Historian Lorenzo Zahra makes a case in favour of government's acquisition of the unique building housing the Auberge d'Auvergne and the Auberge de Provence in Vittoriosa in an article in the Christmas issue of Treasures of Malta published by the Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti in association with the Malta Tourism Authority.

Zahra also looks forward to the publication of an elaborate study of the auberges conducted in 1992 by Paul Saliba, which shed light on the history of the French knights at Vittoriosa.

"It is also hoped that it will give rise to greater interest in the preservation of old buildings and ensure that action is taken by the authorities not to allow further destruction of such a unique architectural heritage.

"It is indeed unfortunate that historic mansions like the three French 450-year-old auberges at Vittoriosa and innumerable other old buildings in the same city have never attracted the attention of the Museum authorities, and never provoked the sponsoring of thorough surveys as has been done by private initiative.

"The acquisition by the government of the magnificent building that makes up the Auberge d'Auvergne et Provence, probably unique in Malta, and its proper restoration would be a very worthwhile endeavour," Zahra writes.

Saliba's study of the building established that the interior is in its original state despite its partitioning into four separate, privately-owned houses. Gaining access to the interior, he examined the building and discovered architectural elements, notably in the ground floor and basement, which probably date back to the 15th century. There are also old remnants, probably from the Byzantine period, not found elsewhere in Malta.

As in the case of the Auberge de France, the basement and cellars lead to Ancient Street at the back of the building.

All three auberges of French knights were located next to one another along Strada della Castiglia. According to the Order's chronicler, Bosio, these auberges were already functional as early as 1531, while the Order's records confirm their existence in August, 1532.

The Auberge d'Auvergne et Provence is on the right side of the Auberge de France. The building had consisted of twin houses with a common façade, one being the Auberge d'Auvergne and the other the Auberge de Provence.

Zahra writes that a section of the auberge at the extreme right, probably that belonging to Auvergne, was demolished in the immediate pre-war period to make way for a modern residence, thereby obliterating the symmetry of the original façade, though the main entrance of the auberge and a small balcony on top of it still remain as a reminder of the former auberge.

This part of the building was the property of the Confraternity of St Catherine. It is now a private residence.

The surviving auberge, adjacent to Auberge de France, probably that of Provence, is still broadly intact superficially though deformed in some places from alterations.

Treasures of Malta is printed at Progress Press.

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