Palazzo Falson is the second oldest surviving building in Mdina, dating back to the 13th century. It is a typical mediaeval Palazzo fashioned on Sicilian examples of its period, consisting of several rooms surrounding an internal courtyard, and an overlying piano-nobile. The Palazzo was also known as ‘The Norman House’, due to the stylistic features believed to be Siculo-Norman, although I have recently found other documents stating that “there is nothing ‘Norman’ about the house”, and so it appears that this claim had been discontinued.
It is now open to the public as ‘Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum’, together with a collection of antiques of the last owner residing in the house Capt. Olof Frederick Gollcher OBE (1889-1962).
Here’s quite a brief history of this architectural heritage throughout the centuries.
The Palazzo was originally a one storey high courtyard house with a set of rooms at the back of the courtyard forming the oldest part of the building, which was built around the first half of the 13th century on the remains of an even earlier structure known as ‘La Rocca’ (a defensive structure associated with the mediaeval ‘La Rocca’ family).
This first house was originally much larger than today’s Palazzo, the main façade was where today is Bastions Square. This had a passageway which was the principal means of access. There was also another entrance on Our Saviour Street, which served both the house as a back entrance, and a church dedicated to Our Saviour, which the house abutted.
A very interesting fact is that quite a lot of documents state that the refectory and kitchen area of the Palazzo were most probably once part of a synagogue structure where the Mdina Jewish community used to worship.
During this century, the Palazzo went through several architectural modifications. This included the construction of the present façade on Villegaignon Street, and that of the second storey of the house. Also, a double-serrated string course of inverted triangles with pendant balls separating the two storeys was added, and a Sicilian inspired hood mould framing the main centrally placed doorway.
The De Falsone family were the first securely documented residents of the Palazzo. In the early 16th century the Palazzo was owned by Ambrosio De Falsone, who was also the head of the town council. It was then inherited by his cousin, the vice admiral Michele Falsone in 1524.
At the time the city of Mdina was waiting for the arrival of Grand Master Phillipe Villiers De L’Isle Adam in 1530, after Malta was donated to the Order of St. John by Emperor Charles the V. There are documents stating that L’Isle Adam was hosted at the Palazzo, so further architectural changes were made in preparation of this event, including the addition of mullioned windows on the second floor, most probably designed by local Architect Jacobo Dimeg.
However other documents that I researched state that however, L’Isle Adam never resided in the Palazzo, but lived in the ‘Castel St. Angelo’ and the Church of St. Lawrence in Birgu.
Matteo Falson was the most prominent resident at Palazzo Falson. He was Master at the Rod in Mdina. It is said that Matteo Falson was a follower of a French priest named Francesco Gesualdo, founder of the Confraternity of Good Christians and a teacher with several followers. Gesualdo was tainted with Lutheranism (a branch of protestant Christianity) and started sharing these ideas with his followers, including Falson. Years later after a lot of investigation from the Bishop (Cubelles at the time) and the Order’s Inquistion, Falson had to leave the Island in 1574. The Inquisition seized his assets including Palazzo Falson. Eventually possessions of the house passed to the Cumbo Navarra family and their descendants. Unfortunately, none of this information is entirely proven, since I found several versions of the story.
In 1927 Capt. Olof Frederick Gollcher and his mother Elisa Gollcher née Balbi bought the first part of the Palazzo for which they paid the then princely sum of £680. Gollcher is the most recent owner and resident of the Palazzo. Part of the house had been leased out and it could not therefore be sold entirely. The 1927 acquisition included the part of the house numbered 28 and 29, Villegaignon Street (then Strada Reale) and No. 1, Saviour Street. Gollcher had to wait for eleven years to acquire the second part of the house, by then his mother had passed away leaving her share of the Palazzo to Olof. On 7th June 1938 Gollcher acquired No. 2 Saviour Street which had been leased out to a Mrs. Lina Pullicino and for which he had to pay £550.
Gollcher renamed the palazzo ‘The Norman House’, He also made several changes to the house. He built a Siculo-Renaissance inspired external staircase, as well as a pseudo Siculo-Norman fountain and a Byzantine-Romanesque garden folly. He also added an arched doorway to compliment the main portal of the façade.
In 2001, ‘Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti’ entered an agreement with the ‘Capt. O.F Gollcher O.B.E Arts and Archeological Foundation’, where ‘Patrimonju Malti’ had to restore Palazzo Falson to its former glory and transform it into a Historic Museum.
Palazzo Falson opened to the public on the 4th of May 2007.
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