The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

Cali-Galizia Gem threatenedWho is able and willing to preserve this piece of Maltese heritage from being lost? asks Mary Attard

Malta Independent Saturday, 8 August 2009, 00:00 Last update: about 9 years ago

One of our best painters of the 19th century was certainly Giuseppe Cali (1846-1930). He was a prolific artist and founder of the modern school of Maltese painting – a genius with an output amounting to some 620 works. Two of his major works were The Death of Dragut (1867) at the Museum of Fine Arts and St Jerome (1881) at the Sacro Cuor Church in Sliema.

And a leading Maltese architect of the same period was undoubtedly Emanuele Luigi Galizia (1830-1906). His Adolorata Cemetery (1860), Ta’ Braxia Cemetery (1855) and the Turkish Cemetery (1874) were only a few of his vast diverse projects that he had left us.

But one project that Galizia had undertaken and whose landmark we constantly pass in front of, is in the heart of Sliema. This consists of a complex of three domestic Moorish houses with the names of Alhambra, Alcazar and Pax. These houses started shaping Rudolphe Street back in the 1880s while the area was still a pastoral landscape with views overlooking Marsamxett Harbour.

The Alhambra was kept by the architect for himself as his summer residence. Some five generations after him continued to inhabit the villa up until some six years ago when the owners felt that its maintenance was becoming too much of a challenge. Reluctantly, the owners had to sell and some entrepreneurs came to the rescue with a condition made to them by the owners that the place would be preserved and not demolished to be replaced by some dull block of flats. Soon a contractor was engaged in taking up the job of faithfully restoring any damaged architectural features or sculptures at the Alhambra while working in tandem with MEPA to adhere to the condition of preserving it. Roofs were also taken care of and treated.

But what has Cali got to do with the Alhambra?

As if Galizia, the prestigious architect, is not enough to give the place its priceless merit, there is another factor that matters in the value of the place.

Galizia had designed the Alhambra on a Hispanic-Moorish style which was the influence he got from his studies and travels at the time. He gave the entrance hall a baroque flavour to complement the door frames. This treatment gave a visual transition to the place from the aristocratic Moghul-Moorish character of the façade to the Victorian functionalism of the interior. The artist Cali found this transition inspiring and to enhance the effect he painted four charming murals which fitted beautifully with the cosmopolitan, refined yet homely spirit suitable for a summer residence of a man of the world such as Galizia.

These four putti known as The Four Seasons were intended as a tribute to Vivaldi and were painted directly on the walls on top of each of the four entrance doorways. These paintings by Cali bring in an additional touch of colour, freshness and vivaciousness to the place, besides being an added treasure to the Alhambra.

These four paintings alone would be a good enough reason for the Alhambra to be treated with the respect and preservation it deserves. But this gem of a place offers more than that.

The Alhambra is also a unique example of collaboration of the best Maltese painter and a leading architect of the time in one project. In fact the villa is a Grade 1 listed property. Together with its garden and interior they must be saved for future generations.

The Alhambra consists of large rooms with fireplaces and at the back a wooden deck used to lead one down to the garden by means of wooden steps. This deck is today unfortunately gone due to deterioration but pictures exist for it to be similarly replaced. An interesting central stairway in the middle of the building just beyond the entrance hall, leads to a basement with further rooms. There are some 12 rooms in all. The distinctive stained glass is still authentically preserved. A spiral staircase leads to the roof which is also uniquely decorated.

From the two similar buildings in Rudolphe Street, only the Alhambra has retained its original garden – as the garden of the other building (which was for some time used as a school of hairdressing) had to make way for a garage. The Alhambra garden can also be reached through an ornate gateway from the back side of the block in Tonna Street.

Much has been done recently in the way of maintenance, but the place is still in need of some further care by someone who can appreciate its intrinsic and distinctive qualities and who would lovingly take it over with pride knowing that an important and irreplaceable piece of Maltese history is being preserved for future generations.

Interested parties in owning the Alhambra can phone 9924-0979 for a viewing and more information.

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