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The uniqueness of Sliema

Villa Alhambra in Rudolph Street

Villa Alhambra in Rudolph Street

Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna has been monitoring for many years now the rampant development in Sliema, putting forward its opinions and suggestions on many issues. This organisation believes in a realistic approach to dealing with such development proposals, meaning that some cases might not deserve complete refusal but that a compromise be reached, such as the retention of certain façades (although often having dubious results).

Sliema has undergone a radical change since the late 1970s and consequently much of its streetscape, especially close to the coast, has been transformed into a greed-driven, aesthetically soulless jungle. For example, the destruction of Alexandra Gardens, in High Street, last year has not only deprived Sliema of one of its oldest structures but the erection of the new hotel in its stead will now compromise the urban character of the area since just adjacent to it is the equally old Madonna Tal-Grazzja chapel and opposite stands Stella Maris church. FWA however commends the Malta Environment and Planning Authority's projected restoration of the chapel as a planning gain from this development.

Despite this and many other losses sustained over the past four decades there are a considerable number of "pockets" that still retain remnants of Sliema's original character, be it an untouched block of Victorian houses (such as the block situated between Upper Victoria Terrace and Howard Street) or a row of dwellings unique in their individual design (as in the case of the houses in Rudolphe Street including Galizia's exquisite Villa Alhambra).

The Three Trees junction, together with the streets branching from it, can also be considered one such pocket. On one of these streets, High Street, stand two of Sliema's most imposing secular buildings: Villa Betharram (today Fatima House) and the adjacent Villino Zammit. Both of these villas were designed by the prominent late-19th century architect Francesco Zammit and are two of the few surviving examples of detached villas in Sliema complete with their surrounding gardens. The villas together with the elegant rows of period terraced houses opposite and around the Three Trees capture the original urban harmony of bygone Sliema.

It is very sad to hear comments passed by both residents and visitors such as that "Sliema has been completely ruined!" or, worse still, that "...as far as I'm concerned they can knock everything else down now..." One cannot fail to agree that at present certain streets just look appalling with odd blocks sticking out like sore thumbs, yet a number of small areas have so far remained intact and it is in our interest to see that these pockets are conserved tale quale.

It is important that those living in such pockets speak out if any proposed development threatens that particular area. This has happened on numerous occasions and, consequently, many buildings have been saved. Mepa is most receptive to comments made by third parties on proposed developments, especially those of a delicate nature where the streetscape value of an area (the pockets being mentioned) is likely to be compromised as a result.

Those who have the best interests of Sliema at heart must adopt this optimistic attitude so there will always be parts of this town that encapsulate its former beauty and uniqueness.

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