More on the Alhambra

There were a number of online comments following my article on the Alhambra (August 18) and I committed myself to respond to them through the columns of The Times.

The article raised facts that are common to many old properties and the situations faced by their owners.

One blogger asked why the Alhambra is important. It is because it is the work of Emmanuele Luigi Galizia, one of Malta's renowned 19th-century architects. The style is not Maltese but overtly Moorish. Europe's imperialistic forays had made oriental styles fashionable at the time and Galizia was inspired by the architecture he had seen in various parts of Europe, including the Brighton Pavilion. This does not make Alhambra any less valid because much of Malta's architectural styles are inspired by European movements.

Perhaps the loveliest part of the property which normally people cannot see is the elegant, beautifully proportioned, simple interior with high ceilings, the cool air from the high windows, gentle arches and beautiful light and, of course, the garden.

The house and garden were given a Grade One listing because the then Planning Authority deemed them worthy and eligible for listing and later for a Preservation Order. Planning authorities do not act purely on the bidding of individuals. Advice and guidance were given to us at the time by Din l-Art Ħelwa.

Restoration was carried out over the years to the best of the owners' means but the situation becomes far more difficult when numerous heirs (more than 30 great grandchildren in this case) are locked in co-ownership. For us it became considerably more complicated when it was discovered that half the property had been sold to one of Malta's wealthiest developers and that it appeared to have been bought for speculative reasons.

Some of the bloggers have been quick to judge the final two sellers, including me. Far from making a killing on the sale we were in a David and Goliath position - unable to raise the money to buy out the developer, yet refused our offer to share in the cost of restoration. We made every effort to find buyers to rescue the house and keep it standing but were put under pressure to sell for less than half the sum offered before house and garden were listed, an offer that we finally had no choice but to accept due to our inability to buy out the developer. Still, the subsequent preservation order ensured that an old house and a lovely garden were saved and two streets were spared huge apartment blocks in a town that is already grossly over-built.

I believe our determination to have the house preserved, which resulted in our losing the original purchase offer, was the right one. Whether this will prove to have been right in the future will depend on Mepa's commitment to ensure that all scheduled buildings are maintained, as enshrined in the Development Planning Act.

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