The fascination of Mdina, the old capital of Malta, never dims. People, whether local or foreign, are still fascinated by its history, its old houses, palaces, churches, and narrow streets where a magical atmosphere is created by lamplight at night.
In this city, which saw its beginning more than 4,000 years ago, one can still find buildings which go back centuries. Some, like Palazzo Falson - previously known as The Norman House - is the second oldest building in Mdina and has been turned into a museum where one can travel back in time and discover the Island’s history.
Studies show that a one-storey building was built in the 13th century on the site of an even older building known as La Rocca which was part of the Muslim defensive system during their occupation from 870 to 1091 AD. The ground-floor façade of Palazzo Falson on Villegaignon Street belongs to the early 15th century whilst the first floor was added and rebuilt later, extending to the start of the 16th century. The three windows on the first floor, responsible for the old soubriquet ‘The Norman House’, were probably designed around 1524 by Maltese master mason Jacobo Dimeg who was very active during the period when the palazzo’s second floor was built. It must be pointed out that the one-storey building of the 13th century was much larger and extended to what today is Bastions Square.
For years the palazzo had been the residence of the Falsone family, notably of Ambrosio de Falsone who was the Head of the Town Council. When he died, it was inherited by his nephew, Vice Admiral Michele Falsone. By this time, the Island had been ceded by the Spanish Emperor Charles V to the Order of the Knights of St John and the first Grand Master in Malta, Philipe Villiers de l’Isle Adam, was invited to the Palazzo as part of his visit to Mdina. It was just before this visit that architectural changes to enlarge the palazzo were carried out. This building continued to form part of the inheritance of the Falsone family including the notorious Matteo who in 1574 fell foul with the Inquisition who seized his estates, including Palazzo Falsone. This was eventually passed to the Cumbo-Navarra family and its descendants.
In 1927, the palazzo was bought in parts by Captain Olof Gollcher who lived in it with his wife till 1962 when he died. Captain Gollcher (1889-1962) was the son of Chev Gustav Gollcher, a prosperous shipping merchant of Swedish descent. Olof, a distinguished soldier who served in both World Wars, managed to buy the rest of the building and it was he who renamed the palazzo as ‘The Norman House’ due to its architectural features.
Besides being a soldier of distinction, Olof Gollcher was a Knight of the Venerable Order of St John and Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). He was also a philanthropist who had a passion for antiques and objets d’art. It was his wish that the ‘Norman House’ should be turned into a museum exhibiting the diverse collections he had acquired during the years, including silver, furniture, oriental carpets , a rare collection of books and manuscripts, jewellery, armour and much more.
In 2001, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti entered into an agreement with the Gollcher Foundation whereby Patrimonju was to restore ‘The Norman House’ to its former glory and to turn it into a state of the art historic house Museum. Prior to its restoration, the palazzo’s building fabric had deteriorated due to environmental factors and lack of necessary upkeep. This necessitated extensive and careful work to restore the Palazzo its pristine glory and beauty. After years of diligent work the Museum is now open to visitors who are more than welcome to visit this beautiful building or to admire the silver, art, armour and book collections.
Inside the Palazzo: