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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Mdina Dungeons

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Mdina Dungeons

St. Publius Square, Mdina; tel: +356 21 450267;

Monday - Friday 09.30-21.00; Saturdays & Sundays: 09.30-16.30;  Regular Adult Ticket: €4.00; Child (Up to 12 years): €2.00; Groups of 10 or more: €3.25; Family Ticket-2 adults & 2  Children - 9.50


 Blas-pheee-meeer! How da-aare ye take the Lord thy God's name in vain? His Eminence the Inquisitor has heard your case and condemns you to a complimentary torture session in our spanking new Dungeon Complex. We regret to inform that refreshments are NOT included.

                                                                                                                                                    -Anon. E. Mouse


Joking aside, you need not blaspheme nor commit any transgression to go down the flight of steps right behind Vilhena's main gate to visit those dark corridors and gloomy chambers that are the Mdina Dungeons nowadays. In fact this is an unusual, perhaps slightly morbid but a must-see location in Malta's old capital where the gory and the gruesome come to life. But before you go any further, here is our standard disclaimer: this is not for the faint of heart nor is it for the squeamish. And certainly not for the incontinent. There! You have been warned!

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This grizzly collection is an attempt to chronicle various, often perversely creative methods of inflicting intense pain on poor devils convicted of having transgressed against the authorities or whose beliefs did not quite conform with mainstream Roman Catholicism. The exhibits are arranged in chronological fashion, from the days of the Roman Empire until the French occupation of the islands. The shrieks of pain that these victims of mercilessness must have emitted are convincingly recreated, adding to the sombre ambiance of the place.


What to See

As you walk into the dungeons, your stomach will churn at the sight of a Roman propagator of justice using shears to tear chunks of flesh off the body of a wrongdoer. But this wrongdoer must be finding her solace as right next to her other scoundrels are meeting their fate in that very Roman method of execution – crucifixion.

Exile to Malta was not a good enough punishment for Teodorius who spearheaded a failed rebellion against his Uncle Heraclius in Byzantine times – the pain must have been excruciating when his foot was severed and his nose cut off in spine-chilling, cold-blooded revenge.

The Arabs introduced their own array of torture methods, favourite amongst which was rendering the wretched victim helpless by tying to the ground and burying him under a mound of boulders.

One of the several explanatory notes in the dungeons describes how the 38 leaders of a failed rebellion by the slaves were executed by decapitation after having been paraded to Valletta. The executioner tore pieces of flesh off their body with hot shears and poured boiling oil onto the wounds. Some were branded with a letter “R” - for Rebel. Eight unluckier ones were quartered as they were tied to sea vessels in the Grand Harbour and dismembered.

There is also a reconstruction of Gaetano Mannarino's prison cell. This priest was incarcerated after having played a key role in a revolt by several clergymen who amongst other grievances, were dismayed that their hunting rights were being restricted by the Grand Master.

The cavalletto, also known as Cumbo's horse is so called after seventeenth century Judge Giulio Cumbo who in the course of his career condemned no less than 120 men to death. The subject would be placed in a seated position on this contraption and heavy weights would then be tied to his feet. Ouch!  

Prolific painter Michaelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, was well-known for his violent bouts which earned him time in a prison cell. He is in good company as his next door neighbour is none other than the famed La Vallette who prior to being elected Grand Master was condemned to serve jail time in the Gozo prison, after having been involved in a scuffle with a local. Grand Master La Cassiere is also in this neighbourhood – his administrative style caused much disgruntlement which led to his capture by his arch-rival Bailiff Romegas who temporarily imprisoned him in Fort St. Angelo.

The fifty three conspirators of the failed coup against the French occupation, prominent amongst whom was Dun Mikiel Xerri, were executed by firing squad in Place de la Libertee - today known as Independence Square – on 17th January 1799. A plaque here recalls that fateful day and celebrates the bravery of these Maltese patriots.

Practitioners of the occult and heretics were condemned to their horrendous fates by the Inquisition. You will see here lifeless bodies hanging at the gallows, impaled heads and infidels burning at the stake. Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself, indeed!

Not all torture was physical – emotional pain was sometimes inflicted by forcing the subject to wear degrading iron masks of shame, often in the shape of animals reminiscent of the crime perpetrated.

It will be a relief to exit the dungeon complex, back to 21st Century Europe where Capital Punishment and torture have been outlawed many, many years ago.

Inquisitor's Palace in a nutshell

  • A depiction of torture methods, arranged in chronological order, from Roman Times until the 18th Century.
  • On display are physical methods of torture such as Cumbo's Horse and means of inflicting emotional pain, such as the "Iron Masks of Shame"
  • Reconstruction of the prison cells of Dun Gaetano Mannarino, Michaelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio) and La Vallette who served time for engaging in a violent scuffle with a local