Spinola Palace garden

Spinola Palace garden

I was more than satisfied to read that Spinola Palace garden is to be rebuilt by the Tumas Group (The Sunday Times, March 5).

I am certain that only a handful of your readers, if any, know that this rebuilding of Spinola Palace garden would not have been possible were it not for the prompt action taken by the St Julian's Labour Party committee way back in 1972.

After the MLP won the 1971 general election, I had suggested to the committee, of which I was president, that a delegation request an appointment with Archbishop Gonzi - since the palace belonged, at least in part, to the Maltese Church - and propose to His Grace that a joint Government-Church initiative be taken to rehabilitate the palace and its grounds for the benefit of the community of St Julian's, by turning Spinola Palace into a civic centre. We would also propose that the back garden be turned into a playing field for the local children.

Together with my friend and colleague Salvu Mifsud, who was the committee's secretary at that time, I met the archbishop at his palace in Valletta and informed him of our proposal. His Grace told us that he would inform us whenever a decision is taken to make use of Spinola Palace and its grounds.

Many months passed and nothing was heard from Mgr Gonzi. To my great surprise, one fine morning, a friend of mine who knew about our proposal, told me that tenders had been issued by the Archbishop's Curia, for building plots in the palace's grounds!

I was incensed at hearing this. I rushed to the law courts in Valletta to look for my brother John, who was a legal procurator. Together we went to the Archbishop's palace in Valletta, where we were informed that tenders had already closed. We were not allowed to see the plans.

I was determined not to accept the status quo without a fight. With Charles Mizzi (who used to write a column in It-Torca, under the heading: Fid-Dawl tat-Torca) we organised a press campaign in It-Torca and l-Orizzont, accompanied by photos of the derelict state of Spinola Palace and its grounds. We took these pictures from the roof of the residence of the late Dominic (Doddy) Mizzi, since it overlooked the palace's back garden, which was surrounded by a very high wall.

The MLP committee also decided to ask the late Dr Patrick Holland, who was the minister responsible for housing and lands, for his help. He promised to see what could be done.

After a few months had gone by, during which we had heard nothing from Dr Holland, we invited him to attend the next committee meeting to discuss the matter. After learning from Dr Holland that nothing more could be done, I thanked him for trying. But I also told him, on behalf of the committee, that we were ready to take up the fight ourselves to try to stop the rape of Spinola Palace, which would have been buried by the surrounding buildings. I told Dr Holland that, as a first step, we were ready to go and protest outside Prime Minister Dom Mintoff's residence in Tarxien. And repeat the performance outside the Archbishop's palace in Valletta!

On hearing this, Dr Holland suddenly came out with the idea that use could be made of the "possession and use" law which entitled the government to take control of property "in the public interest". At that very moment Dr Holland started to draft the order whereby Spinola Palace would come under the control and use of the Maltese government. The very next day the writ was issued and Spinola Palace and its grounds were saved.

Work started later by the then minister responsible for lands, Dr Alex Sceberras Trigona, to turn the derelict Spinola Palace into the present magnificent building. A children's playing field was developed in the back garden. And now comes the good news that Tumas Group will be reconstructing the palace garden "according to Baroque motifs to complement the historic building".

The embellishment and reconstruction of Spinola Palace garden will definitely enhance the splendour of Spinola Palace.

I feel proud to have played such a decisive role, together with all my St Julian's MLP friends and colleagues, and the late Dr Holland, in saving such a historic and magnificent palace. I salute them all.

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