Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2010.


Michael Ellul*

Malta is an island of stone, a ‘sun-baked petrous landscape’.[1] For thousands of years, since early prehistory, Man in Malta has been an incessant builder and, with patience, persistence and determination has hewn stone from the innumerable quarries which abound in the island, and with it built temples, houses, churches, palaces and fortified walls with love, skill, hard work and ingenuity. Limestone[2] is the island’s only building material, and this fact gives Malta a special character of its own, perhaps unique in the history of architecture. Stone pervades the Malta scene everywhere and constitutes its entire natural and man-made landscape.[3]

Visitors' Accounts

The earliest mention of the local stone is most probably that by Diodoro Siculo, a native of Agyrium in Sicily, and a contemporary of Julius Caesar and of Augustus. He travelled widely over a great part of Europe and Asia collecting material for his celebrated Bibliotheca Historica.[4] Diodoro was impressed by the beauty of Maltese houses which he attributes to the local stone, and he could not but admire it for its white colour and the ease with which it could be carved: ‘The dwellings on the island are worthy of note, being ambitiously constructed with cornices and finished in stucco with unusual workmanship.[5]

[p. 372] Jean Quintin d’Autun wrote in 1536: ‘Masons make good use of the island’s stone for building purposes, or turn it into lime. The Maltese stone is white and remarkable for its softness; it is sawed more easily than wood’.[6] An anonymous report written in 1568, but presumably by a member of the Order of St John, describes the local stone as being ‘…..ideal for building, white in colour, easy to cut, and especially suitable for use in the erection of fortress walls, since it absorbs the impact of artillery and is not crushed.’[7] Gian Antonio Ciantar describes ‘la pietra nostrale’ as mostly white, easy to cut, thus allowing the construction of houses in a short time, as well as for producing squared blocks in the shape of flagstones for the paving of floors.[8]

Accounts by visitors to Malta almost always included reference to the local stone. Giacomo Lauro, a print-maker active in the map and view industry in the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries, wrote in 1636, ‘Valletta...... assai riguardevole per la magnificenza de gl’edifici, per le bellezze delle strade ..... è dotata di tutte quelle grandezze che possono rendere vaga e riguardevole una Città’.[9] An anonymous visitor pays tribute to local artisans and their skill: ‘La Valleta.....resta sollevata ......sopra d’una lingua di terra alquanto cui asprezza ha saputo cedere alla maestria d’ingegnosi scalpelli.[10] A description of Malta by a Venetian visitor in 1716 recounts that the inhabitants had, by that time, long discarded living in caves and that ‘now they all live in houses of white stone which is soft and easily cut, ‘dolcissima al taglio’.[11]

The effect of light on the local stone, especially at sunset, left a lasting impression on many nineteenth century travellers who passed through Malta on their Grand Tour to the Orient. Alphonse de Lamartine, the famous French Romantic poet, more in poetry than prose, enthuses on this ‘golden light, soft and serene…… this marvellous light, spread evenly on water, on the land, in the sky, that strikes the white and yellow stone of the houses, the profiles of their cornices, the arrises of corner stones, the carvings of the balconies…this colour, white, yellow, golden of the stone, this vigour of lines, that gives to the smallest building solidity and clarity…every house seems not to have been built stone by stone with mortar and sand, but carved out of the living rock, like a block emerging from the earth’s bosom…’[12]  

[p.373] Mederico Blondel (1628-1698), a French architect in the employ of the Order, was given a plot of land by the Grand Master for the building of a house. Blondel purchased a large quantity of stone blocks and left them in two localities, one at the Valletta marina and the other at the Marsamxett landing-place. This is a curious case of exporting stone: captains of French men-of-war put their hands on Mederico’s stones and shamelessy took them aboard and sailed away with the stolen property with the intent to use them somewhere in France.[13]

Jean de Thevenot, writing in 1727, describes the local stone as ‘a whitish soft rock, very suitable for cutting and making into lime, but it did not stand for long against winds from the sea, especially the sirocco.’[14] Going round the streets of Valletta, he noticed that ‘the city’s houses had a very beautiful appearance, because the Maltese stone was able to keep its whiteness so that it always seems that the city is new.’[15] Another visitor, Gio. Battista Pacichelli, was impressed by the buildings of Valletta:

La maggior parte delle case, prive di fondamento, per esser stabbilite sù le rocchi naturali, sono incrostate di marmo, che ivi producono, co’ le pietre accennate, co’ lavori di cornici, di animali, et altri, co’ balconi di vetro, e con ogni più vaga politia, e apparenza.[16]

Citoyen Robert, the Physician-in-Chief to Napoleon’s troops during the brief French occupation of Malta, found time to go around Valletta and make some interesting observations: ‘Valletta is extremely handsome, houses are low, all have one or more balconies and a terrace to walk on; apartments are large, commodious and well-lighted and have ceilings extremely lofty…..the streets are wide, with commodious footpaths on each side, paved with square flat stones, and so free from mud that even during winter feet remain perfectly dry’.[17] A British army officer, Capt. Thomas Walsh, passing through Malta on his return from the campaign in Egypt in 1800, wrote: ‘The numerous superb edifices and auberges, formerly belonging to the Knights of the Order, give to La Valette a [p. 374] superiority over any town of equal size’.[18] Sir Walter Scott describes Valletta as a city like no other in the world, a splendid town really just quite like a dream, noting especially the rich effect of the carved stone balconies and the images of saints at every corner.[19]

John Cardinal Newman visited Malta while on a tour of Southern Europe in 1833. He went around Valletta and observed the large houses that were superb and superior to those at Messina and Palermo. His fellow-traveller, Archdeacon Froude, described Valletta as ‘ a magnificent city; all its houses, palaces and churches splendid to a degree.’[20]

Robert Montgomery Martin, an eminent historian of the British Colonial Empire, passed through Malta while on his way to India to gather material for a book he was writing on the colonies. Martin considered ‘Valletta one of the finest in Europe: the public buildings and the private dwellings were of a very superior order, the latter being inferior to those of no other city. The houses of solid stone, with flat or terraced roofs, composed of stone slabs, covered over with a thick bed of ‘terra’ or ‘puzzolana’, so as to be impermeable to rain, so affording a cool and agreeable morning and evening promenade’.[21]

Charles G. Addison passed through Malta in 1836 on his way to Damascus on an exploratory tour of the Near East, and says of Valletta’s Grand Harbour: ‘The island of Malta with its magnificent city of La Valletta, its stupendous and capacious harbours, is well calculated to strike a stranger with astonishment and admiration’.[22] He is equally fascinated by Valletta and its buildings. He walked ‘thro’ the beautiful Strada Reale or Royal Street, lined on either hand with white stone houses of rich and florid architecture. Valletta is one of the finest cities of Europe. The clean well-kept streets are lined with handsome stone edifices with projecting windows and balconies.[23]

Another vivid description of Valletta and its architecture is made by John Galt,[24] who came to Malta accompanied by Lord Byron and Sir John Cam Hobhouse[25] in 1809.

‘The entrance to the harbour of Valletta is truly grand. The buildings and domes above the fortifications have also a very noble [p.375] appearance… and every edifice looks as if it were only just finished. The internal appearance of the city corresponds to the magnificence of its exterior … On entering the gateway,[26] the stairs, which conduct to the upper part of the town, immediately commence, making the entrance, in some respects, more like a vestibule of a great mansion, than the portal of a city. Nothing can be more striking than the streets which are first ascended after passing this gateway. They are, in fact, so many vast staircases, and the buildings that rise prospectively in the ascent, are ornamented with cornices and projections, so huge, that the architecture seems to have been designed to correspond in strength and durability with the fortifications. The domestic architecture of the Maltese cannot be considered as regulated by the established rules of good taste; nevertheless, the picturesque effect is grand, and one meets, occasionally, with vistas that seem more like the conceptions of a painter than the limited realities of an inhabited town’.[27]

Miss Elisa Wibraham, a step-daughter of Governor Sir Henry Bouverie, visited Malta in 1839 and left a diary which still forms part of the manuscript collection of the National Library.[28] As the Bellisle, the ship which brought her to Malta, proceeded to the Lazaretto, and passed Pietà, as it is called, for the regulatory quarantine, she was impressed by the ‘row of pretty houses at the edge of this harbour’. She and her party entered Valletta ‘over the ditch on the draw-bridge and under the archway, where there is a guard, into what is called the Strada Reale of Valletta, which is the Regent Street of this town, and although it is like most other foreign towns, very narrow, yet the façades of the buildings are extremely handsome’. Another visitor to Malta in 1842, on his way to Egypt on the Grand Tour, wrote thus of the local quarry men: ‘They excavate and export cut stone, for flagging, in large quantities, and with the return vessels bring soil, which mixed with pulverized stone, is made productive’.[29]

William Makepeace Thackeray visited Malta in 1844 while on a journey from England to Egypt on board the Iperia. He was struck by the marvellous effect of the sun on the Malta stone in Grand Harbour, and in glowing terms writes: ‘…Round this busy blue water rise rocks blazing in sunshine, and covered with every device of fortification: to the right St Elmo, with flag and lighthouse … and all round, the houses of the city, for its size the handsomest and most stately in the world … The sky is delightfully brilliant, and the houses and ornaments are stately: castles and palaces are rising all around, and the flag, towers and walls [p.376] of Fort St Elmo look as fresh and magnificent as if they had been erected only yesterday… ’[30]

Military authorities made full use of the local stone for the construction of barracks and other military requirements. Works were usually carried out by Maltese masons working for contractors engaged by the Royal Engineers. An interesting list of masonry required for building works in the Valletta and Cottonera military districts formed part of a tender document issued for works in the Valletta and Cottonera military districts in 1858 and served as a guide for the exportation of stone to some military stations abroad. The lists included hardstone and soft stone rectangular steps, lintels, winding steps and stair landings.

In the second of his six visits to Malta, Winston Churchill arrived in Grand Harbour in May 1912 on the Admiralty yacht HMS Enchantress as First Lord of the Admiralty, with a party headed by the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, for what became known as the Malta Conference on Security in the Mediterranean. Violet Bonham-Carter, the daughter of Asquith who accompanied the delegation and who later wrote a book on the life of Churchill, was summoned on deck by Churchill as the Enchantress approached Malta. She wrote later: ‘The island we were approaching looked like one vast fortress, a great heap of battlemented stone built between sky and sea. We sailed into the most wonderful harbour I could have imagined or dreamt of – ‘harbour of harbours’ – strongholds and fortresses piled up on every side’[31]

The charm and beauty of the Malta stone fascinated the American writer and traveller George Henry Forman, who came here in February 1927:

‘…A brilliant sun was pouring a warm tremulous light upon waters, forts, and shipping, and suddenly Valetta, radiant orange-coloured city, touched up with green like some successful stage setting, began to cascade backward before us, to lure us the rock, to lure and to invite[32] …It is beautiful with a beauty that no one can render upon canvas or paper…where the declining sun over the orange tints seemed to evoke a city of gold’.[33] And again: Imagine a country made up entirely of chrome-yellow, orange and red stone! All the stone walls are of these colours, and the soil itself seems to shade into the fences[34] harmoniously, or the walls into the soil – a whole glowing world under a cloudless sky, a careless sun’.[35]

[p.377] Exportation under the Order of St John

The quality and versatility of the franka stone seems to have attracted the interest of builders and property owners in many countries bordering the Mediterranean and the Near East. On the other hand, local entrepreneurs, mostly quarry owners, realised the potential of a profitable investment in its exportation.

