The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

Sliema council to uncover Prince of Wales street name

Malta Independent Sunday, 3 February 2013, 08:55 Last update: about 5 years ago

The Sliema Local Council is working on a project to uncover the locality’s old Maltese-English street names.

One particular street name is to be found on the wall of the police station and still lists the street as Prince of Wales Street, as it used to be known before the street was renamed Manwel Dimech Street.

Sliema residents still refer to the street by its old name and the announcement, made at a local council-sponsored event on Thursday, drew approval from the mainly elderly audience that packed the Victoria Hotel hall.

“We must do away with this ‘damnatio memoriae’ of anything to do with the British period,” commented Edward Said, the main speaker at the event.

People can still refer to the street by either of its two names, whichever it pleases them, speakers said, although the official name will still be Manwel Dimech Street.

The event, co-sponsored by the local council and the Sliema Heritage Society, focused on the lesser-known lost landmarks of Sliema. Thus, no mention was made of the more well-known landmarks of Sliema such as the Chalet, the Tower Road houses with their bay windows and Fort Tigne.

Mr Said’s main point was that Sliema has lost and is still losing a huge amount of its heritage, but not all damage was done by reckless and selfish speculators. Damage was also caused by neglect and lack of proper maintenance.

One of the earliest man-made structures in Sliema are the salt-pans, already mentioned in GF Abela’s book, and which can still be found at Ferro Bay near the Fortizza, although they are unused today. Abela calls what we today know as Fond Ghadir as El Ghadir.

According to historians such as Tony Terribile and Winston Zammit, the chapel dedicated to Our Lady that gave its name to Sliema was very old and is even mentioned in the map that accompanies the report drawn up by the Knights on an exploratory visit to Malta before they accepted the island in 1530.

It seems it used to be between what later became Fort Cambridge and the MIDI development. During the 1565 Great Siege the Turks may have taken it over and used its stones to build a fortification there.

When in 2002 the promenade was widened, parts of the wall built by Grandmaster Pinto all the way from St Julian’s to Torri were uncovered. They had been buried in the 1920s when Tower Road was widened. Parts of this defensive wall, or redoubt as it is called, can be seen near Portomaso and Dragonara while Barracuda may have been built on this stretch of the wall at Balluta Bay.

In his book about Sliema, Sir Temi Zammit speaks of an unusual gateway in this defensive wall, which was found at the bottom of St Francis Street, near the Taormina Kiosk and Caras. It was being demolished as he was writing to make way for a widened Tower Road.

Some plans for Sliema never materialised. Mr Said showed a British engineers plan for the area between Dragut Point and Bisazza Street, which was almost approved but never implemented.

Captain Wismayer speaks of the Qala Lembi Battery which was important in the blockade of the French. Part of this seems to have been at the junction between Cathedral, High and St Paul streets.

From here, Mr Said showed a series of stills of some of the most signal houses which no longer exist.

The first, and possibly the most important, was Casa Said (no relation) belonging to the impresario of the Opera House. It was designed by Antonio Vassallo, an architect who had studied the Liberty style in Italy and especially in Sicily, with a turret on the roof. Architect Vassallo also built the Villa Rosa, also with a turret.

Later on in its lifetime, the house had another storey built on it: the turret was dismantled and was rebuilt one storey up. It was also called id-Dar il-Hamra from its red ochre colour.

When it was built, Sliema was becoming the place for villeggjatura, especially around the Fond Ghadir area.

As to its colour, not many know that even the Palace in Valletta was red-coloured, as were many other buildings. Today, only the domes of churches are in this colour.

Rocklands was originally an Art Nouveau building, in a rather phantasmagoric style. Today it has become a block of flats. What happened in Valletta 100 years ago, with buildings turned into apartments, has been repeated in our time in Sliema.

Villa Trigona at the top of High Street had a sundial.  Hunters’ Palace was built by an Englishman who came to Malta for hunting. It had one of the still remaining gardens in Sliema.

At around this period, Sliema was mainly fields, crossed by one road from Ferries to St Julian’s, cutting through the top of the hill, where Villa Paradiso and Villa Primrose used to be.

Villa Bonici, which stretched all the way from the seaside on the Gzira side (where today the last doorway, now completely without context, is being pulled down in the Forestals development) to near the police station. It had coats of arms, a tempietto and much else.

Paintings and even an old photo show that Fort Tigne had a lighthouse, 44 feet high, with two fixed lights which was visible from four miles out. It did not last long. There was also a semaphore tower, one of three in Malta, for the visual exchange of information.

High Street at the corner with Ghar id-Dud Street had a fountain which was relocated to Mosta Square and later replaced by a lion.

Dingli Street had a farmhouse in the middle, owned by the Deredin family. It specialized in the rearing of horses and was removed for the construction of the street.

The government school was also built by Antonio Vassallo.

Mr Said showed old photos of the main churches of Sliema. The old Stella Maris church had a classical portico in front of it and rather primitive bell towers. Sacro Cuor was completely rebuilt in the late 19th Century while both the Nazarenu and the Carmelite church at Balluta very much respected the line of buildings next to them (as against what is the case today).

The old buildings in Sliema included some neo-gothic buildings, like the old St Elizabeth School. Villa Alcazar in McIver Street in Tigne was in the neo-perpendicular style while Bruntland House by Giuseppe Psaila was maybe a prototype of Balluta Buildings. This was later replaced by the Meadowbank Hotel. The only house built by artist Michele Bellanti was later turned into flats.

The police station was built by Emmanuele Luigi Galizia who also built the three main cemeteries of Malta and the three Moorish houses in Rudolph Street.

Even public conveniences had a beauty to them. Mr Said showed the very beautiful Art Deco latrine in front of the police station, whose base can still be traced on the ground. The Ferries had an Art Nouveau public convenience.

Fort Cambridge on the Tigne side was the mirror image of Fort Ricasoli on the other side of the Grand Harbour, and like it, had its own 100-ton gun. But this gun was cut up for scrap in 1956.

While Mr Said was still speaking, just a short distance away, his father, Joe, CEO of Lombard Bank was presiding over the inauguration of the beautifully-restored house on Tower Road corner with Dingli Street.

As Mr Said senior said in his speech, this effort by the bank shows that it may be more worthwhile to restore old buildings rather than to pull them down and create more flats.

Dr Kris Busietta announced that in the next few weeks the wartime shelter in Dingli Circus will be devolved to the local council which intends opening it to the public.

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