-driven death carts or on uncovered stretchers by criminals acting as corpse-bearers. Victims were administered Holy Communion by priests using long pincers to avoid contact.

Feudal Lords

During the Middle Ages the Maltese Islands were ceded to feudal lords, who were little better than tyrants, by the Sovereigns for services rendered to the crown or for monetary gain. In 1425, the islands passed on to Don Gonsalvo Monroy, the last Feudal Lord, who through iron-fisted rule reduced the populace to misery. Weary of his oppression, the inhabitants revolted and drove Monroy out of the island. In 1427 the Maltese were given their charter of liberty by King Alfonso.

The Slaves’ conspiracy

Following the failure of the slaves’ conspiracy in 1749, 38 of the presumed ring-leaders were tortured in the most hideous manner. Those condemned to death were transported through the main streets of Valletta where at intervals the executioner tore bits of flesh from the culprits with red hot pliers and poured boiling pitch on to the open wounds. 8 of the conspirators were branded with the letter “R”, signifying “Ribelli“, whilst 2 were quartered in the Grand Harbour.

The execution of Muslim leaders

Reproductions of contemporary watercolor paintings depicting the trial and execution of Muslim leaders involved in the assassination plot against Grand Master Pinto in 1749.

The Rosarians

The fraternity of the Holy Rosary was set up in Valletta in the church of Our Lady of Porto Salvo in 1575 and its members assisted comdemned prisoners in the last days of their lives. Members of the Confraternity walked the streets of Valletta in a white habit, with black rosary beads tied to their waist, collecting alms in a small tin box. Half the alms were given to the next-of-kin of those condemned whilst the other half were used to celebrate mass for the repose of their souls.

The Knights’ period

During the period of the Knights times were hard and so were the laws of the land. What today seems trifling, was then severely dealt with and some of the following offences were established by law. Blasphemy was severely punished, and those found guilty of the first offence had their tongues pierced with a needle. Slaves who refused work had their ears cut off. Criminals were liable to be punished by having their hands chopped off.

Cumbo’s horse

One of the most painful forms of torture was that of the Cavaletto. This consisted of placing the accused in a sitting position on a type of wooden horse with weights attached to the feet. The notorious 17th century judge, Giulio Cumbo, condemned some 120 criminals to death whilst holding office. At that time, the torture horse became popularly known as “Il cavallo di Cumbo“.

Jean Parisot de la Valette

Jean Parisot de la Valette was born in Gascony, France in 1494. In his early years he was notorious for his firey temper. He was temporarily unfrocked from the order at one stage and in 1538 for four months was imprisoned on the island of Gozo for having been foung guilty of attacking a private citizen. Elected the Grand Master of the Order in 1557 he achieved fame for his valour and leadership during the Great Siege of Malta by the Turks in 1565.

La Cassiere

In 1572 Jean Levesque de la Cassiere was elected Grand Master. La Cassiere was renowned both in the Knights’ Convent and the Courts of Europe. However, as a Grand Master, he turned out to be stern and intransigent. Great discontent arose in the Order and a group of rebel knights, led by Romegas, imprisoned him in Fort St.Angelo. After his reinstatement by Pope Gregory 13th, both La Cassiere and Romegas died in Rome.

Defeat in battle

In July 1570 Jean Francois de St.Clement in command of the flotilla of the Order’s galleys was surprised by an overwhelming force led by Lucciali, a Turkish general. St.Clement fled after losing the Capitania, the San Giovanni and the Sant’Anna – only the Santa Maria della Vittoria escaped. A general outburst followed and on his return St.Clement was tried, found guilty and stripped of his habit. Condemned to death, he was strangled in prison, and his body, enclosed in a sack filled with stones, was thrown into the sea.

Mattew Callus

With the coming of the Order of the Knights of St.John the privileges of the Universita, which represented the local Comune, were gradually eroded. Grand Master de la Valette removed further a number of privileges which led to widespread discontent among the citizens. In 1561 the prominent physician, Mattew Callus was bold enough to address the protest directly to King Philip II of Spain, but his letter was intercepted. He was then arrested, tried by a civil court, found guilty of sedition and hanged.

