Julian Galea Naudi’s letter on the sad state of neglect of the Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery (The Sunday Times of Malta, May 22) highlights the deterioration and degradation of one of Malta’s most important architectural and landscaping achievements of the often artistically underrated 19th century.
Although calling it the world’s finest Romantic Age cemetery is going a bit too far, it certainly ranks among the finest.
Designed by Emmanuel Luigi Galizia, arguably Malta’s most artistically inspired architect of the post Knights of St John period, it is a triumph of the ‘garden cemetery’ concept rooted in A. T. Brongniart’s 1804 Pere Lachachaise cemetery in Paris, which was much admired and a prototype for monumental cemeteries in Europe and the US. Although it speaks in an English Neo-Gothic tongue, the cemetery is Neo-Classical in layout and design.
This is, however, not the Addolorata Cemetery’s only claim to art historical interest. It also stands out for its meticulous attention to detail and good design, reflecting the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement of William Morris and John Ruskin, with which Galizia had an intimate familiarity.
In addition to this, it is important to stress that its funerary chapels and sepulchral monuments are among the finest examples in Malta of Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Eclectic and Art Nouveau art and architecture. Their good maintenance and protection deserve to be considered among the priorities of Malta’s cultural heritage.
The Department of History of Art at the University makes it a point to impress on students following classes in 19th century art the unique importance of the cemetery and its monuments. It is proud that one of its students, Mario Borg, submitted for his Bachelor’s and Master’s studies two theses, The Addolorata Cemetery: A Study of a Select Number of Funerary Chapels of the Late 19th and Early 20th Century (1998) and The Artistic Relevance of the Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery, Malta (2001), which I had the privilege to supervise. They are tools of reference and can be consulted at the University library. My wish is that, in a suitably edited format, they will see publication.
The cemetery has suffered from ill-advised extensions with a negative impact on the harmonious spatial relationships, on which Galizia had laboured with painstaking attention.
One hopes that the cemetery’s importance to the national cultural heritage will receive a long overdue appreciation.