Private Tour of Casa Bernard in Rabat
Some time ago I came across one of Casa Bernard leaflets and I added it to places I would like to visit. Last time I happened to be in Mdina/Rabat I knew exactly where to go. Casa Bernard is a 16 the century palazzo, which was restored by the Magri family to its pristine splendour. It was originally a medieval watch tower built on Roman foundations, progressing to a double-fronted palazzo in the mid 16th century.
The Casa Bernard is named after its original owner. Mr Bernard was a doctor and he was given the house to live in 1720. He worked in the Santo Spirito Hospital, which was a hospital of the Knights. It was just around the corner from the palazzo. It is worth mentioning that the Santo Spirito Hospital in Rabat is the oldest documented hospital in Malta.
The current owners Georges & Josette Margi bought the palazzo 23 years ago in 1994. It took them approx. 4,5 years to restore and install water and electricity. After some time Joseltte’s husband Georges suggested to open to the public in 2001. Here is the entrance. As you will soon realize, from the outside you have no idea of what’s inside.
Once you walk through the door you will find yourself in a hallway with this beautiful display below.
The owners, George and Josette Magri, have a great collection of paintings and large furniture displayed through out the house. Josette would tell me a story about most of the paintings. This one in particular is a portrait of Knight Grand Cross, the Admiral of the Fleet with ships in the background that show his profession.
Here is a beautiful representation room. In the top right corner you can notice an artwork, Crucifixion of Jesus, that looks like wood, giving a bit of 3D impression, but it’s actually painting – oil on canvas. The central painting in the golden frame is French by a very popular artist – Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. The furniture in this room is also French.
If you were wondering what are those two doors, the dark blue one is a cupboard and the light blue leads to the kitchen.
When visiting the room, ask about the talcum powder holders. They are in the shape of baby heads. To use the powder the top would come off, which I find very morbid, but than again it’s pretty unique. I tried to take a picture if it, but they were displayed behind a glass and the reflection would just make in impossible.
This is a dining room that the Magri family still uses until today. The furniture is English, all silver on display is English silver. Below you can see a collection of Maltese coffee pots. The difference to any other coffee pot is that they have legs of a goat and the spout of a dolphin.
Have a look at the very richly decorated middle piece of silver, which was used for pepper or salt if I remember correctly, but what’s interesting about it is, that you can actually dismantle it. There is a screw in the bottom which allows you to take all that decor away and turn it into a champagne glass! How clever!
From the dining room, we continued the tour upstairs to see the bedroom, sitting room and a library. Here is a nice view of the slender wall that was built by Mr Bernard. He opted for the wall to be built so the stairs would be closed and it would be more practical and more comfortable to live in the house. The slender wall means that it is much thinner wall compared to the other walls around the house.
Here is one of the bedrooms that is still being used to accommodate guests that come for a visit.
As I already mention the house has thick walls which allows you to have two doors if there is a need for it. If you want light coming to the room you just close the glass door and if you want privacy you can close them both. The interesting fact about the glass door is that it is original Phoenician glass. When you look closer it’s full of bubbles. One of the glass frames had to be changed in the 1950s so you can see the difference. Behind the door you can see a grey niche with Beheading of St Paul.
And now we are in the main sitting room. This room used to be split into three bedrooms. The Magri family brought the walls down and converted the room to it’s original state.
Part of the sitting room is a traditional Maltese balcony with one special feature! It has a small hole in the floor that is exactly over the front door so in the past one could see who was at the door. Josette told me that it also has it’s name – a spy hole! 🙂 It is very rare nowadays as people would just cover the floor with tiles or marble, but this is the original, authentic balcony floor..
Here is another interesting piece. It is a library lamp or an oil lamp. In the olden days there was no electricity and the only few things available were oil, wax and candles. This was only used when the weather wasn’t too cold and when there was no draft, otherwise it wouldn’t work. Part of the lamp are also small tools used for the wick. You can also notice a shield to protect someone’s face. Why? In the past people used wax and powder as ‘make up’ so if they would come too close the wax would melt. The shield would prevent it.
I would like to finish off with this beautiful French, English and Maltese accessorize collection. Can you guess what was the central piece made from a Maltese filigree used for? A minute to think? Do you have an idea? This was used as a ‘business card’ cover!
I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog and I highly recommend you the visit. Just come on the hour, ring the bell and ask for a tour. If you get a group together it would be 8 euro per person, but you can also opt for a private tour, which I did, and it was 12 euro, but I did feel very special and I could ask anything without feeling stupid that I didn’t know that already.