In Istanbul, in an exotic park known as Yildiz Park, there stands an exceptionally beautiful pavilion known as the Malta Pavilion. It was constructed by Sultan Mahmud II during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and is said to be one of the most interesting examples of Turkish architecture of the period. Celik Gülersoy, the author of the standard work on the subject, in a personal letter to this writer, is of the opinion that the appendage attached to this pavilion is due to the use of stone from Malta in its entrance lobby and the low parapet wall which surrounds the building at its highest level. The architecture of this particular section of the pavilion is also typically Maltese: the parapet wall rises directly from the crowning cornice, has short stretches of plain masonry with intervening pilasters and a narrow decorated string course at its very top.[36]

In 1752, two knights of the Order of St John, the Provençal Giacomo de Blacas d’Aups and the Italian Giorgio Valperga di Masino, petitioned Grand Master Pinto for the grant of exclusive rights to enable them to set up and operate one or more machines driven by wind-power for the cutting and sawing of stone, timber, marble and metals, to be installed on any public or private site against payment. They offered to sell the finished product at a quarter less than the usual price of similar products performed ‘by the hand of man’. The two knights were eventually granted an exclusive licence to install windmills for the cutting of stone, and to put up for sale the cut stone at agreed prices. The monopoly period was to run for forty years.[37]

Valperga and Blacas appear also to have been experts on fortifications. The catalogue of manuscripts at the National Library lists a work by Cavaliere Valperga on the western coastal fortifications of Malta and on rock-cut ditches around Malta and Gozo (1762), and another by ‘le Balys de Blacas’ titled Reflexions sur la Défense Maritime de Malthe.[38] Blacas and Valperga de Masino selected two adjacent sites in Santa Venera,[39] most probably in the area known even to this day as Misra˙ il-Barrieri, binding themselves at the same time to allow free passage to the public through their open-air factory. Masino seems to have dropped out of the enterprise soon after, his place being taken by Andrea Belli.[40] [p.378]

Belli, a daring entrepreneur and a shrewd untiring businessman, had obtained a concession from the Grand Master granting him exclusive rights for the production of franka flagstones (çangatura) and their exportation ‘per fuori di Malta’ for a period of four years.[41] This is the first documented information, as far as I know, demonstrating that Malta stone had found a steady and viable market outside the island, although it is possible that this could have happened earlier. Ciantar, undoubtedly taking the hint from the contemporaneous Blacas-Belli venture, writes that flagstones were sent in large quantities to various countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, where they were much sought after,[42] but does not say when the practice had started.

The quality of the franka stone sent overseas by Belli seems to have pleased the new users since, in yet another petition to the Grand Master, he requests to be allowed to add to his export orders ‘diversi altri specie di pietra’, as dressed blocks (cantoni), vases and other items. His latest request was discussed in Council and accepted by the Grand Master,[43] no doubt supported by the efforts of his brother, Gabriele, the Auditore of Pinto and the signatory of the decree.

The original four-year concession was, some time after, extended by another six years. Blacas now interceded on his own behalf and on behalf of Belli for another additional period, this time of five years. He gave his reasons for submitting a new petition: he and his partner Belli did not have the success they had hoped for in their windmill project and wanted more time for its successful conclusion. Their plea was accepted through an official decree dated 22 November 1762.[44]

When the period of the monopoly granted to Belli ended, flagstones were exported by other quarry owners. In 1776, Stiefnu Caruana, Saver and  Ġorġ Ellul together started a small business for the exportation of franka flagstones from a quarry they owned at Óal Far. The stone, in two different sizes, was carried to the mole at Valletta, and there it was dressed and finished. Two businessmen from Valletta made the final arrangements for its loading and shipping to different ports in the Mediterranean.[45]

The decline of the Order of St John and its eventual expulsion from Malta by Napoleon in 1798, and the turbulent period of the French occupation during the following two years, had a crippling effect on all aspects of life in Malta. The British in 1800 found a mass of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy: the wages of labour were poor, and production from agriculture, the only source of [p.379] the livelihood of thousands, could only be the reward of great industry and skill.[46] The vast majority of workers in the construction industry were unemployed: the last substantial work in the defence system of the Island, Fort Tigné, had been completed by 1795 together with the ultimate major work in urban Valletta, the Public Library, in the same year.

Exportation during the Nineteenth Century

The British Imperial Government, determined as ever to consolidate its hold on the island fortress of Malta and on increasing its own trade in the Mediterranean, declared Valletta’s harbour a free port by an Order-in-Council in 1801,[47] and in 1813, Sir Thomas Maitland, the new Governor (1813-1824), in a bold attempt to revive trade with the orient, opened the harbour to eastern ports towards which British attention was steadily shifting after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.[48] After 1813, the favourable conditions in commerce had guaranteed to some extent the wages of a part of the labour force in civilian occupation in Malta, except for those working in the cotton industry, whose chief market, Catalonia, had been closed by Spain in 1800.[49] The economic boom, which should have continued consequent upon the new concessions introduced by Maitland, was short-lived because of the serious outbreak of plague in the same year. Trade with the outside world came to a complete standstill and the rigid quarantine rules stalled all commercial activity.

Until 1815, the exportation of wrought stone and the importation of puzzolana[50] were Government monopolies, executed by private contractors by public tenders. A contract for the export of stone that had been placed with a Mr Zammit in 1809 for 5,700 scudi expired in 1813, but no new contract was placed because of the plague and of Government’s intention to impose a new duty on stone export. This was suggested to be one per cent on the actual price of stone as it comes from the quarry. Government was advised that since ‘at present a number of people are out of employment, it would profit them if the quarries are again set a-going. This could only be effectually be done if stone export was again permitted, either by payment of duty, or by an exclusive contract for the export being given as formerly, that is, by public auction to the highest bidder’.[51] In 1814, all exports [p.380] and re-exports, except locally-grown cotton and grain not wanted for local consumption, had been declared subject to a custom duty of 1/2 per cent.[52]

Maitland, however, believing that the proposed export duty was too low, issued a Proclamation stating that, ‘having taken into consideration the inconvenience resulting from the mode hitherto pursued in managing the monopolies long established in these Islands which appertain to Government, and considering that the advantages resulting therefrom may be equally secured by allowing the exportation of wrought stone and the importation of puzzolana upon payment of certain duties, which apparently high, will, in truth operate as a reduction in favour of the public, (Government) is therefore pleased to order that the exportation of wrought stone shall henceforth be permitted upon a custom duty of 80 per cent ad valorem…’[53] It was soon realized, however, that this was excessive, and in 1817 duty was reduced to 25 per cent in order to ‘relieve as much as possible the present distress of this Island, and to give encouragement to the labouring class of the poor’.[54]

In 1817 a ‘Memorial by the merchants of Malta to abolish all import and export duties in Malta’ was considered favourably in London.[55] The Secretary of State for the Colonies and the British Treasury were unusually compliant, and had already stated with apparent satisfaction in 1816 that prosperity among the inhabitants of Malta was improving.[56] This prosperity, however, as viewed from the distant corridors of power in London, was literally miles away from the stark reality of the economic situation of the Island and its inhabitants. It was only in June 1824 that the export duty of 25 per cent was abolished. Receipts from this source of revenue were encouraging and amounted to 10,214 scudi over the four-year period 1820-1823.This information was included in a despatch sent to London by Governor Hastings. Hastings stressed the fact that the high export duty had ‘worked fatally against the labouring classes’. ‘I believe’ he wrote to the Colonial Office in London ‘that there will be an immediate increase in the exportation of stone – a point of material consequence indeed when we reflect upon the necessity which exists in the present state of the Island of doing everything in our power to give work to the poor and industrious inhabitants’.[57]

Stone ballast carried by vessels leaving Malta was not always legal. Certain masters of mercantile ships accepted stone blocks taken abusively from public and private buildings, rubble walls and quays. An official notice, issued over the signature of ‘Alessandro Macaulay, Public Secretary to His Majesty’s [p.381] Commissioner’, condemned this practice and ordered that stone for the purpose of providing ballast to all vessels could only be supplied by authorized persons. Defaulters, besides being penalized by the imposition of fines at the discretion of the administration, would be also obliged to make good at their expense the damage caused to the owners of property.[58]

In 1815, exportation of uncut and wrought stone from Malta, as well as ‘marble’ and ‘alabaster’, to British colonies and plantations in America, including Newfoundland and the Bermudas, and to the United Kingdom, was made possible by Government regulations meant to regularize trade with the colonial empire.[59] From the early years of the British presence in Malta, an interrupted sequence of exportation of both uncut and wrought stone runs all through the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth and, in moderate quantities, down to our own time. Between July and December 1816, considerable quantities of dressed stone were exported to Constantinople, Smyrna, Patras, Alexandria, Messina, Trieste, Crete and Tripoli.[60] The Malta Government Gazette, between February and May 1817, gave information on the quantity of stone blocks shipped to Tunis, Tripoli, Sfax, Sousse, Alexandria, Durazzo and Bona. Malta stone wrought into vases, urns, flower-pots, etc., during the same period was exported in considerable quantities, as well as paving and franka slabs to Constantinople, the Black Sea, Egypt, etc. In 1818 wrought stone was shipped to Alexandria on the English brig Demostene,[61] a similar quantity of uncut and wrought stone to Ragusa and Cyprus on the bombarda Zenobia,[62] and wrought stone weighing more than 5 tons to Girgenti.[63]

A monument to commemorate the fallen during the Crimean War passed through Malta in 1858 on its way to Scutari and was repaired by Maltese masons working with the Royal Engineers following damage suffered by it during a gale on board the barque Hyacinth.[64] Lord Elgin (1766-1841), of the Elgin Marbles fame, is one of the first recorded private individuals to purchase flagstones from Malta. In 1799, Elgin was appointed ambassador to the Ottoman Porte, and he was desirous that his mission to Constantinople should lead to a closer study and examination of Grecian art within the Turkish dominions. On his long journey to Constantinople, he stopped at Palermo to seek advice from Sir William Hamilton, British Minister to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, on the engagement of a proficient landscape painter to make drawings of Greek antiquities in Athens.[65][p.382] While in Palermo, Lord Elgin contacted the Civil Commissioner in Malta, Charles Cameron, and arranged for the purchase of no less than 6,158 ciangature for a total cost of more than 727 scudi. Alexander Macaulay, the Public Secretary, was authorized to pay this sum from the Treasury on Lord Elgin’s account, and Antonio Cachia, the chief Capo Mastro, drew up an official receipt for the sum paid. The flagstones were loaded on the pollacca of Capitan Matteo Pozza, the Raguseo, on the instructions of Cameron.[66] It is very probable that the flagstones were used in the Elgin ancestral home, Broomhall, on the north shore of the Firth of Forth in Scotland, which was being restored at the time.[67]

Malta Stone at the Ionian Islands

In 1815, the Treaty of Paris recognised the seven Ionian islands, Corfu`, Paxos, Lefkos, Ithaca, Cephalonia, Zakinthos and Kithera as an independent state, and named Britain, who at the time occupied the islands, as the sole protecting power. Sir Thomas Maitland, who had been governor of Malta since 1813, was installed as Lord High Commissioner of the Seven Islands in 1816, thus establishing a long connection between Malta and the Ionian islands that would last for many decades until 1864 when the Ionian Islands were united with Greece. In 1826, no less than 285 Maltese left for the Ionian Islands on the English brig Adolfo, with the expressed intent of setting up a colony in Poros on Cephalonia. They were accompanied by a priest, a medical doctor, and their families.[68] The British Governor of the Ionian Islands, Sir Charles Napier, gave the Maltese a piece of an abandoned region of the island with the purpose of setting up a small farming community, but it never took hold. In consequence of the total failure of the project, the authorities in Cephalonia decided to send the farmers and their families back to Malta where they arrived in 1831 on the schooner Bathurst. The commander of the Bathurst was ordered to victual the people on board and to pay quarantine and other charges at the Lazaretto.[69] The particular area of Poros which hosted the farmers is still known as Little Malta.[70]

