British architecture at Rabat

Architecture in Malta under the British

Once established in Malta, the British colonial authorities took over the Knights’ buildings without immediately starting extensive building projects. However, they did use architecture to assert their power over the island by adding classical English features to some buildings, such as the addition of the portico to Valletta’s Main Guard’s in 1814.

New institutions soon found alternative uses for the Knights’ palaces; set on high ground overlooking the Grand Harbour, classical wings were added to the original Villa Bichi in 1832 to make it the Bighi Royal Naval Hospital. The Lunatic Asylum at Attard, completed in 1861, was also constructed along neo-classical principles, with colonnades, porticos and symmetrical blocks. St. Vincent de Paule Hospital for the old and infirm was described by Florence Nightingale as being “Far better than any hospital I have ever seen”.

William Scamp, a young naval architect, was entrusted with completion of the Anglican Cathedral whose original foundations had cracked as fast as they were built, resulting in the early death of the Cathedral’s first architect, thought to be suicide. Scamp had built the Naval Bakery at Vittoriosa – “the most splendid bakery in existence” – using Maltese styles and British techniques. Villa Portelli in Kalkara and Capua Palace in Sliema were similarly built, setting the style for porticos and verandahs on external facades; a style that influenced the Dragonara Palace, Villa Pescatore, and other smaller country villas.

This fusion eventually resulted in a particular Maltese colonial style as seen in the military complex at St Andrew's, where villas were built with terraces, verandas and balconies, an "eclectic mix of British, colonial and local styles" and was adopted in several notable buildings including Zammit Clapp Hospital and the neighbouring Convent of the Sacred Heart.

Valletta was not neglected. Major public projects there include the two gates: Porta Reale designed by Colonel Thompson and the later Victoria Gate by Emmanuele Luigi Galizia, said to be far superior due to its inventiveness and style.  The ‘Borsa’ or Exchange is a Neo-Classical building which broke with the surrounding styles and also with the Knights’ rules on uniformity of building line, creating a set-back behind a long open balcony. The Buttigieg-Francia Palace is a fussy building inspired by Venice and even integrating Maltese balconies, to compete with the grandeur of the Royal Opera House facing it.

The Opera House built by E.M. Barry has been described as Neo-Classical but Mahoney states that it was in reality a Neo-Baroque design, for which reason its size, vigour and floridity made it extremely popular with the Maltese public. Badly damaged during the war, it was only demolished ten years later against the advice of architects who insisted that it could have been repaired. A similarly florid British building clearly influenced by Maltese taste is Webster Paulson's little gem - the exuberantly decorative Casino Notabile in Rabat, built on the site of an old wash-house, and designed for social gatherings.

The arrival of the neo-Gothic revival in Malta created a further style.  Paulson, Barry's Clerk of Works, went on to become Clerk of Works to Malta's gifted Chief Architect under the British, Emmanuele Luigi Galizia. Paulson was much involved in the building of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Rudolph Street, Sliema, later in the 1860s. This church has a steeply pitched roof and a quaint bell cote, making it look exactly like an English village church. Examples of Galizia's work in the Gothic style are the Carmelite Church in Balluta Bay and Our Lady of Lourdes in Mġarr Harbour, Gozo, though his masterpiece is considered to be the earlier church at the Addolorata Cemetery. Interestingly, Galizia exhibited another fashionable trend in Victorian architecture in Malta. Having designed the Turkish Cemetery in Marsa in 1874, and travelled widely not only to Cyprus but also to North Africa, he built a small but eye-catching complex of Moorish residences in Sliema, where wealthy people from Valletta liked to spend the hot summers.

The covered Valletta Market designed by Hector Zimelli broke new ground, using cast iron pillars, girders and a glass skylight to create a fashionably-engineered building inspired by Les Halles market in Paris and the Crystal Palace.

Churches continued to be built throughout this period, including Stella Maris in Sliema and the parish churches at Msida, Naxxar, Nadur and Xagħra. Yet, the most notable is Mosta’s Maria Assunta Church, Malta's "dominant Neoclassical building". Known as the Rotunda, this parish church of astounding proportions was built by the parishioners themselves to the Pantheon-like design of Giorgio Grognet.

The reason that the British period is not generally considered a major influence in Maltese architecture might be due to the many different styles it produced in different areas of Malta, instead of focusing on one style in a limited area as had happened in the preceding Baroque period. Still, it produced many outstanding buildings, foremost among them being Joseph Psaila’s Balluta Buildings where the play of space created by the flying balconies and the sculpture makes the block a veritable ‘sculpture in the round’. 

Malta’s growing population in this period was matched by a similar growth in public transport; trains buses and trams encouraged the growth of the suburbs of Sliema and Gżira, Marsa, Paola, Ħamrun and parts of Attard and Balzan. A keen eye will spot Victorian and even Art Nouveau architecture in most of these places; a living testimony to a flourishing past.


Valletta’s Main Guard
Valletta’s Main Guard
Bighi Royal Naval Hospital
Bighi Royal Naval Hospital
Mount Carmel Mental Hospital, Attard
Mount Carmel Mental Hospital, Attard
St. Vincent de Paule Hospital
St. Vincent de Paule Hospital
Anglican Cathedral
Anglican Cathedral
Villa Portelli in Kalkara
Villa Portelli in Kalkara
Capua Palace in Sliema
Capua Palace in Sliema
The Dragonara Palace
The Dragonara Palace
Villa Pescatore
Villa Pescatore
St Andrew's
St Andrew's
Zammit Clapp Hospital
Zammit Clapp Hospital
Convent of the Sacred Heart
Convent of the Sacred Heart
Porta Reale
Porta Reale
Victoria Gate
Victoria Gate
‘Borsa’ or Malta Stock Exchange
‘Borsa’ or Malta Stock Exchange
Buttigieg-Francia Palace
Buttigieg-Francia Palace
Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House
Casino Notabile in Rabat
Casino Notabile in Rabat
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Rudolph Street, Sliema
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Rudolph Street, Sliema
Carmelite Church in Balluta Bay
Carmelite Church in Balluta Bay
Our Lady of Lourdes in Mġarr Harbour, Gozo
Our Lady of Lourdes in Mġarr Harbour, Gozo
Addolorata Cemetery Church
Addolorata Cemetery Church
Turkish Cemetery in Marsa
Turkish Cemetery in Marsa
Valletta Market
Valletta Market
Stella Maris church in Sliema
Stella Maris church in Sliema
Msida parish church
Msida parish church
Xagħra Gozo church
Xagħra Gozo church
Nadur Gozo church
Nadur Gozo church
Naxxar parish church
Naxxar parish church
Mosta’s Maria Assunta Church also known as the Rotunda
Mosta’s Maria Assunta Church also known as the Rotunda
 Joseph Psaila’s Balluta Buildings
Joseph Psaila’s Balluta Buildings

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