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Appeal for information on Manoel Theatre’s façade

The façade of the Manoel Theatre in Valletta. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The façade of the Manoel Theatre in Valletta. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

How it used to look.How it used to look.

The architecture office tasked with the restoration of the Manoel Theatre is appealing to the public to come forward with information about how the façade looked when it was built in 1731.

In November the planning authority put on hold a proposal to restore the theatre’s façade until more research was carried out about the original appearance and evolution of the lower central area around the main door.

During the same hearing, the authority gave the green light for internal refurbishment, approving the rearrangement of ground-floor seating in the middle of what is known to be the third-oldest running theatre in Europe, to include space for disabled theatre-goers.

Architecture Project (AP), which is tasked with the project, had presented a plan for a reversible free-standing screen to be laid on the façade around the main door and the two lateral doors, but without the columns, since it is unclear as they actually existed. The screen can be removed if new evidence emerges explaining how the façade was originally built.

While we’re capturing and restoring the past, we’re not deleting everything that happened in between

The screen would mainly be based on a depiction of the theatre in the Cabreo de Vilhena, a register of properties that showed the façade as it looked after 1734.

Major alterations were then made to the theatre over the years resulting in a “mess”, according to the project managers.

Project leader Edward Cuschieri said that when tourists walk through Theatre Street, they do take note of the Manoel Theatre, as it has become part of the domestic architecture. When it was built, however, it was probably the highest building in that street.

According to AP founding partner Konrad Buhagiar, the main aim of the restoration project is to keep the place alive and “bring the theatre back to the people”.

“It would extend its life, restore the positive qualities it lost and make it more attractive. When it comes to restoration, there is a tendency to remove everything that was added on the original building to take it back to what it was. But it is imperative to understand the historical aspects and retain these.

“While seeking documents about how the building looked like when it was built in 1731, we must keep in mind that buildings have a life – they change and some of the aesthetical and historical features got lost along the way.”

Using hardstone for this and other interventions on the façade, including the windows, would help create a contrast between what was being altered and what was not.

“In this way we will be sure that while we’re capturing and restoring the past, we’re not deleting everything that happened in between, and in 200 years, people will be able to tell that what they’re seeing is how the façade looked in 1731, and not in 2013,”he said.

Project researcher Guillaume Dreyfuss said the research will be bringing on board all the important historical elements the theatre adopted. The team hopes that by summer, it will be able to carry out some physical interpretation of the building to supplement the research.

When it comes to the interior of the theatre, the place originally had four tiers of private boxes. Along the years, the lower ones (ground floor) were removed, and seating stretched back out of the original cocoon. A gallery was then built on top of the highest tier. The project will bring back the lowest tier of boxes.

Mr Dreyfuss may be contacted on [email protected].

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