Auberge de France, Birgu
|Auberge de France|
|Berġa ta' Franza|
|Address||Hilda Tabone Street|
|Town or city||Birgu|
|Design and construction|
The Auberge de France (Maltese: Berġa ta' Franza) is one of the auberges built in Birgu, Malta, for the langues of the knights of the Order of Saint John. It housed the langue of France until the building of a larger Auberge de France in Valletta in 1570. The building was next to Auberge d'Aragon and Auberge d'Auvergne et Provence and together, these Auberges formed a compact block.
The building existed from before the arrival of the Order, and some parts of the basement show elements of this original structure to this day. When the Order arrived, the structure was rebuilt as an Auberge by the Order's architect who had accompanied them after the fall of Rhodes, Nicolo Flavari. Major alterations were later made by Bartolomeo Genga who redesigned parts of the building including the facade.
The Auberge follows the traditional Maltese sixteenth century architectural style, with a symmetrical facade with Maltese mouldings. There vaulted rooms near the main entrance, while the door is decorated with sculptures. The wrought iron lattice above the door bears the fleur-de-lys, the symbol of France. The entrance hall and most parts of the building receive natural light from the backyard, and the ground floor is connected to the upper one by a covered staircase. In the middle landing of the staircase there is a carved stone lion, a common feature in palatial buildings at the time. The main hall on the top floor once served as the assembly hall of the Langue.
After it was closed in 1570 as the Langue moved to Valletta, the building was sold to private owners along with the other Auberges in Birgu. For about 250 years, the building belonged to private owners but there were no changes in the structure, either externally or internally. In the early nineteenth century it was acquired by the rich Vella family, and the palace was informally known as il-Palazz tal-Miljunarju (The Palace of the Millionaire).
It became a primary school in 1852, and it continued to serve this purpose until 1918. In 1921 it was rented to Lorenzo Zammit Naro to be used as a furniture factory, and the owner placed a stone statue of Saint Joseph on the portal which was later removed. In 1938 Canon Gian Mari Farrugia and Sir Harry Luke visited the Auberge and urged the government to acquire the building. A plaque indicating that it was the former Auberge was placed on its facade. It was briefly used as a school once more but it closed during the Second World War and later fell into disuse.
From 1966 to 1978 it was once again used as a carpenter's workshop. In 1980 the building was restored and from 1981 it was a Museum of Political History. This project was unsuccessful and was closed down in 1988. The building fell into disuse and the ceiling had to be renovated in 1990 due to rainwater damage. It was retained by the Museums Department but there were no funds for its upkeep. In 2012 the Auberge was rented to the Birgu Local Council, and it underwent restoration once again. The offices of the Local Council were moved to the former Auberge in 2014.
The Auberge is the second best preserved Auberge in Birgu, after Auberge d'Angleterre. It was listed as a Grade 1 national monument on 22 December 2009, and it is also listed on the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands.
- The Auberges of France in Birgu. Lorenzo A. Zahra, The Malta Independent, 10 January 2007. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
- The Auberges of France in Birgu (II). Lorenzo A. Zahra, The Malta Independent, 17 January 2007. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
- IB Visual Arts Exhibition Students 2014 at the Auberge de France in Birgu. Birgu Local Council. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- Auberge de France. Times of Malta, 29 November 2012. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
- "Auberge de France" (PDF). National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands. 28 December 2012. Retrieved 17 October 2015.