One of the earliest recorded shipments of stone to Corfu` took place in 1816 when 1,250 paving stones were loaded on the transport Ellis, and the same quantity on the Nearchas from the Marina Mole in Valletta.[71] The Nearchas had encountered bad weather during a previous passage to Corfu`, when the whole cargo had to be thrown overboard ‘to lighten her for the preservation of ship and crew’. The Collector of Land Revenue was subsequently instructed to purchase [p.383] an equal number to replace those lost, about 1,250, and to send them to Corfu` without delay.[72] Another quantity of paving stones was shipped to Corfu` ‘by order of the Lord High Commissioner, to be debited to the Ionian Islands’.[73]

The first building of importance to be constructed entirely of Malta limestone was the market-place in the district of Spilia in Kerkyra (Corfu` Town) in 1819. In charge of the project was a certain Colonel Robinson. Colonel (later General) Sir George Whitmore, Commandant Royal Engineers in Malta and the Ionian Islands between 1811 and 1829, in his typical cynical style and dry humour, described Robinson as ‘Maitland’s factotum……the collector of taxes, the repairer of roads, the cleaner of the streets, the builder of markets, and even contrived to stamp a small coin for circulation in the (Ionian) Islands … and the purveyor of the Lord High Commissioner’s table – his own boats supplied the fish and his own farm the meat’.[74] The shipment of stone was managed by the Collector of Land Revenue and tenders were regularly issued for the supply and freight of stone to Corfu`.[75]

A building of a decidedly much greater importance to be constructed almost entirely of Malta limestone was the palace built for Maitland in 1818, also in Corfu`. During his first few years in Corfu`, High Commissioner to the Ionian Islands Maitland lived in a residence that was ‘so bad that the dining room windows looked into a house of ill-fame and the ground floor was the public jail!’[76]

The saga of the Malta stone for the Palace of the Lord High Commissioner in Corfu` opens in 1819 when George Whitmore, who had drawn up its plans, wrote to the Chief Secretary to Government in Malta informing him that ‘… we require as much Malta stone for the erection of the Palace of St George as can be sent by the opportunities that may occur during the present year, and that we require a gang of Maltese stone-cutters and masons (with an intelligent Master Mason) proportioned to the supplies that may be sent us – on these points Mr Calcedonio Bonavia,[77] may afford any information that Mr Greig[78] may require. It would be also expedient to send from Malta a competent Master Builder or Overseer, accustomed to work from drawings to have a general superintendence on the [p.384] whole … I need not add that the sooner the Malta stone can be sent the better, and that the workmen must bring their own tools with them’.[79]

On St George’s Day, 1819, Sir Thomas Maitland laid the first stone of his official residence,[80] designed by Colonel (later General) Sir George Whitmore who was the Commandant, Royal Engineers in Malta between 1811 and 1829.[81] An alternative design has been attributed to a Neapolitan architect, Pietro Saddier.[82]Two other architects, members of the resident Greek artistic community who were involved in the interior and exterior design of the Palace, were Gerasimos Pitsamanos of Kephalonia and Antonios Villas.[83] True to type, Whitmore discredits anything which he considers as an intrusion on his professional pride and capacities:

‘I had another rival in this work – a Greek who had studied architecture in Rome and drew his wholesale fancies from the Baths of Caracalla and the Roman Palaces, which are but ill adapted to English in notions of comfort. This gentleman, however, disappeared when he found that his projects met no favour and left the field open to myself’.[84]

The Palace of St Michael and St George was, in its initial stages, planned to accommodate also the chambers for the Council and Legislative Bodies of the Seven Islands. ‘The main building had two wings connected by a Doric colonnade of 32 fluted columns and a stylobate, the whole elevated on a balustrated terrace of 60 or 70 feet in breadth; over the principal façade were the classical emblems of the Seven Islands sculptured in stone and the whole was surmounted by a colossal statue of the Protecting Power with her emblems of Strength and Commerce and attended by her Lion’.[85] The seven emblems and the statue representing Great Britain were the work of the Corfiot Pavlos Prossalentis and of the Maltese sculptor Ferdinando Dimech (1798-1840).[86] Dimech had left Malta for Corfu` on the English brigantine Superba along with Vincenzo Dimech on 7 October [p.385] 1821.[87] Another coat-of-arms for the Palace was executed in Malta and taken to Corfu` on the Christiana Transport in 1819.[88]

Kerkyra (Corfù Town): The Palace of St. Michael and St. George, now the Museum of Asian Art


There is a vivid description of the statue of Britannia in the official Corfu` Government Gazette written at the time when the Palace was still in the course of construction. We are told that

‘it is 12 English feet high, and will have on one side a lion beautifully proportioned, and on the other, the shield and a Prow of a Warship, the Acrostolium of Ancient Greece. It is being sculpted by Signor Dimech of Malta under the immediate direction and after a model made by the cavaliere P. Prossalendi, a Corfiote. It evinces the precision of the sculpture and the classical style by which the work was executed, along with the other works which have come out of the hands of, and under the direction of, Prossalendi.’[89]

Dun Xand Cortis (1856-1916), a Maltese missionary priest, was sent to Corfu` by Bishop Pietro Pace (1889-1915) in October 1901 to look after needs of the large Maltese community there. Dun Xand wrote an account of his stay in Corfu` in a book titled Hames Xhur fil Grecia and, with astounding accuracy, describes the main buildings of Corfu` city in the style of the popular prose at the time. He describes the Palace of St Michael and St George, ‘mibni bil ħaġra bajda ta’ Malta’, the Maitland Monument and the other historic buildings in the vicinity. He is all praise for the Spianata (esplanade) in front of the Palace, which he compares to the square in front of the Basilica at Lourdes.[90]

[p.386] Other Maltese priests in Corfu` at the time were Fr Ġwann Ruggeru,[91] Fr Ġorġ Bugeja,[92] and Fr Paul Cachia Abela who, as chaplain to the Maltese, officiated in the church of the Annunciation which became known as the church of the Maltese.[93] This venerable building, which dates to the end of the 14th century, was destroyed during World War II by bombing and the only remains are the belfry, two inscriptions and a bas-relief representing war trophies.[94] One of Dun Xand’s parishioners was an old Maltese woman who still wore the għonnella or çulqana in 1901.[95] In 1881, 1788 Maltese were living in Greece and the Ionian Islands.[96]

Ferdinando Dimech, himself a very talented sculptor, and the son of sculptor Sigismondo (1769-1853),[97] acquired fame with his several works in Malta and Corfu`. One of his best works is the monument to Sir Henry Hotham in the Upper Barrakka, Valletta,[98] as well as the sculpture on the façade of the Basilica of St George in Victoria, Gozo, which he executed along with his father Sigismondo.[99] In 1839, Queen Adelaide visited Ferdinando’s workshop and purchased a number of stone vases and other ornamental figures which she took with her to England.[100]

The records of passenger arrivals and departures preserved at the National Archives afford an interesting insight into the presence of Maltese stone workers in Corfu`, with their names and trade. The majority were described as lavoratori di pietra or muratori, but there were also workers in bronze, tailors, carpenters, sculptors, an armourer and a chemist.[101] Ferdinando Dimech, ‘maltese, scoltore [sic]’ accompanied by his wife Paola, and their children Gismondo, Antonia and Federico, is recorded as having returned to Malta from Corfu` on the schooner Prospero on 5 April 1824.[102] Luca Brincat, a highly skilled master mason (capo mastro), is described as architetto in the Register of Arrivals from Corfu` after more than three years ‘mancato da Malta’.[103] The ordinary Maltese workers [p.387] engaged on building works in Corfu` were not accompanied by family members, and a substantial part of their wages was paid regularly to their families in Malta.[104]

Of special interest, from a technical point of view, is the behaviour of the Malta limestone relating to the effects of weathering under the climatic conditions of Corfu` compared to those of Malta. In his Memoirs, Whitmore writes: ‘The Palace was faced with Malta stone which, tho’ it stands well in Malta, does not bear the damps to which Corfu` is subjected in the winter season. The surface is attacked by vegetation and flakes off when the sun regains its power’. George Whitmore blames the bad weathering of the stone of the Palace and of the Maitland Monument on Sir Thomas himself because of the latter’s ‘insistence that the palace should be faced with Maltese stone’.[105] One reason for his choice may be that ‘stone in Corfu` was hard to quarry in large pieces’[106] or, more likely, because Maitland wanted to relieve the distress of ‘the labouring classes’ by encouraging the quarrying and export of Malta stone to the Ionian Islands. The choice of stone from Malta was, years later, criticized by a French historian who stressed the fact that ‘La pierre étrangère n’a pas résisté au climat corfiote’.[107] The main south façade ‘has weathered to a dowdy grey, but one can judge the effect Whitmore aimed at from the pale gold of the sheltered western side’.[108] As a point of interest, the height of the stone courses which I measured on site in the external façade is 11.75 inches. This is slightly higher than the traditional height of 10.25 inches used in local building construction.

Whitmore is resentful of the Maltese men on the job and accuses, certainly untruthfully, the ‘Maltese master mason who could not understand working drawings’.[109] Whitmore’s judgment – he was a man of haughty character who belittled all around him both in Malta and Corfu` – is belied by the excellent workmanship of the work of the Maltese and other ‘foreign’ masons employed in the construction: ‘The palace is obviously built by imported masons, for the quality of work is superior to anything else found in the Ionian islands’.[110] Sir Thomas Maitland was in Corfu` for about two months in the autumn of 1818 to follow the preparation works then in progress on the site of his new Palace,[111] and again in 1821.[112]

[p.388] Nigel Nicolson, writing in 1969, noted that the Palace of St Michael and St George owes ‘much to the sunlight with which the building is bathed from different angles throughout the day, and which gives the stone, imported at heavy cost from Malta, a golden creaminess that compensates for the flaking and discoloration which it has suffered during the 150 rainy winters and scorching summers since it was cut’.[113] The Palace was used regularly by the Greek kings as a summer home between 1864 and 1913 but fell into disrepair during the First World War and the subsequent Republic; it was also damaged by military and refugee tenants between 1940 and 1952.[114] The Greek Government subsequently embarked on a vast restoration programme which has given back to the Palace much of its former glory.[115]

The interior of the Maitland’s Palace has another close connection with Malta. In 1823, a painter residing in Malta by the name of Paolo Caccianiga[116] entered into a contract with the Malta Government, on behalf of the Government of the Ionian Islands, to paint the ceiling of the Hall of St Michael and St George for the sum of 150 dollars, and the ceilings and walls of the Drawing Room and Dining Room for 100 dollars each. He had to ‘find all materials, including colours and brushes, except scaffolding, and was to be provided with the services of a man to grind colours’. The general design of the paintings had to be determined beforehand and 100 dollars were to be paid to him for the purchase of materials in Malta. The rest of the fee was to be paid to him on completion of the three rooms; 50 dollars from the total fee due to him was to be retained subject to the approval of Lt. Colonel George Whitmore ‘or some competent person’. Caccianiga was given an advance payment of 250 scudi, provided with a free passage to Corfu` for a total of 20 scudi, and ‘the same advantages to be provided to him if he wishes to return to Malta on the completion of the engagement’.[117] Caccianiga left for Corfu` on the bombard La Potente on or about 28 March 1823.[118]

Giuseppe Schranz (1803-after 1853), a prominent member of the Schranz family of artists, has two paintings depicting the two principal buildings on Corfu` which are constructed entirely with Maltese limestone, the Palace of St Michael and St George and the Maitland Monument. Both paintings, oil on canvas, each 56.5 cm x 95 cm, were made for English clients living in the Ionian Islands who were drawn to the then fashionable Greek revival styles and subject matter of the period. The first painting is distinguished by the imposing [p.389] neo-classical architecture of the Palace and includes the Old Venetian Fortress. The second, titled The Spianada (Esplanade), shows the huge waterfront park and square close to the Palace and also includes the Maitland Rotunda. These paintings were very probably executed between June and November 1826 when Schranz was in Corfu`[119] with his brothers Giovanni and Antonio and, as far as I can ascertain from the existing literature on the Schranz family of artists, that this is probably the first mention of these two works. Both paintings were bought from a private collector by Agnew’s Art Galleries and sold to the UK Ministry of Culture in June 1960[120] and are both currently displayed at the neo-classical British Ambassador’s Residence in Athens. The Residence contains a fine selection of pictures including water colours of Greece by Edward Lear together with paintings by Nikos Ghikas, John Craxton and Giuseppe Schranz.[121] Another painting by Giuseppe Schranz, titled The Bosphorus, Anglo-French Fleet at Anchor 1854, is at the British Embassy in Ankara.[122]

