The Pantheon of Malta
A Pantheon in Malta? Of course! In the village of Mosta to be precise. The world famous Mosta Rotunda, allegedly the third largest unsupported dome in Europe and the ninth in the world. Built on the design of architect Giorgio Grognet de Vasse over a twenty seven year period between 1833 and 1860 and constructed and funded entirely by the villagers who at the time did not number more than one thousand five hundred. A village which today still counts less than twenty thousand souls.
The architect Grognet de Vasse was a Maltese of French origin, an eccentric man who was also the first to promulgate the speculation that the Maltese Islands were the location of the legendary lost continent of Atlantis, a theory which some continue to maintain to this day. In planning for his greatest undertaking, the building of the huge church in Mosta, he wanted to ensure that the stone he used was the strongest available. To be sure of this, he tested slabs from each and every limestone quarry on the island until he settle on a relatively local source from the Ta’ Vnezja quarry near Ta’ Qali.
The building’s plan was based on that of the Pantheon in Rome and the huge unsupported dome, with an internal diameter of 37.2 metres (122 feet), necessitated walls with a 9.1 metre (30 foot) thickness, almost that of a fortified wall! The Rotunda, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, was constructed over the older, smaller church to enable worshippers to continue attending mass in the locality during the 27 year period of construction.
A potentially destructive incident took place on 9 April 1942, at the height of the Axis blitz on Malta. A Luftwaffe bomber on the way back to Sicily after a sortie on one of the Island’s airfields or harbours, dropped three bombs onto the dome, at a time when a congregation of around 300 was gathered inside the church for early evening mass. Two of the shells bounced off the roof to explode outside, while the third bomb actually pierced the dome and landed amongst the terrified congregation. Luckily it did not explode and the event went down into the locality’s history as a miraculous sign of divine intervention. A replica of the unexploded shell is exhibited in the church to this very day.
A world-class monument in a small village. With an interesting and eccentrically charming history to match. Very typically Maltese…………