In the first in a new series looking at unique examples of venue architecture around the world, Paul Colston visits Malta and the striking Mediterranean Conference Centre, a building first built as a hospital nearly 500 years ago:
Malta has many imposing buildings, but the former Sacra Infermeria hospital built by the Knights of St John is one of the most striking. Today, its architectural heir is the modern day Mediterranean Conference Centre which stands proud on the same spot above the fortress city of Valletta, overlooking the Grand Harbour.
Work on this vast edifice started in 1574 during the reign of Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere and it has been extended several times over the centuries.
This hall, measuring 155 metres in length, was at that time one of the largest in Europe and considered one of the grandest interiors in the world. The Sacra Infermeria could accommodate 914 patients.
In 1676 Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner founded the School of Anatomy and Surgery at the Infirmary – the forerunner of the Medical School of the University of Malta.
During British Rule, the centre served as a Station Hospital.
The Infirmary’s Hall was turned into a Police Headquarters from 1918 till 1940 and, during World War II, the building received four direct hits.
After the war it was briefly used as an entertainment centre and children’s theatre and then as a school and examination hall from 1959.
There were several attempts at restoration before a comprehensive reconstruction in 1978, when it became the Mediterranean Conference Centre (MCC).
The Centre was inaugurated on the 11 February 1979, and was awarded the Europa Nostra Diploma of Merit for the “superb restoration of the Sacra Infermeria and its adaption for use as a conference centre” and blending of the fine old architecture with modern technology.
A building steeped in history embarked on its new career as a venue for all manner of events and an ongoing maintenance programme has kept the unique historical character of this national monument, while providing a modern venue able to handle major international conferences, exhibitions, banquets and theatrical events.
The MCC is versatile and a rare example in the region of a heritage building functioning to the exacting demands of the 21st century. The MCC is a member of the prestigious Historic Conference Centres of Europe (HCCE). It is also one of Europe’s largest conference centres within a historical setting.
The location could not be better, with the MCC just a few minutes from the airport and near to many hotels.
Its capacity is large – a total area of over 7,000sqm and with a 2,300-delegate capacity. The kitchens and catering partners mean the Centre has the capability to provide up to 4,000 covers a day.
Of course, Covid has limited capacities but the facilities are now open again and from 15 August able to host up to 500 delegate guests.
The Samsung Forum in 2020 was the last major event before the pandemic and that showed off the venue in some style, bringing in 3,200 delegates as the MCC was transformed over 11 days for a rolling event and product showcase.
The main auditorium, Republic Hall, seats 1,400 in theatre style, the elegant and unique La Valette Hall offers an imposing banqueting venue option for up to 900, and there are many individually-
styled smaller halls suited for receptions and smaller events.
For me, the outstanding USP is to be found up on the roof where a stupendous wrap-around terrace offers event reception options with a view to die for over the Grand Harbour.