Besides stone, Malta sent to Corfu` a variety of building and ancillary materials for use in the construction of the Palace. Statements of accounts held by the Controller of Land Revenue show that mineral green paint, brushes, 2 roasting jacks for the Palace kitchen, 7 ‘machines for water-closets’, a quantity of German steel, steel files, carpenters’ tools and puzzolana, all purchased from local suppliers, were shipped to Corfu` between May 1818 and July 1819. Three armchairs were upholstered and ‘covered with velvet and ornamented with gold’ by craftsmen in Malta and similarly sent at the request of Maitland to embellish his new palace in his other Mediterranean island.[123] In 1822, eight sofas were sent to Corfu` for Whitmore’s Palace at a total cost of 2,868 scudi: the craftsmen were G. Mifsud for making the sofas, G. Ciani for the upholstery, Fortunato Schembri for the gilding and Paolo Bellanti for the ornamental woodwork. Stone columns and capitals were transported to the Valletta Marina from the quarries by means of what is described as the ‘Great Cart’.[124]

Another building not far from the Palace is a memorial erected to a design by Whitmore in honour of Thomas Maitland in 1821, instead of the triumphal arch which had been planned earlier.[125] It was also entirely built of Malta stone,[126] and is thus described by Whitmore himself:

[p.390] ‘The design was a circular Ionic peristyle surrounding a circular cellar[127] which was domed. It consisted of twenty columns on a podium … the whole was surrounded by a broad pavement guarded by a stone balustrade. The dedication was in Greek on the frieze in letters 7 inches long and it recorded that the Coreyreans erected it at their own cost to mark the day when Sir T. M. arrived to regulate the political system of the Seven Islands’.[128]

More details are provided in the official Ionian Government Gazette. Its stylobate, the upper step of the three-stepped platform, was 32 feet in diameter, and the cella 30 feet high. The capitals of the columns were modelled on the temple of Minerva (Athena) Polias in Athens, and the whole entablature on the temple of Minerva Polias in Priene, with its frieze imitating the temple on the banks of the river Ilissus in Athens.[129]

The monument marked the termination of the extensive green open space, termed since its inception and still known as the Esplanade, which served as a magnificent setting to the Palace and the monument itself. In true neo-classical fashion, Whitmore succeeded in combining architecture with a masterly planned landscape, the first of its kind in modern Greece.

Officialdom in Corfu` eulogized Maitland for the new architectural works in Corfu` town. The official Gazette reported in 1821 that ‘private buildings having been completed in the Spianata, and the Palace almost completed, it is now opportune to raise a monument in homage and gratitude to the Lord High Commissioner’. A Maltese book-binder, a certain Lorenzo Calleja, had his shop in the ground floor of the Hotel Britannico in the Spianata.[130]

Whitmore returned to Corfu` in 1834 and felt himself hurt when he ‘found a party of Goths scraping down these columns to restore them to their original colour, thus reducing their diameter and destroying their proportions[131] … My Ionic rotunda to Sir Thomas Maitland stands in a grove of the melia zagaranth elms and cypresses – but where is the stone balustrade that surrounded it and preserved the circular platform for receiving the rains and conducting them to the great tank under the temple from the desecration of animals? This too has been levelled and applied in lieu of a parapet to the sea defences of the Esplanade!’[132]

[p.391] The neglected state of the Palace of the High Commissioner and of the Rotunda filled him with bitterness and resentment:

‘The eye looks for change even in stocks and stones and thinks it unnatural that anything should stand still when its own orb had been restless … In olden times the Palace would have been open to me, but like a fledged bird it has forgotten its parent. The beautiful cream colour of its Maltese stone is covered on its eastern and southern sides with a dark lichen – the balustrades on its upper terrace are levelled, and why? An awning of 2,250 square feet was attached to it, and a drenching rain followed by a hurricane did its business – but wherefore is it not replaced?’[133]

Besides his account on the use of the Malta stone in Corfu`, Whitmore found the time to refer in his memoirs to an old custom that prevailed in villages in Malta up to fairly recent times: ‘The street doors were like many Maltese houses opened by a string passing through several floors to the latch far below’.[134]

I have had the occasion to view at close quarters the Palace of St Michael and St George and the Maitland Monument three years ago during a short stay in Corfu`. The Ionic columns with their capitals and architrave were in an advanced state of erosion, especially those facing south due, no doubt, as in the case in Malta, to the warm and humid sirocco winds that blow regularly mostly in spring and summer, and to the building’s proximity to the sea. Sea spray settles on the stone surface and, when it dries, it leaves a microscopic layer of salt that attacks the stone and causes flaking.

Since then, the Maitland Rotunda has been expertly restored and an iron railing put up for its better protection, as I was able to see for myself when I was again in Corfu` in June 2006. I later learned that my friend and colleague Hermann Bonnici was directly involved in the restoration process carried out in 2000 and 2001. Architect Bonnici advised his contacts in Corfu` on the causes of deterioration of the monument, on suitable interventions and advised favourably on the possibility of using Malta stone for the replacement of the badly-deteriorated architectural elements. This ensured historical continuity and, according to information kindly furnished to me by Mr Bonnici, substantial quantities of column shafts, capitals, bases, as well as balusters with their cornices and plinths were exported to Corfu`. The result was extremely satisfactory, and the Maitland monument thus acquired a new life after long years of neglect.

Another building of importance constructed exclusively with stone from Malta in Corfu` was a granary in Spilia in 1824. In charge of the project was [p.392] the already-mentioned Colonel Robinson who, according to Whitmore’s usual cynical style and dry humour, as noted above, was Maitland’s factotum.[135] Colonel Robinson, who styled himself ‘Collector General, Corfu`’, was in regular communication with the Chief Secretary to Government, Sir Frederick Hankey, on all matters relating to the supply of stone from Malta.[136] For the construction of the Spilia granary, Whitmore took considerable quantities of tools from Malta which included 250 pickaxes, 300 spades and a number of wheel-barrows.[137] The successful completion of the granary at Spilia in 1820 was followed by another demand from Corfu` for the building of a granary in the same district with stone from Malta. Colonel Robinson was again in charge of the project.

In February 1824, Colonel Robinson asked Hankey to chase a certain ‘Capt. Caruana of Malta’, 'who had ‘undertaken to convey stones to Corfu’,[138] to hasten the shipment of a quantity of wrought stone for the granary which was then under construction. The list of the separate items required, drawn up in Italian, is of extreme interest and conveys a distinct idea of how the final building looked like. Robinson’s list included lintels, moulded window sills, architraves and jambs, cornices, string courses, balusters and, above all, 78 Doric columns, each 11ft long, in addition to another 21 sent earlier, complete with capitals and bases to be shipped aboard the Prospero and ‘with as many architraves and cornices as the vessel can conveniently receive on board’. The exact dimensions of each item ordered, length, width and thickness, were given by Robinson, along with a plea that all stone must be ‘della più scelta qualità’.[139] In October of the same year, another shipment of 20 capitals and bases of pillars was sent to Corfu` on the same vessel.[140]

The British Cemetery in Corfu` Town was opened during the British Protectorate of the Ionian Islands (1814-1864), and is located in the Maltezika District, not far from Cozzella (Kostella), both marking the original locations of the Maltese and Gozitan communities in Corfu`.[141] In this peaceful corner, British officers, soldiers and their families have found their resting place since 1814. In one particular corner of the cemetery lie the remains of 12 young sailors of the British naval vessels Saumarez and Volage which hit a mine while sailing through the Albanian channel on 23 October 1946 and sank with the loss of 44 lives. The names of two Maltese seamen, Petty Officer Cook Salvatore Zarb and Cook F.X. Mallia are engraved on a memorial along with names of the British members of the crews of the two vessels. Leading Steward Antonio Debattista is [p.393] commemorated by a marble headstone placed close to the grave of his comrades. Another Maltese seaman who perished on HMS Saumarez died at the Bighi Royal Navy Hospital on 4 November 1946 and is buried in the Capuċċini Naval Cemetery at Kalkara.[142] I have not been able to locate the grave of Assistant Steward Victor Emmanuel Briffa, another victim of the Saumarez incident.

Some of the monuments in the British Cemetery are veritable works of art, with a number of them made of Malta limestone. The most striking are undoubtedly those over the grave of an English woman, Anne C. Osborne Wynne (1864) and on the tomb of William Roycroft, ‘The Weeping Woman’, (1846). Both have withstood admirably the test of time, especially the Irish Cross with its intricate lacework carving. Another monument, a cross with a garland of roses, also carved out of stone from Malta, is that of Henry Eugene Page who died in 1902. Other monuments depict a rough-cut cross standing on a heap of stones and a tree-trunk with chopped branches (1911), but the names and dates are illegible. It is indeed unfortunate that the names of the Maltese sculptors are not known, at least to the present writer.

The proud supervisor and dedicated gardener of the Cemetery is George Psaila(s) who still talks nostalgically of his roots in Siġġiewi. He was born in Corfu` in 1927, the grandson of one of the Maltese workers who went to the Ionian Islands in the first quarter of the 19th century. Interestingly, the name Psaila is entirely of Greek origin because of its consonantal complex ps at the beginning, which is very seldom found in other languages.[143] Several Maltese masons went to Corfu` to work on buildings constructed or modified during the British Protectorate of the island, besides the Palace of the High Commissioner, the Maitland Monument, the Venetian Fortress and the New Fortress.[144]

Among other minor structures in Corfu` where stone from Malta was employed is the porch of the Capodistria Museum at Koukouritsa, north of Corfu` Town, and the flagstones of the floor of the living-room of Pieris House at Pelekas.[145] Another Malta connection is a beach which bears the name of Malta in the village of Perivoli.[146] It is perhaps significant to note that the Greek word in Corfu` for the town’s narrow alleys with paving stones from Malta is ‘kantounia’ (Maltese kantun).[147]

Another building, as yet unidentified in Corfu`, was constructed in 1824 by stone brought from Malta. A note by the Secretary to Government addressed to the [p.394] Military Secretary refers to ‘twelve stone columns belonging to the Government of the Ionian Islands, destined for Ithaca, to be transported to Corfu`’.[148]

In continental Greece, the use of Maltese stone started with the formation of the new Greek state in 1830. In the second capital, Nauplion in the Peloponnese, stone slabs from Malta were used for the roofs of public buildings. In Athens, the same material was employed in the roof of the old cathedral of St Irene in about 1843. In 1850 and afterwards, Malta stone was sold all around Hadrian’s Gate, occupying the whole site. University students considered this as an insult to the monument and, one day, they broke all the slabs which were for sale and chased the traders away.[149]

Malta Stone in European Palaces

Besides wrought stone and other architectural elements, Maltese carved stone ornaments found their way to decorate palaces and palatial homes in Europe. In 1818, 36 stone flower-pots were sent from Malta, ‘by order of the Government’,[150] to His Royal Highness Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg (1790-1865), husband of Princess Charlotte-Augusta, daughter of George IV and heir to the British throne. Leopold was later elected to the throne of Belgium as Leopold I in 1831. A statement of the expense incurred, drawn up by Matteo Bonavia, the Head Superintendent of Civil Artificers, reveals that the flower-pots cost 3 scudi each, and that 30 boards of white wood, costing 35 scudi, were required for making cases for the safe arrival of the flower-pots at Leopold’s residence, Claremont House in Hersham, Surrey. The gardens of Claremont House are now owned by the National Trust and known as Claremont Landscape Gardens.

