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Caraffa Palace restored to former glory

One of the historic buildings on the Vittoriosa waterfront, the Caraffa Palace, has now been restored to its former glory. The intrinsic restoration works on both the external and internal structure of the palace were completed over the last 18 months.

After many years of total neglect, the palace will once again be used, this time as the official centre of operations for the Middle Sea Yacht Race. This was announced by a director of the Cottonera Waterfront Group, Architect Edward Bencini.

Architect Bencini said "the costs of the works, which included delicate restoration on the façade of the palace and extensive cleaning and painting of the internal halls and chambers, were in the region of Lm250,000. The works also involved an extensive restoration of all wooden structures, including apertures, most of which were in a bad state of dilapidation and consequently had to be changed. The restoration project team was headed by the consortium's architectural and conservation consultant, Architect Michael Ellul."

Professor Edward Scicluna, chairman of the Cottonera Waterfront Group plc, said that "once the Middle Sea Yacht Race is over, the consortium will be issuing tenders and opening negotiations with third parties to lease the extensive area within the Caraffa Palace for commercial and business purposes."

Speaking about the Cottonera Waterfront Project, Architect Bencini said: "This ambitious project is now taking shape. The yacht marina is now almost fully operational, while the St Angelo Mansions will be completed by the end of the year. The investment being made in this project will also help regenerate the area and create new employment and business opportunities for both the local community and the national economy.

"The local community will benefit from an influx of people from all walks of life and different nationalities. Apart from direct employment with the consortia involved in the project, there will also be employment opportunities with the various services such as the hotels, restaurants and retail operations."

Architect Ellul said that Caraffa Stores are one of the largest on the Vittoriosa Waterfront, and served originally the double purpose of private quarters for two captains of the Order's larger vessels, and for stores and as warehouses in the ground floor.

It was erected in 1689 during the Magistracy of Gregorio Caraffa (1680-1690), and forms an integral part of the extensive complex of the Vittoriosa waterfront. Caraffa was instrumental in promoting Maltese trade and was one of the heads of the Order of St John to realise the importance of a sound infrastructure.

The Caraffa stores were constructed in 1689. as recorded by a marble slab above the central door of the building that bears the inscription ANNO SALVTIS MDCLXXXIX. There are also two marble coats-of-arms which are defaced, probably one bearing Caraffa's coat-of-arms and the other the cross of the Order. In all probability they were defaced following one of the first decrees of Napoleon in June 1798, which ordered the deletion of all marks of heraldry of the Order of St John from all public and private buildings.

The site was purchased from the parish priest of St Lawrence of Vittoriosa, on condition that a niche be cut in the façade having a crucifix and two painted images to commemorate the existence of a small church dedicated to St Andrew, which was pulled down to make room for the new structure. It is said that the knights, when going in procession between Fort St Angelo and St Lawrence church, always saluted this cross carved inside the niche, as also did their galleys and ships when passing up and down the Port of Galleys.

During the first years of British rule, the army took over the whole of the Marina Grande buildings, including the Caraffa Stores. These provided accommodation to the officer who was the second-in-command of the troops of the Cottonera District and his staff in the upper floor.

In 1818 the buildings were ceded to the Royal Navy, and Caraffa Stores were then assigned to the navy Agent Victualler for his residence and took the name of Captain's Stores. About this time, the naval victualling stores on the Vittoriosa waterfront were capable of holding six months' supply for 10,000 men.

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