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Victoria, Malta

The Old Prison

This prison on the Maltese island of Gozo is almost 500 years old, and they have the graffiti to prove it. 

The nation of Malta is an archipelago of 21 islands, the second largest being Gozo, home to the Citadel, an ancient fortified city within a city. Inside the walls you’ll find the Old Prison, where you can get a glimpse into some pretty grim prison-digs from centuries gone by. Covering the walls and floors is centuries of graffiti, etched-in proof that carving your initials and crude drawings go back long before “Kilroy was here.”

Known simply as “The Old Prison,” it was an active jail beginning in the mid-16th century, originally run by the Crusades-era Knights of St. John. At the time it was used for knights who were a little rowdier than the others, and their 5x10-foot block cells gave them some time to cool their heels, and apparently let off a little artistic steam.

Much of the graffiti relates to the knights and their symbols, including crosses, medallions known as the “Malta Cross,” and lots of plain old handprints, names, and dates. There are also some intricate carvings of ships, some with multiple planks on the hulls. One theory is that the planks were used as a kind of calendar system for the prisoners, as a tally of their time served.

The Old prison was later controlled by the British after the Knights were kicked out of Malta, and it was in some use up until 1962 when it closed completely, eventually being meticulously restored for visitors to see.

Notable prisoners included Jean Parisot de La Valette, the founder of Malta’s capital city of Valleta, who spent four months there in 1538. He was convicted of attacking a man, and he later went on to become the Grand Master of the Order of St. John. Not bad for an ex-convict.

Know Before You Go

The Old Prison is in the fortified Citadel of the capital city of Victoria on the island of Gozo, the second largest of the many islands that make up the archipelago of Malta.

The Prison is open every day from 9am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30) except holidays. Admission is €8 for adults, €5 for age 12-17 and seniors, €4 for age 6-11, and under age 6 are free. Your admission also gets you into other Citadella Sites, the Folklore Museum, the Gozo Archaeology Museum, and the Natural Science Museum.

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