After the priests’ revolt

Following the abortive revolt of the priests in 1775, during the Magistracy of Grand Master Franceso Ximenes, three of the rebels were executed and their gory heads were stuck on long poles and displayed in public.

The Stocks

Stocks consisted of a timber frame with holes for feet, and sometimes hands, in which the offender was confined, secured in a seated position and forced to suffer the insults and ridicules of passers-by. Offenders were sometimes punished by means of “boccaglio“, a crude instrument of torture, which was placed over the head.


Superstitions and witchcraft were among the most frequent problems for an Inquisitor in 17th century Malta. The deep-rooted catholic faith of the Maltese was undermined by such beliefs where sometimes people sought the help of women renowned for their healing powers. Fear of the evil eye remained strong amongst the population so the people resorted to talismans and amulets for protection. Muslim slaves were the most common source obtaining such potions and superstitious objects. Superstition was looked at by the authorities as a malaise to be held in check.

Masks of Shame

Those being punished had to wear these masks for public displays of their shame. There was a “Flute of Shame” for bad musicians, “Swine Mask” for men treating women poorly, the “Hood of Shame” for bad students, and many more masks of shame.

Abolishing the inquisition

In 1798 the French under Napoleon occupied Malta. The inquisition was abolished. But when the French confiscated property belonging to the Maltese Church, the Maltese revolted, and the patriots were executed executed by firing squad on the Place de la Liberte in 1799.

Comments (9)
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9 Users Responded To " Malta – Mdina dungeons "

Getty72 said,

4-4-2008 at 18:21:21     

WOW! Such an interesting post!! Your photographs are great and really capture the moment, and the history surround the place is amazing. I can almost hear the screams and smell the dank atmposphere…… so gruesome yet so gripping!!! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences :)

By the way, it would be fab it you did enter the photography challenge ;-) You have such a fantastic eye for taking great photos!

Wishing you a wonderful weekend ~ Graham :)

omega said,

4-4-2008 at 19:13:09     

Thank you Graham, and thanks for the compliments about the photos :) i only wish i had a better camera – soon i will have one :eyes: As to the screams and dark atmosphere – yeah, inside the dungeons they also have sound effects which enhance the atmosphere a lot and makes you feel like you are in the middle ages.
I will try and participate in the challenge – maybe i’ll find something cool by the end of the month :))

Bob said,

4-21-2008 at 00:22:52     

Wow, they sure knew how to show a guy a good time back then, :shootme: very interesting, love your images and te history behind them, awesome.

julian said,

5-7-2008 at 00:21:50     

theze areso freekishly yummmeeee!!!!
great snaps & whata wik’d historia

xcvvvcx said,

2-22-2009 at 23:33:54     

omg! how grosss!!!! i could not stop watching! ewwwwwwww………………almost made me throw up! nobod y deserves that kind of torture!

danzthrulife said,

6-5-2009 at 19:28:47     

So nasty!! I feel so bad for those people.. Just looking at them is enough to give me nightmares for weeks! But sadly I love to see pictures like this so thanks!

penguinsxp said,

9-16-2009 at 11:22:00     

wow cool.the pictures are great btw.you’re pretty.thats all.:)) [IM A GIRL BY THE WAY AND NOT A LESBO OR BISEXUAL.:)) just thought you should know.]i love your background.web designer?WOW. :pleased: and you sing in a band?AND you’re a linguist?cool :metal:

omega said,

11-8-2009 at 19:12:51     

hay penguinsxp, thank you :)) i love penguins btw

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

Malta’s hidden history « Aftermath News mention,

9-28-2009 at 03:54:27     

[...] Malta – Mdina dungeons: The Knights’ period During the period of the Knights times were hard and so were the laws of the land. What today seems trifling, was then severely dealt with and some of the following offences were established by law. Blasphemy was severely punished, and those found guilty of the first offence had their tongues pierced with a needle. Slaves who refused work had their ears cut off. Criminals were liable to be punished by having their hands chopped off. [...]

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yeah that's meHi, you've come to my blog for some reason. I am a web-designer, i sing in a band, and i am also a linguist. I like music, art and travelling, and I want to have a giant african snail. If you want to say something to me, go ahead. Thank you for your time.
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