The two renowned Cippi which were discovered in Malta centuries ago, and which were separated when one of them was sent to France by Grand Master de Rohan, have been reunited – albeit temporarily – after 241 years apart, thanks to an exhibition at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The Cippi date back to the 2nd Century BC. Besides their great aesthetic and historical value, they are a symbol of language decipherment and of diplomatic relations.
Both Cippi have the same inscriptions on their base. The top inscription, in Phoenician script, is about two brothers making a votive offering to the Phoenician god Melqart. Below it is a version of the text in Greek characters.
It is not known with certainty when the Cippi were discovered, but they were first mentioned in 1694 as part of the collection of Ġan Franġisk Abela. Back then, the Phoenician language had not yet been totally deciphered. Copies of the inscriptions were sent abroad and from the many scholars who worked on them, Abbot Jean-Jacques Barthélemy from the Académie des Inscriptions et Belle-Lettres in Paris managed to break the code of the Phoenician language in 1758.
This brought international acclaim to the Cippi and, as a sign of recognition, Grand Master de Rohan sent one of the Cippi to the Académie in 1782. It was transferred to the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1864. The other one is housed at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.
Both museums have loaned their respective Cippus to be displayed in a temporary exhibition at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The exhibition is being held on the initiative of the Embassy of Malta in the United Arab Emirates, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between the UAE and Malta.
Several cultural and educational events will be taking place in conjunction with the exhibition. In addition, Louvre Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with the National Museum of Archaeology of Malta and the Louvre Museum in Paris, hosted a curatorial talk titled A Story of the Cippi of Malta: Decipherment and Reunification on May 31st. The talk introduced the public to the two ornamental pillars, their historical and archaeological significance, as well as the meaning of their reunification at Louvre Abu Dhabi after having been apart for more than two centuries. Sharon Sultana, Heritage Malta’s Senior Manager for Archaeology and Natural History, was one of the guest speakers.
Speaking at the launch of the exhibition, Maria Camilleri Calleja, Malta’s Ambassador for the United Arab Emirates, said that the reunion of the Cippi reminds us that wherever we are in the world, with effort and dialogue, we can always find ways to come closer together and to find each other. The fact that the exhibition is taking place in 2023 – the year in which Malta and the UAE celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations – is appropriate and forward-looking.
Joyce Dimech, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, said that his is another initiative that sees the cultural sphere extend beyond Malta’s shores. By promoting constructive cooperation through such cultural exchanges and fostering closer ties, the UAE and Malta can create a solid foundation for mutual growth and development. The next step is to have similar initiatives from the UAE in Malta to promote further cooperation in areas such as cultural exchange programmes, education and research collaboration, intangible heritage, creative arts and cultural heritage diplomacy.
Noel Zammit, Heritage Malta’s Chief Executive Officer, said that Malta has maintained strong ties with the United Arab Emirates over the past 50 years and both countries are actively collaborating to further strengthen this relationship through cultural diplomacy. This exhibition represents a significant stride towards this goal. Additionally, this marks the first time that Heritage Malta is partnering with the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and it is hoped that this collaboration will foster a promising future for the relationship between the two entities. Through such collaborations and exhibitions abroad, the agency is raising its international profile, which in turn increases awareness of Malta’s history and attracts more cultural tourists to our islands.
Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, said that the loan of the Cippi highlights the cultural and historical ties between Malta and the United Arab Emirates and underscores Louvre Abu Dhabi’s mission of telling stories of cultural connections, by bringing together artefacts from different times, geographies and civilisations. The display offers a rare opportunity to see these artefacts up close and will surely be a fascinating and enriching experience for visitors.
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