In July, 1831, Prince François-Ferdinand (1818-1900), third son of Louis Philipppe, King of France (1773-1850), arrived in Malta on the French frigate Arthemise from Palermo. The prince, barely 13 years old, was on his first visit abroad after joining the French navy as a boy. He was received in Grand Harbour by M. Miège, the French Consul, the Lieutenant-Governor, and Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Hotham. He stayed at Beverley’s Hotel in Valletta, and later in the day visited Governor Sir Frederick Ponsonby at the Palace.[151] The prince was taken to the studio of Sigismondo Dimech[152] ‘and made a selection of some of his best designs in Malta stone and alabaster, which His Royal Highness seemed delighted to purchase as an appropriate present to his Royal Father. They will no doubt be [p.395] honoured with a place in the Palais Royal, and be admired in Paris as specimens of the industry of Malta’.[153] A notice appearing in the Malta Government Gazette in 1826 referred to Sigismondo’s studio as one producing ‘vases, pyramids, lowreliefs in Malta stone and in alabaster, to any design and size’.[154]

Also in 1831, the Earl of Grosvenor acquired a ‘a very elegant series of vases and flower-pots’, again from Sigismondo Dimech, ‘whose works in Malta of carved stone have for a long time ornamented the principal residences of the island, and been much admired by every stranger who has visited it’.[155] The Malta stone ornaments graced the art gallery of the spacious 18th century private mansion of the Earl of Grosvenor for a long number of years until it was converted into the Grosvenor Hotel in Park Lane, London, in 1928.

Vincenzo Dimech (1768-1831), a first cousin of Sigismondo,[156] was also engaged by the Ionian Government, through the local Department of Land Revenue, to carve the capitals of the Doric columns sent out from Malta for the Palace at Corfu`.[157] He did some sculptural works on site in Corfu`, after having left Malta, at least twice in two years, on the English brigantine Britain on 13 May 1820, and on the Superba on 7 October 1821,[158] along with his kinsman Ferdinando,[159] returning to Malta on 10 November of the same year on the brig Potente.[160] Dimech had received an advance payment prior to leaving Malta along with another sculptor, Francesco Fabri, for carving the column capitals.

It is sad to note that Vincenzo Dimech ended his life in poverty. In a petition addressed to Government in 1830, Dimech stated that ‘he was a sculptor by profession in which he gave sufficient proofs of his skill and knowledge particularly in the erection of the public palace at Corfu`, which is adorned with statues of his own making – but as a result of a fall he is not able to continue his profession, and being reduced to poverty with his numerous family, prays to be appointed a [p.396] Land Surveyor or Land Perito of Town Property’. Ill-health, however, overtook him, and he eventually withdrew his application ‘by the particular request of petitioner’[161]

Another equally gifted sculptor, Salvatore Dimech,[162] has one of his works in one of the most prestigious palaces in Rome, the Palazzo Sforza Cesarini[163] in Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II. It was commissioned by the Duca Don Lorenzo Sforza Cesarini (1807-1866) who resided in Malta for some years during the 1830s with his English wife Caroline Shirley (1817-1897).[164] The Duke established himself as a distinguished figure in local social circles. His daughter Maria Bianca, born in Valletta in 1839, was baptized by Archbishop Francesco Saverio Caruana. Her godfather was Cardinal Ludovico Micara, represented in Malta by the Capuchin Friar Pietro Paolo da Malta, of the same religious order as the Cardinal. Present at the ceremony were Governor Sir Henry Bouverie, Admiral Sir Robert Stoppard, the Principal Secretary to Government, the Vicar-General, and other military, naval and high-ranking civil servants.[165]

In 1831, Don Lorenzo wanted to immortalize his wife by a statue of Hebe, the goddess of youth, and requested Dimech to model a statue in stone, after Canova’s immortal masterpiece, for his Roman palace. The Malta Government Gazette carried the following Notice: ‘Salvatore Dimech, the native sculptor of Casal Lia, has just completed for the Duke Sforza Cesarini, a figure of the natural size, in Malta stone, of Canova’s celebrated Hebe. The Duke, who is now in this Island, has not thought this production of rustic talent unworthy of a place in his residence at Rome, whither it will shortly be conveyed’.[166]

In 1838, Duke Sforza Cesarini applied to the Governor for naturalization as a British subject under existing legislation,[167] also stating ‘that he was desirous of purchasing real property, in order to establish his residence in Malta’. Bouverie referred the request to Lord Glenelg, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, describing the Duke as a ‘Roman nobleman of the greatest personal respectability, and representing one of the oldest families in Europe, who came to reside here with his wife, who is an English Lady of considerable property’. The Duke had signed his application with an array of nine titles ranging from a Grandee of Spain [p.397] to a Prince of the Sacred Roman Empire. Bouverie felt perplexed by the Duke’s claims to what amounted almost royalty and solicited instructions from London as to whether the ‘act of conferring naturalization should comprehend his titles of Nobility, or be restricted simply to his name and surname.’[168] It is unfortunate that Glenelg’s reply is not known, as the relative volume of despatches sent from Downing Street to Malta for the period is missing from the series at the National Archives. Equally unfortunate is the fact that all my efforts to locate and view Dimech’s stone statue of Hebe, if it still survives, have so far proved fruitless.[169] The Duke and Duchess Sforza Cesarini and their daughter Maria Bianca left for Sicily and Naples on 2 April 1839 on the steamship Veloce.

The two Dimechs, Sigismondo and his son Ferdinando, are heaped with lavish praise by a visitor to Malta in 1842:

‘The softest and finest grained varieties of stone are selected for the purposes of sculpture, in the formation of vases, etc., after antique forms, for which there is a great demand, on account of their beauty and cheapness. They are largely imported to England, and the manufacture, the only one in Malta, which has received much encouragement from the English, is an increasing and flourishing one. The workshops of the Dimechs, both father and son, are well-deserving a visit from the traveller. Great credit is due to these spirited and talented artists for the skill and enterprise they displayed. The finest forms of Antiquity in the galleries of the Vatican, and in the saloons of the Studio at Naples, have been imitated by them, and their copies possess a good deal of beauty of the originals, whilst being of a stone almost as easily cut as chalk, instead of hard marble or delicate earthenware – in point of cost they are infinitely cheaper’.[170]

In 1815, Sigismondo Dimech had already shown his artistic prowess and skill when he carved the ‘coat-of-arms of Great Britain as directed to be cut in stone for the purpose of being placed on the Government Palace in Valletta.’[171]

In 1863, the Colonial Secretary, the Duke of Newcastle (1859-1864) authorized Governor Sir Gaspard Le Marchant (1858-1864) to accede to a request by Marquis Testaferrata Olivier and Commander Strickland, R.N., for the setting up of an exhibition of Maltese products and fine arts in view of the great demand in England for decorative stone carving for architectural purposes’.[172]

[p.398] North Africa and the Near East

The North African coast and, indeed, the whole of the Mediterranean littoral as well as the Near East, all received their share of Malta stone. G. Vadalà, the Consul for Belgium in Malta, in a book published in 1906, notes that exportation of stone covered all countries of the Mediterranean basin mostly Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and ‘even Aden’. Vadalà cites figures for the year 1901: 800 tons of wrought stone and 51,953 ‘slabs’, and 450 tons and 61,751 ‘slabs’ for 1902-1903.173[173]Maltese farmers who migrated to Corfu` are credited with having introduced in the island ‘la culture des herbages et légumes’ and, in 1901, were the main exporters of vegetables and fruit. Another Maltese industry in Corfu` was cooperage, which supplied large quantities of casks and barrels for use by oil and wine merchants.[174] Maltese entrepreneurs became wealthy merchants, and mention is made of ‘one of the richest Maltese merchants owning ‘une villa magnifique’ in which he enjoys his holidays during summer.[175] The Debono brothers ran the most notable jewellery shop in Corfu`, and produced gold and silver items of the highest quality.[176]

The island of Djerba, off Tunisia, has a church dedicated to St Joseph which was originally constructed by the small Maltese community, mostly poor fishermen, in 1848. It was a small square church converted from a hut which they dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In 1855, it was extended and practically rebuilt by generous contributions from Malta. In 1906, a Maltese priest, François Xerri, added two bell-towers and opened six windows in the nave. The columns were ornamented with capitals of stone brought from Malta. It was taken over by the Tunisian government in 1964 and turned into a communal library but, a year later, the 20,000 German Catholics signed a petition for the church to be reopened and it was eventually returned to the Catholic community.[177]

Port Said has its Catholic parish church of St Eugenia partly built with stone imported from Malta.[178] Further to the east, at Istanbul, all stone used in one of the few Christian churches in a predominantly Islam country, Christ Church, also known as the Crimean Church, built on a neo-gothic architectural style, was brought from Malta.[179] The church was built in memory of English soldiers who died in the Crimean War on land donated by Sultan Abdulmecid. Its construction [p.399] was commenced in 1858, and it was completed 10 years later. It was designed by an English architect, George Edmund Street (1824-1881), and has been described as the largest and most handsome of Istanbul’s Protestant churches.[180] The church was closed in 1971 due to the decreasing congregation, but was re-opened for religious service in 1991.

In 1842, a number of Maltese masons left Malta for Jerusalem to participate in the construction of a Protestant church.[181] The building of a Christian church during this particular period in Jewish history could only be undertaken following the major political transformation that took place in Palestine. In 1831, Palestine and Syria were invaded by Egyptian troops. The reforms introduced by the Egyptians between 1831 and 1840 were the first steps towards the transformation of Jerusalem. Great Britain was given the right to establish a Jerusalem consulate. Subsequently, ‘in the course of two or three decades Jerusalem tumbled from the remoteness of the unexplored Orient into the lap of Europe’.[182] Western almshouses, hospitals and hotels (with names like the Mediterranean and Maltese), banks and shops contrived to give the city a more and more accidental face.[183]

The architect of the church was J.W. Johns. He left England in April 1841 and travelled through France to Marseilles, and eventually to Malta where he arrived in the middle of May. ‘There, during a short stay, I made arrangements with Maltese masons, who were to follow me on the first opportunity’.[184] Johns left Malta on HMS Revenge on 26 May and travelled to Jerusalem via Beirut. The Maltese masons, who left Malta in January 1842, reached Jerusalem and started building operations until, in January of the next year, work was stopped because of Turkish interference. The work of the Maltese masons is praised by architect Johns: ‘The building had, up to this period, progressed upwards of five feet from the ground, and had attracted general attention – not so much for its ornamental appearance, as from the finish and exactness of the work, and the regularity of the base mouldings’.[185] While the foundations of Christ Church were being executed, ‘the Maltese masons were engaged in preparing clustered columns, with their [p.400] bases and capitals, and the moulded arches springing from them, together with ornamental portions of the buttresses, a large proportion of the coping for the gables and parapets, and other plain work’.[186]

The first Anglican bishop had arrived in Jerusalem in 1842, before the actual construction of the church was started, and his centre was established along the residence of the British Consul. The new church, Christ Church, is considered to be the first monument to be built in the Christian era and became the headquarters for Anglican work for over fifty years, when the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr was constructed in 1890.[187] For the construction of Christ Church, built close to the Jaffa Gate, ‘stone-cutters and builders were brought from Malta; the natives, especially the inhabitants of Bethlehem, learnt this craft so well that now European craftsmen cannot compete with them.’[188] It is comforting to learn that the Maltese masons not only helped in the construction of the church, but also found time to teach the craft to stone-workers from Bethlehem.

