The Malta Independent 21 November 2018, Wednesday

Menqa-morphosis

Malta Independent Sunday, 10 July 2005, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

Ideas and plans for the regeneration of the Menqa area in Marsa were displayed some days ago at an exhibition hosted by Lombard Bank at its newly-acquired premises in Frederick Street, part of the old Palazzo Spinola, another part of which, that fronting Republic Street, contains the bank’s head office.

The plans were from final year students of urban design in the faculty of architecture and civil engineering.

The Menqa area is perhaps one of the most derelict of the whole Grand Harbour area, except perhaps for the part next to the grain terminal.

One could see how the regeneration of Grand Harbour, especially around the Pinto Stores, has served as an example of urban renewal for the students. Old structures had new uses found for them, roadways made more logical, a focal point – a round modern structure – was proposed and there was even an extension of the cable car to that area, even though by the time the students finished their project, the cable car idea at VISET had been scrapped.

From being an industrial heartland, the area was turned over for diverse use, with restaurants and boutiques replacing some old and decrepit mostly unused buildings.

Another project at the exhibition related to part of the Corradino industrial estate and linked it to a regeneration of the shore line in the Ras Hanzir quay.

The students proposed extending K-Bic, the incubation centre of Malta Enterprise, which at present houses a motley collection of garages or Nissen Huts, to also include residential units to attract foreign students to share their technological talent for the benefit of Malta. More importantly, the students proposed yet another cable car to link the upper reaches of the Corradino Heights to the sea level thus leading to the creation of yet another entertainment area in Grand Harbour along the lines of the Cottonera and the Pinto Stores regeneration.

It is also noteworthy to add that in the course of their project the students identified a vast area of unused or derelict land on the Senglea side of the road going down to Ras Hanzir. This area includes, for instance, a vast graveyard of all the old buses lying there waiting to be disposed of, and similar industrial waste.

Palazzo Spinola

The main objective of the exhibition was to open part of Palazzo Spinola recently acquired by the bank to the public.

Both Palazzo Spinola in Valletta as well as that in St Julian’s were owned by Fra Giovanni Battista Spinola, one time ambassador of the Order to the Holy See. In 1733, Fra Spinola commissioned Romano Carapecchia to enlarge and enhance the palace in St Julian’s. In 1736 he also commissioned Carapecchia to redesign the portal of the Valletta palace in Strada San Giorgio (now Republic Street).

The palace had been purchased by Fra Paolo Raffaele Spinola from the estate of the Bailiff Giovanni da Villaoel with a deed published by Notary Michele Ralli on 12 June 1600. According to Prof. Dennis De Lucca, this was one of the few private buildings allowed to be built in the first phase of the construction of Valletta. It can also be seen in a 1633 map of Valletta preserved in Italy.

On inheriting the property, the younger Spinola soon decided to upgrade the external appearance of the palace but unfortunately did not live long enough to admire Carapecchia’s finished work.

Following Giovanni Battista’s death, the palace was for a short time occupied by his brother, Marchese Carlo Spinola, who in turn granted the property in perpetual emphytheusis to the Maltese nobleman, Marchese Testaferrata Bonici.

In 1922, the palace was divided into three separate buildings, probably following a family inheritance. One third, the Republic Street wing, now houses Lombard Bank’s head office, another third (the St Christopher Street wing) was demolished and rebuilt into a block of apartments which still stands to this day. The remaining third (the Frederick Street wing) was converted into a residence/offices, although not without the original building being ‘significantly’ mutilated.

Nevertheless, the Frederick Street wing has some splendid architectural features, which include vaulted ceilings at ground floor level, a cassettone ceiling spread over the hallway at first floor level; beautifully decorated stone columns surrounding the courtyard and a ceiling fresco by architect Nicolau Nasoni who was brought to Malta in 1723 by Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena.

When Lombard Bank acquired the Frederick Street part of the palace, it commissioned Paul Camilleri & Associates and Architects’ Studio to draw up plans for the conservation of this important building. Various studies have been conducted both by the bank and its consultants to identify important features that need conservation and also to trace the original plans of the building.

An application has been submitted to MEPA for the “utilisation of disused property as extension to the bank premises and the construction of a new floor”. The new floor would be recessed and constructed of lightweight removable material. The bank has also offered to turn the ground floor and the courtyard of this part of the building into an area available for cultural activities.

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