The restoration of Palazzo Falson was a long and painstaking process that lasted for more than five years. The Palazzo reopened to the general public in May 2007, thus fulfilling Olof Gollcher’s final wish.
Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher OBE (1889-1962), was the last owner of Palazzo Falson. He bought the Palazzo in 1927, and renamed it ‘The Norman House’. He was an artist, soldier and philanthropist, as well as an ardent collector of objets d’art and historical artefacts.
Olof wanted the Norman House to be preserved with its contents as a museum, and in his will, he left instructions for the setting up of a foundation to be named The Captain O. F. Gollcher OBE Art and Archaeological Foundation. In 2001, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti entered into a management agreement with the Gollcher Foundation, whereby it would restore the Palazzo and its contents, and open it to the general public as an historic house museum.
Prior to the restoration by Patrimonju, the building had been closed for over 40 years, and during this time there had been substantial water infiltration into the walls, and severe deterioration of the wooden apertures. Parts of the roof had to be replaced due to the rusting of the supporting, ungalvanised metal beams. The lack of any roof membrane, together with cracks in the pipes of the old drainage system, had led to substantial water seepage which damaged the wood panelling, and the friezes of the Sale Nobili.
Great care was exercised in order to preserve the original features of the Palazzo. Those parts of the building which had deteriorated over centuries had to be restructured and secured. When the plastering of the interior walls was removed, it was discovered that three stone arches at ground-floor level were cracked, and that the first floor was no longer sound. The removal of the plaster, however, also yielded a number of interesting features and openings, including graffiti of 15th-century galleons.
The stonework throughout the Palazzo had to be cleaned and conserved, and was replaced only where absolutely necessary. All repointing that was needed was done using a natural hydraulic lime-based mortar solution. The interior walls were also rendered with a lime solution. However, the first coating proved insufficiently pure, which affected the breathable properties of the walls beneath. Within ten weeks or so of this application, salt crystals started to loosen the plasterwork. The walls were washed, and a purer, thicker, porous lime solution was successfully applied. The use of pure lime mortars allows the moisture to be released from the background as water vapour, therefore controlling the level of dampness and the concentration of salts from the walls.
The entire drainage system had to be replaced and modified. The old electric wiring, made of single-strand copper wrapped in cloth, was replaced with modern, low and high voltage wiring capable of supporting the extensive, museum lighting, the various alarms and CCTV systems. A panoramic-view roof café was added.
After some five years of work, the artefacts comprising the Collection – numbering over 3,600 – were returned to their former home, having been removed to a secure warehouse, where they were restored and conserved by numerous, expert restorers.
Refurnishing the Palazzo was a slow and painstaking task, especially when it came to applying the final finishing touches. With the restoration work complete, the mission of the Palazzo is now ongoing, the purpose being to use the collection and the building itself as a means to educate and to transmit the enjoyment of culture to all who visit. An unparalleled visitor experience.
Layers of plasterwork that had built up on the façade over the years, revealed signs of detachment. Consolidation works were carried out, either by injecting an hydraulic grout, or by using asilicate-based consolidant. A number of superfluous iron fixtures which had caused considerable damage to the stonework of the façade were removed. Large parts of the pointing in the façade, especially at upper level, were missing, or were loose or friable.
After consultation and considerable research into lime-based mortars, it was concluded that hydrated lime-sand mortars would be suitably compatible with the local, globigerina limestone, in terms of strength and porosity. The walls were cleaned with an anti-algae agent dissolved in distilled water. After this treatment, the surfaces were washed down with distilled water, and any organic material removed with a soft brush. Though this treatment has been in the main effective, constant maintenance is necessary and a certain amount of re-plastering has had to be done.
Stones that showed signs of mechanical damage were either repaired or replaced, but only when the extent of the damage warranted such intervention. Examples include decaying stones on door jambs, and instances where deterioration had allowed water to infiltrate the architectural fabric.
The wooden apertures, particularly those on the upper floor, were in a poor state of repair due to lack of maintenance and regular use. The old paint was totally stripped, the wood was treated against woodworm; any cracks filled in, and the metalwork cleaned and restored. Leaded lighting was inserted into some of the windows. The missing metal studs on the main door were replaced, and the old original hinge system was restored using metal, leather and brass.
THE INTERNAL TERRACE
Work on the internal terrace overlooking the Courtyard included cleaning the active fungus from the facing wall, removing the old cement floor, some rusting chimneys, and replacing roofing slabs. The weathered stones featuring decorative motifs along the terrace ledge, were also replaced. The broken flagstones in the central courtyard, which had been randomly patched with cement, were replaced by worn and weathered żonqor slabs, and the decorative column of the fountain, which had lain unused for many years, was repaired and strengthened.
Olof’s collection of historical books, numbering over 4000, proved to be too heavy for the first floor and library floor, and some of the roofing slabs (Maltese: xorok) had to be replaced. The books themselves were moved to a separate location, and each individual book freed from the DDT powder which had been used for protection purposes prior to the restoration. The wall-to-wall wooden shelving was also restored. This included dismantling, stripping, treating against woodworm, refilling cracks, the application of a preservative and, finally, painting. The shelving was then put back, with new, galvanised metal fitting supports.