It took fifteen years (1834-1849) and several architects and engineers to build Christ Church. The Maltese masons had arrived in Jerusalem when the church was already half-finished, when it was realized ‘that in order for the style of the church to follow ‘Pugin’s Gothic ornaments, better masons than the local masons should be hired. You will probably import them from Malta, perhaps with some of the island’s porous sand stone [sic], at least for carving the ‘clustered columns and moulded arches together with some portion of the decoration’.[189]

Another Malta connection with architecture in Jerusalem was the involvement of a Franciscan lay brother, Fr Nikol Borg OFM (1819-74) of Siġġiewi who, in 1851, had a hand in the reconstruction of St Saviour parish church. He is described as a ‘skilled architect and master mason’. He was attached to the Rome province and was in Malta for a month making arrangements for the supply of the tools to be used by the builders of St Saviour. These were made by master blacksmith Michele Bonnici for the sum of 310 scudi.[190] Besides this church, Fr Nikol was also involved in other Franciscan institutions in Jerusalem, and ‘spent the rest of his life in the building and restoration of churches and hospices in Palestine, Syria, Cyprus and Egypt.[191] Another Franciscan friar, Giuseppe Antonio Zarb (1834-1914) of Cospicua was responsible for the building of a church for the Maltese community in Bulacco, Egypt.[192]

[p.401] Stone from Malta reached also Beirut in Lebanon, where there was a number of Maltese merchants. Henry Harris Jessup was at the time attending the American Community School at Beirut. In his book titled Fifty-Three Years in Syria, he wrote: ‘We boys used to have a kind of annual Field Day in the college tennis courts, and we cast little medals of lead in some soft white stone like the Malta stone’.[193] Dr Jessup made a model of the campus in 1902 for the college: ‘this was enclosed in a mahogany and glass case, and sent to the St Louis Exhibition, and awarded a gold medal. The model had exact reproductions of each building carved out of Malta stone.[194]

In 1867 the Society of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce was entrusted by the Government to promote objects made of stone to be exhibited at the Paris Exhibition. Local sculptors Luigi Francalanza, Michele Beghè, Fortunato Testa and Carmelo Dimech sent a variety of objects which were much admired by visitors to the Exhibition. The exhibits included flower vases, ornamental baskets, jugs and ornamental garden objects.[195]

Franka paving stones and stones for ovens were exported in large quantities to Tunisia, mostly Sfax, from a quarry in Xewkija. These were brought to the Valletta Marina and loaded from the quay direct on sailing vessels to Tunisia.[196] As far back as 1818, stones for the construction of ovens (pietre focaje) were already being exported to Tripoli and, possibly, to other North African destinations.[197]

Some types of stone not available locally were imported for specialized use. Millstones were imported from Barcelona through the local agent Ignazio Rossignaud.[198] Lava stones were imported in large quantities from Catania for the paving of streets in Valletta,[199] but in 1824 the importation was stopped since it became apparent that local hard-stone is better than lava.[200]

In order to supply prospective buyers abroad with the required technical information on the strength and the crushing load of the local stone cut from different quarries, several samples were sent to a firm in London, through the Crown Agents for the Colonies, for testing. The stones were chosen by E.A. Galizia, the Superintendent of Works. Tests in London were supervised by Osbert Chadwick, the advisor to Government on Malta’s Water supply.[201] On the conclusion of the tests, the Imperial Institute requested the Malta Government that [p.402] they be given ‘gratis, all hardstone and soft stone blocks, flagstones, balusters, cornices, and capitals’ for retention at the Institute.[202]

John Worthington, appointed United States Consul in Malta on 17 October 1882,[203] conceived the idea of raising a memorial on the grave of John Howard Payne (1791-1852), who had been the US Consul in Tunis where he died in 1852. Howard Payne was a successful dramatist, actor and writer, and is best known for the theme song Home Sweet Home from the libretto of his opera Clari or The Maid of Milan. He was buried in the cemetery of St George and, in 1883, his remains were taken to Washington in 1883 on the initiative of William Corcoran, the founder of the Corcoran Washington Gallery, and re-interred in Oak Hill Cemetery in the presence of the President of the United States Chester Alan Arthur and a distinguished gathering.[204] His empty grave in Tunis soon fell into neglect until fellow American John Worthington, from his consulate in Malta, resolved to honour Payne’s memory by a suitable memorial on his grave.

Worthington undertook to have the monument executed in Malta where there was available ‘a most excellent hard stone called zoncor [sic] from which the finest and most durable monuments are cut’.[205] The monument was made by the firm Michael Xuereb & Sons. A block of fine-grained hardstone, soft grey in colour, was selected from a local quarry and polished to a granite-like finish. The monument was seven feet high and weighed about four tons. Its top was surmounted by a fine piece of marble work designed by Dr Nicola Zammit of Valletta, representing a lyre, a book, a scroll and a vine of laurel over and through which wanders a ribbon bearing the carved musical notes of the first line of Payne’s immortal song, Home Sweet Home. The lettering on the shaft was very clear and clean in its chiselling. A contemporary newspaper commented: ‘Nothing for its purpose could be more appropriate in graceful design and simple beauty than the well-executed monument to the memory of the author of Home Sweet Home’. The memorial slab was sent to Tunis in March 1885.[206]

An item carried in the Malta Government Gazette in 1831 stated that news had arrived in Malta by the Russian merchant brig Count Heiden from Constantinople that, on 2 August, the district of Pera ‘was seen burning’. A few days later, it was reported that ‘Pera can hardly be said any longer to exist. A fire, commenced in an obscure and indigent quarter of the town, burst suddenly by the violence of the wind. About 4,000 houses were consumed, and all palaces (embassies) with the exception of the Austrians’ Internuncio, were destroyed. These included those [p.403] of France, Poland, Great Britain and Italy. It was stated at the time that ‘it seems doubtful whether Pera will ever be what it was; the several governments will hardly reconstruct palaces under the present circumstances’.[207]

Contrary to this view, however, Pera’s great fire created an opportunity for the area to acquire a new look and, a few years later, it developed into a town ‘covered with Art Nouveau buildings, and became the glittering centre of European lifestyle in Istanbul’.[208] Although it cannot be ascertained that stone from Malta was used in the reconstruction of the district of Pera, there are records to prove that at least one reconstructed building had a Maltese connection. Captain Jones, a professional officer with the Royal Engineers serving in Malta, was ‘engaged between 1 January 1835 and 31 March 1835 on services connected with the rebuilding of the British Ambassador’s Palace at Constantinople, a chapel and consulate, destroyed by fire in 1831’.[209] Capt. Jones was accompanied by William Baker, as his Clerk of Works, who later designed and constructed the belfry near the Church of the Assumption in Gudja. Mr George Bonavia was appointed to act temporarily in the place of Baker.[210]

 ... in More Modern Times

Maltese limestone was used extensively during the nineteenth century as ballast on vessels leaving from Malta. These ships would then return fully loaded with goods leaving the stone behind. Gibraltar was a very successful trading post and its connection with Malta is still apparent. Embrasures in the bastions and walls in Gibraltar were lined with stone from Malta ‘as it is softer than the local stone which would shard under impact’.[211] At least one church, that of the parish church of the Sacred Heart in Lime Kiln Road, is known to have been built of Maltese limestone carried to Gibraltar as ship ballast.[212] Maltese ‘styles’ such as balconies, moulded windows and traditional iron railings, may still be seen in the architecture of Gibraltar whose architecture ‘is one where British military styles have been fused with other cultural and national styles, such as Genoese or Maltese, making it and its streetscapes quite unique.[213]

Messrs S.J. Waring and Sons of London, in 1902, showed interest in the Malta limestone and made enquiries with the Chamber of Commerce and requested [p.404] information on the prices of the local stone for importation into South Africa where they had ‘several buildings to erect’. The Chamber referred the request to the Chief Secretary to Government and suggested that Messrs Innocenzio Zammit and Sons, with offices in Strait Street in Valletta, and owners of a number of quarries and the principal exporters of stone, be contacted to supply the information required by Messrs Waring. In the letter to the Government, the Chamber observed that, because of the considerable construction going on at the time, the price of stone from the quarry was raised by 30 per cent and that it was very unlikely that the price would go down as long as the boom continued.[214]

During the 1915 Gallipoli campaign in World War I, several Maltese served in the Maltese Labour Corps, in transport and logistic activities, and a number of them died in Salonika, mostly after contracting malaria. The Imperial War Graves Commission, after the cessation of hostilities, mindful of the skill of the Maltese construction workers, offered employment to stone masons to proceed to Gallipolli to help in making headstones in war cemeteries. The War Graves Commisson guaranteed employment for twelve months. The daily pay offered was 200 to 350 Turkish piasters (rate of exchange 690 piasters to one English pound). No rations were to be issued, but quarters were to be provided. Work was to be in the hands of a contractor and all engagements were to be made on his behalf and on the spot. Neither the Imperial Government nor the Government of Malta accepted any liability of any claim for compensation of whatever kind, but every assistance was to be given to stone masons while working in Gallipoli.[215]

Response was relatively good: of the 59 men examined by the Director of Public Works, three were found able to execute any work connected with headstones, four were second-class marblers proficient in polishing and lettering work and the rest, for the most part, were second-class soft stone cutters in plain work. 22 applicants were not considered fit for the work.[216]

A special type of high quality coralline limestone noted for its hardness comes from a quarry in Qala, Gozo, and another in Nadur. It was used with remarkable success in the harbour at Mġarr, the breakwater in the Grand Harbour, the War Memorials at Floriana and Victoria (Gozo) and, outside Malta, in the Christ the King Cathedral at Liverpool.[217] The Annual Report for 1945 of the Malta Trade Commission in London reported that a quantity of hardstone slabs from Malta were used for the cladding of palatial houses in London.[218]

[p.405] Nearer to our time, in 2002, on the occasion of Europa Nostra’s Congress in Dubrovnik, Croatia, an appeal was launched to members to contribute to the Trsteno Fund established by Europa Nostra for the restoration of the Trsteno Renaissance Garden, which was ravaged by war, neglect and fire. The funds collected were used to purchase the Maltese stone replicas of the 18th century urns which once embellished the Garden. After some delay, the stone urns were produced by the Malta Centre for Restoration, and the transportation from Malta to Trsteno was arranged thanks to the Maltese and the Croatian ambassadors in the Netherlands. The urns reached Trsteno and the curators have since decided on their best location for the enjoyment of the many visitors to the Garden.[219] In 1992, the Trsetno Garden was declared as a monument of garden architecture. Its arboretum has a special place among Mediterranean parks and includes a Renaissance park surrounding the ancient summer residence of Dubrovnik patricians.

The Chulmleigh Old Rectory near Crediton, Devon, boasts of an elegant balustrade of globigerina limestone. David Forster, the site agent for the Rectory which was undergoing restoration at the time, was on holiday in Malta in 1994 and was fascinated by the beauty of Malta’s ‘creamy coloured stone which darkens attractively with age’. He made arrangements with the firm Axiak Bros. of Xewkija in Gozo for the supply of a complete balustrade consisting of a number of balusters with termination piers, and a set of steps, which he placed in the garden of the Rectory. Prior to the restoration, the Devon planning authority had stipulated that the listed balustrade which had been vandalized, had to be retained or replaced by one of a similar design.[220]

In August of 2005, Maltese President Edward Fenech Adami inaugurated a memorial in London dedicated to the memory of some 7,000 Maltese men and women and Commonwealth and allied services who sacrificed their lives for the defence of Malta in World War II. It consists of a hardstone block cut from a quarry in Gozo and stands some three metres high, with some of the names of the fallen inscribed on each of its four sides. The memorial was erected in the grounds of All Hallows Church by the Tower of London.[221]



Table showing the quantity of Malta Stone, in tons, exported to European countries and the United Kingdom between 1909 and 1938



















































































































































Grand Total













* Michael Ellul, an Architect and Conservation Consultant by profession, holds a degree in engineering and architectecture from the University of Malta together with a Diploma in Architectural Restoration from the University of Rome. When in government service at the Public works Department (from 1955), in 1967 he set up the Antiquities Section which he headed till his retirement in1985. Formerly a Committee Member and Hon. Secretary of the Malta Historical Society, Mr Ellul is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of London and is currently the Vice-Chairman of the Cultural Advisory Committee of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA). In 1995, he was awarded the Medalja g˙all-Qadi tar-Repubblika (MQR). He is the author of a number of academic papers and several books, the latest being Maltese-English Dictionary of Architecture and Building in Malta – with Biographical Notes of Maltese and Foreign Architects who worked in Malta, Malta 2009.

[1] W.J. Forman, Nights and Sights of Malta, Grecian Italy, Jonathan Cape, London 1927, 200.

[2] The general characteristic of limestone is a large proportion of carbonate of lime derived from the accumulation of shells and the remains of marine organisms deposited as sediment,

[3] M. Ellul, Heritage of an Island, Department of Information, Malta 1975, 2.

[4] W. Smith, A Smaller Classical Dictionary, Dent & Sons, London, Everyman’s Library 1910, 192.

[5] E. Coleiro, ‘Malta nelle Litterature Classiche’, in Missione Archeologica Italiana, Roma 1964, 37.

[6] Jean Quintin d’Autun, Insulae Melitae Descriptio, Lyons 1536, English Translation by Horatio C.R.Vella, DeBono Enterprises, Malta 1980, 37. This notion is repeated by a visitor in the 1770s in a book titled Lettres écrites de Suisse, vol.3, 40, who considers the Malta stone to be easier ‘to cut than wood’.

[7] Vatican Archives, Urb. Lat., Ms 833, Relazione dell’Isola di Malta dal primo di giugno fino al primo di Dicembre 1568, f.144v, as quoted by R. de Giorgio, A City by an Order, Malta1985, 109.

[8] G.A. Ciantar, Malta Illustrata, Malta 1762, Lib.I, Not.XII, 407. In 1742, small objects made from local clay were exported to neighbouring countries. Cf. National Library of Malta Manuscript (NLM) 388, f.22.

[9] Quoted in A. Ganado, Valletta: Nuova Città, PEG Publications, Malta 2003, 463.

[10] Ganado, 463

[11] V. Mallia-Milanes, Descrittione di Malta, 1716: A Venetian Account, Malta 1988, 51.

[12] A. de Lamartine, Souvenirs, Impressions, Pensées et Paysages pendant un Voyage en Orient (1832-1833), vol. 1, 77, Paris 1835. This is a bold and brilliant account of a journey made in royal luxury, and in the course of which he had lost his only daughter. Thenceforth he confined himself to prose.

[13] G. Bonello, Art in Malta:Discoveries and Recoveries, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, Malta 1999, 64.

[14] J. de Thevenot, Voyage de M. De Thevenot en Europe, Asie et Afrique, Amsterdam 1727, vol.1, 15.

[15] de Thevenot, 24.

[16] G.B. Pacichelli, Memorie di Viaggi per l’Europa Christiana Scritta à Diversi in Occasione de’ Suoi Ministeri, Napoli 1685, as quoted by Ganado, 464.

[17] Citizen Robert, The Weekly Entertainer or Agreeable and Instructive Repository, vol. xlv., 14 January 1805, p. 26. Robert is also the author of a book about his experiences as clinical director of the Grand Hôpital, as the Sacra Infermeria became officially known, titled Mémoire sur la topographie physique et médicale de Malte, Paris 1802.

[18] T. Walsh, Journey of the late campaign in Egypt, including a description of that country and of .... Malta, London 1803, 18-42.

[19] W. Scott, Journal, Edinburgh 1890, 441-449.

[20] J. Galea, Newman’s Letters and Poems from Malta 1822-1883, Malta 1945.

[21] R. Montgomery Martin, The British Colonial Library, vol.vii, London 1837, 161.

[22] C.G. Addison, Damascus and Palmyra – A Journey to the East, London 1838, vol. 1, 1.

[23] Addison 1838, 56.

[24] J. Galt (1779-1839), novelist and essayist. After visiting Malta in 1809 he continued in Byron’s company to Greece and Turkey, and subsequently published an account of his journeys in 1812, Voyages and Travels in the Years 1809, 1810 and 1811.

[25] Sir John C. Cobhouse (1786-1869) was a social reformer and a member of the House of Commons.

[26] John Galt is referring here to the Marina Gate (now Victoria Gate)

[27] D.M. Moir, Biographical Memoir of John Galt, Edinburgh 1841, 116.

[28] M. Galea, ‘Vignettes of 19th century Malta’, The Sunday Times, 17 December 2006.

[29] B.C. Weber, ‘John Guy Vassar and Malta’, Scientia, vol. xxxiv, no. 1, June-March, 1971, 19.

[30] 30 W.M. Thackeray, Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, London 1846, published under the pseudonym M.A.Tidmarsh.

[31] V. Bonham-Carter, Winston Churchill as I Knew Him, London 1965, pp.267-268, quoted in D. Austin, Churchill and Malta, Spellmount 2006, 11.

[32] Forman, 190.

[33] Ibid., 194.

[34] Forman is referring here to the dry-rubble walls that enclose fields in the countryside.

[35] Forman, 199.

[36] M.Ellul, ‘The Malta Pavilion in Istanbul’, The Sunday Times, 25 April 2005.

[37] National Library of Malta, Archives of the Order in Malta, Vol. (AOM) 1189, f. 112, 14 April 1752.

[38] NLM, Ms. CXL, parts 1, 2 and 3.

[39] AOM 1189, f. 152, 11 April 1753.

[40] For biographical notes on Andrea Belli, cf. G. Bonello, ‘Andrea Belli, Baroque Architect, Industrialist, Slave Dealer and Impresario’, The Sunday Times, 14 and 21 April 1996.

[41] AOM 1190, f.137, 30 January 1761. A note at the bottom of the entry states that the four-year exclusive rights period for the exportation of stone by Belli had started running from 27 March 1760 as per deed in the records of Notary Andrea Zerafa.

[42] Ciantar, 407.

[43] AOM 1190, f.182, 9 January 1762.

[44] Ibid., f.183, 22 November 1762..

[45] Ġ. Micallef, Ħal Luqa, Niesha u  Ġrajjietha, Malta 1975, 173.

[46] C. Willis Dixon, The Colonial Administration of Sir Thomas Maitland, Frank Cass, London 1968, 155.

[47] National Archives of Malta (NAM), Despatch no.5, Hobart to Cameron, 21 August 1801.

[48] P. Dietz, The British in the Mediterranean, London 1994, 62.

[49] A.G. Clare, ‘Features of an Island Economy : Malta 1800-1914’, Hyphen, vol. II, no.6, 1981, 239.

[50] Puzzolana, a cement of volcanic origin, was imported mostly from Sicily and used for the waterproofing of wells and cisterns, and as mortar in marine works.

[51] NAM, PW 253, Letters to Government (1814-1815), Collector of Land Revenue to Chief Secretary to Government, p. 66, 30 January 1815.

[52] Proclamation no. VII of 1814, Malta Government Gazette (MGG), 11 February 1814.

[53] Proclamation no. III of 1815, MGG, 20 May 1815.

[54] Proclamation no. V of 1817, MGG, 9 July 1817.

[55] NAM, Despatch Bathurst to Maitland, 16 December 1817.

[56] NAM, Private Despatch, Bunbury to Maitland, 4 March 1816.

[57] NAM, Despatch no. 27, Hastings to Bathurst, 21 June 1824.

[58] NAM, Avvisi Ufficiali, vol.I (1800-1819), 17 August 1802.

[59] NAM, Avvisi, Tempore Georgii III, 23 March 1815.

[60] MGG, various issues, 1816.

[61] MGG, 19 August 1818.

[62] MGG, 9 September 1818.

[63] NAM, Departures, vol.20, 23 June 1824.

[64] NAM, Despatch Reid to Labouchere, 6 January 1858.

[65] B. F. Cook, The Elgin Marbles, British Museum Publications 1997, 53.

[66] NLM, Univ. 519, f. 312, 2 March 1802.

[67] Cook, 53.

[68] NAM, Departures, vol.24, 16 September 1826.

[69] NAM, Letters, Napier to Hankey, 18 September 1831.


[71] NAM, PW202, Letters to Government 1816, 20 July 1816; PW254, ibid.,75, 31 August 1816.

[72] Ibid., 2 September 1816, 61.

[73] NAM, Chief Secretary’s Letters, vol.2, 1816-1817.

[74] NAM, Letters, 64.

[75] MGG, 22 July 1823.

[76] J. Johnson, The General, The Travel Memoirs of General Sir George Whitmore, Alan Sutton, Gloucester 1987, 53.

[77] Calcedonio Bonavia, son of Matteo, a worthy member of the Bonavia family of architects, was employed as a draughtsman with the Royal Engineers in Malta, later as Clerk of Works, and in 1823 was appointed Head Superintendent of Civil Artificers.

[78] Hector Greig was Collector of Land Revenue and, later, Chief Secretary to Government between 1837 and 1847.

[79] NAM, Letters to Government 1819, PW 205, 10 April 1819. p. 20.

[80] Maitland left Malta for Corfu` on HMS Glasgow in January 1819; cf. MGG, 13 January 1819.

[81] After laying the first stone of the Palace, Maitland stayed in Corfu `for some time from where he went to Naples. He returned to Malta on 4 October 1819. Cf. NAM, Arrivals, Customs K9.

[82] Information from the UK Ministry for Culture, Media and Sport, Government Art Collection, August 2006.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Johnson, 65.

[85] Johnson, 56.

[86] J. Dimacopolous, Neo-Classical Preludes in Greece: George Whitmore’s Architecture at Corfu`, Athens 1975, f.n.74. Prossalentis studied sculpture in Rome under Canova and founded a private School of Arts when he returned to Corfu` in the early 1810s. P.P.Castagna, Storia ta Malta, Malta 1869, 106, credits another sculptor, Vincenzo Dimech (1768-1831), with a number of other sculptural works at the Royal Palace in Corfu`; Anon., ‘Biografie’, L’Arte, no. 8, 1863, 4.

[87] NAM, Departures, Customs L 13, 7 October 1821.

[88] NAM, Letter-Book, PW 255, 12 April 1820.

[89] Gazzetta degli Stati Uniti delle Isole Ionie, 21 January 1827.

[90] Dun Xand Cortis, Hames Xhur fil Grecia, Cotba tal-Mghodija Taz-Zmien, Malta 1906.

[91] Ibid.,

[92] Ibid., 62.

[93] Ibid., 32.


[95] Cortis, 60.

[96] Census of the Islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino, 1881, Malta 1882.

[97] See f.n.81, infra.

[98] M. Ellul, ‘The Monument to Sir Henry Hotham: In Quest of the Sculptor’, in Malta 1796-1797: Thorvaldsen’s Visit, ed. S. Sorensen & J Schiro`, Malta 1996, 97-109; idem, ‘Art and Architecture in Malta in the Early Nineteenth Century’, in Proceedings of History Week 1982, ed. M. Buhagiar, Malta Historical Society, Malta 1983, 16.

[99] N. Vella Apap, Il-Belt Victoria, March-April 1985, no. 23, 3, as quoted in E.J. Montanaro, ‘Sigismondo Dimech’, Programm Festi San  Ġorġ (Għawdex) 1985, f.n.82.

[100] Il Mediterraneo, 27 March 1839.

[101] See, for example, NAM, Arrivi, vol.15, 1 January to 30 June 1822. The English schooner Prospero brought to Malta 22 Maltese workers from Corfu`. Colonel Whitmore and his daughter arrived in Malta with the same group, 21 April, 1822.

[102] NAM, Arrivi, vol. 19, 1 January-30 June 1824.

[103] NAM, Arrivi, vol. 17, 11 October 1823.

[104] NAM, PW255, Letters to Government, 12 April 1820.

[105] S. Hourmouzios, ‘An English Palace in Corfu`’, Country Life, 26 April 1962, 959, quoted in Dimacopolous, 57.

[106] T. Clarke, ‘Britain in the Adriatic, English Regency Architecture in Corfu`’, Country Life, September 1938.

[107] J. Baeyens, Les Français à Corfou, Athens 1973, 142.

[108] M.Young, Travellers’ Guide to Corfu` and the Other Ionian Islands, Jonathan Cape, London 1971, 144.

[109] Ibid., 58.

[110] Clarke, 255.

[111] MGG, 21 October 1818 and 2 December 1818.

[112] NAM, Arrivals, Customs K 13, 7 December 1821.

[113] N. Nicolson, ‘The Palace Erected in Honour of St Michael and St George’, Great Palaces, Hamlyn 1969, 274.

[114] Young.

[115] A.E. Lambert, Restoration of the Palace of St Michael and St George, Athens 1959.

[116] Caccianiga was also at one time impresario of the Theatre (Manoel); cf. NAM, Letter Book, PW257, 10 January 1825.

[117] NAM, Letters to Government 1823, PW 209, 6 May 1823, p.25.,

[118] NAM, Departures, Customs L 16, 3 June 1823. Caccianiga appears to have come to Malta from Milan as the word Milano follows his name in the Departures register.

[119] NAM, Departures: Giovanni and Giuseppe Schranz to Corfu`, 15 June 1826; NAM, Arrivals:, Giuseppe, pittore, returned to Malta from Corfu` on 6 November 1826:

[120] Information from Agnew’s Art Gallery, August 2066.


[122] Chantal Condron, Curator, Government Art Collection, UK, 2006.

[123] NAM, PW 255, 23 July 1819, 8.

[124] NAM,, PW255, 30 November 1820.

[125] Johnson, 60.

[126]Fabbricato tutto di pietra di Malta’, cf. Gazzetta degli Stati Uniti delle Isole Jonie, 17 December 1821, quoted in Dimacopolous, 93. The language of the Ionian Gazette was Italian. Italian culture had greatly influenced the Ionians after so many years under Venetian occupation and most Ionians, especially the upper classes, could speak perfect Italian. It was only in the early 1830s that the Gazetta started to be published in Greek.

[127] This is obviously a misprint of ‘cella’, which in Greek and Roman temple architecture was the enclosed chamber or vestibule.

[128] Johnson, 60.

[129] Gazzetta degli Stati Uniti delle Isole Ionie, 17-29 December 1821.

[130] Ibid., 26 February 1821.

[131] Johnson, 60.

[132] Ibid., 1987, 84.

[133] Ibid., 83.

[134] Ibid., 63.

[135] Ibid., 64.

[136] NAM, Letter-Book, CSG 04/8, 27 November 1824 and 31 October 1825.

[137] Royal Engineers Corps Library, Chatham, Ms Malta Letters, 1819-1825, 20 December 1825.

[138] NAM, Letters from Government, PW 210, 4 February 1824, 84.

[139] NAM, Letters, PW 210.

[140] Ibid., 28 October 1824, 110.


[142] I am indebted to Mr George Psailas (Psaila), the keeper and gardener of the British Cemetery at Corfu` for taking me and my wife round the Cemetery and pointing out to us monuments made of Malta limestone, and for the booklet The Orchid House, which he wrote in 1984.

[143] Information by Dimitris Sparos, http:/ Personal communication

[144] Information by Nicolo Psaila, ibid.

[145] Personal communication: Andreas Papadatos, Librarian, Corfu` Readers Society, 16 June 2006



[148] NAM, Letters to Government, CSG 04/8, Hankey to Military Secretary, Lt.-Col Macra.

[149] Personal communication: Nicholas Beloyannis, Ministry of Culture, Athens, 24 September 2005.

[150] NAM, PW254, Letters to Government, 305, 29 August 1818.

[151] MGG, 6 July 1831.

[152] Dimech’s workshop was situated in nos. 71 and 72, Strada Teatro He was later given ‘at a moderate rent’ one of the three magazines occupied by Mr Dalzell, the Vendue Master; cf. NAM, PW 213, Letters to Government, 1827. For Sigismondo Dimech, cf. also J.F. Grima, ‘Sigismondo Dimech’, in the Democrat, 26 May 1990, and E.J. Montanaro 1985, p.35.

[153] MGG, 17 August 1831. A curious incident which happened during the Prince’s stay in Malta is recorded in his autobiography Memoirs (Vieux Souvenirs) du Prince de Joinville, translated by Lady Mary Lloyd. On the evening of the day before the Arthemise had to leave, the whole crew of 300 men deserted as a body and took ‘French leave’ on shore. The police and army pickets collected ‘our rovers and brought almost all of them back in the course of the evening.’ The French prince felt ‘humiliated at having given the English such a sad specimen of the insubordination which always follows on revolutions’. The prince was back in Malta some years later and, being a high-ranking naval officer, was taken to view the drydock which was being constructed at the dockyard. After speaking of its construction in terms of admiration, he exclaimed: Ah, well; you are doing all these things for us, as we mean to have Malta again before long!Cf: John Gadsby, My Wanderings Being Travels in the East, London 1873.

[154] MGG, 26 April 1826.

[155] MGG, 17 August 1831.

[156] O. Friggieri, Żewġ Artisti fil-Furjana: Vincenzo Dimech u Vincenzo Bugeja, Kunsill Lokali Floriana, Malta 1997, 8.

[157] NAM, Letter Book, PW 265, 12 April 1820.

[158] NAM, Departures, Customs L 11, 13 May 1820.

[159] Ibid., L13, 7 October 1821.

[160] NAM, Arrivals, Customs K 13, 10 November 1821.

[161] NAM, Petition Book, 1829, Petition no.246, p.142, 12 March 1829.

[162] Among Salvatore Dimech’s works (1805-1887) one can mention the statue of St Gregory in front of the church of the same name at Ûejtun, the statues of Grandmasters de L’Isle Adam and de Valette in Valletta’s entrance gate, and sculptural works in the Royal Opera House (lost during World War II).

[163] The Palazzo Sforza Cesarini was constructed in the 15th century for Cardinal Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI), and totally reconstructed in 1888 by the architect Pio Piacentini.

[164] D. Shamà, Genealogie delle Famiglie Italian; there is a printed book in NLM Misc. 183 (3) titled Manifesto delle ragioni di Sforza Cesarini su la incompatibilità tra il Majorasco di Cincione e la Primogenitura Cesarini, Napoli 1758.

[165] MGG, 6 February 1839, p.46.

[166] MGG, 7 November 1838.

[167] Proclamation no.IX of 1817

[168] NAM, Despatch no.148, Bouverie to Glenelg, 26 December 1838.

[169] M.Ellul 1983, 17.

[170] J. Davy, Notes and Observations on Malta and the Ionian Islands, London 1842,119.

[171] NAM, Letter Book, PW 253, 23 May 1815.

[172] NAM, Despatch no.359, Newcastle to Le Marchant, 31 July 1863.

[173] G. Vadalà, Malte et ses Dépendances, Malta 1906, 31.

[174] R. Vadalà, Les Maltais hors de Malte, Rousseau Editeurs, Paris 1912, 55.

[175] Ibid., 56.

[176] Cortis 1906.

[177] The Sunday Times, 10 June 2007. For the Maltese community in Djerba, see J. Wood, ‘The Land of the ‘Turks’ North African Adventure’, Melita Historica, xiv, 3, 2006, 333-334.

[178] Ivan Magri-Overend, The church has an altarpiece, Regina Decor Carmeli, by the Maltese painter Giuseppe Calí.

[179] http:///

[180] George Edmund Street, a High Victorian Gothic Revival architect, designed many churches in London including St Mary Magdalene, Paddington, St James the Less, Westminster, and the restorations of Bristol Cathedral and Christchurch, Dublin. His most notable work is the Royal Courts of Justice in London, one of the last attempts to apply the Gothic revival to a public building. Outside England he built St Paul’s Church in Rome, and the Crimean Memorial, the Anglican Church, in Istanbul; cf. J. Stevens Curl, Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Oxford 2006, 746-7. His many publications include The Brick and Marble Architecture of Northern Italy (1851) and Some Account of Gothic Architecture of Spain (1865).

[181] Il Portafoglio Maltese, 21 February 1842: by the Great Liverpool to Alexandria (16 February), or more likely by the Hecate to Beyrouth (8 February) or the Minos to the Levant (18 February).

[182] P. Tudor, The Jewish Presence in Jerusalem 1880-188: Jerusalem before Zionism, 1976, 8.

[183] Ibid.

[184] J.W. Johns, The Anglican Cathedral Church of St James, Jerusalem, London 1844,.4. 185 Ibid.,.7.


[186] Ibid.,7 and 8.

[187] D. Elliott, St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem 1902, 2. H. Guthe, Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palaestina- Vereins, Leipzig 1894. Translation from German by Dr Vincent A. Depasquale.

[188] Guthe, 267.

[189] A. Almog, All Stone: Pre-Modern European Architects Building in Jerusalem, University of York 2002, 4, quoting from J.W. Johns, Anglican Cathedral Church of St James, Mount Zion, Jerusalem, London 1844.

[190] Padre Lettore Giorgio Scerri, Malta ed I Luoghi Santi della Palestina, Lux Press, Malta 1933, 31.

[191] Ibid., 97; C. Vella, Siġġiewi: A Profile of History, Social Life and Traditions, Kunsill Lokali Siġġiewi, Malta 2002.

[192] Ibid., 102.

[193] H.H. Jessup, Fifty-Three Years in Syria, 1910, 306,

[194] Ibid.

[195] MGG, 2 January 1867.

[196] Personal communication by the late Dr George Zammit, 20 February 1981. Up to 1952 the business was run by Dr Zammit’s father up to his death in 1952, and continued by his son until about 1960..

[197] MGG, 19 August 1818.

[198] NAM, CSG 04/8, Letters from Government 1814-1815, 14 March 1815; MGG, 12 November 1821. .

[199] NAM, CSG 04/8, Letters from Government 1814-1815, 23 February 1815.

[200] Ibid., 27 November 1824.

[201] NAM, File 2788/Works, 20 March 1885.

[202] NAM, File 9574/Misc., 14 December 1886.

[203] NAM, Despatch no.538, Kimberley to Borton. 19 October 1882.

[204] Information from a lecture delivered by Hugh R. King at East Hampton Library, 2002.

[205] P. Cassar, Early Relations between Malta and the United States of America, Midsea Books, Malta 1976, 48.

[206] Malta Standard, 12 March 1885.

[207] MGG, 31 August 1831.


[209] National Archives, Kew, London, WO 55/10, Office of Ordnance to Inspector General of Fortifications, 8 May 1835.

[210] Ibid., 26 May 1834.

[211] Personal communication, from Carl Vigas, The Gibraltar Museum, November 2005.

[212] Personal communication from Clive Finlayson, Director, Heritage Division, Ministry for Culture, Gibraltar, May 2007.

[213] Gibraltar Heritage, Gibraltar, vol.1, issue 1, 2002.

[214] NAM, 6041/W, letter numbered 52/1902, 10 September, 1902, signed by S. Nicosia, Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, adressed to Mr E.M. Merewether, the Chief Secretary to Government, and letter dated 20 August, 1902, from Messrs Waring.

[215] NAM, File PW 675/1922, 9 June 1922.

[216] Ibid., 17 July 1922.


[218] Times of Malta, 1 January 1946.

[219] 219 Trseno is a small village close to Dubrovnik in southern Croatia. The arboretum is under the administration of the Croatian Academy Sciences and Arts.

[220] P. Daniel, ‘Globigerina goes to Crediton Rectory’, in The Natural Stone Specialist, October 1997, 27.

[221] The Sunday Times, 21 August 2005.