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Photos paint a picture of 19th century Malta you have never seen before

A collection of photos presents an almost unbelievable vision of a Malta that has long been forgotten

16 June 2017, 10:06am
A collection of photos belonging to the artist Giuseppe Calleja presents an almost unbelievable vision of a Malta that has long been forgotten and replaced by the unstoppable advances of the age
A collection of photos belonging to the artist Giuseppe Calleja presents an almost unbelievable vision of a Malta that has long been forgotten and replaced by the unstoppable advances of the age
A collection of photos belonging to the artist Giuseppe Calleja (1828-1915), who lived in St Julian’s near Balluta Bay, presents an almost unbelievable vision of a Malta that has long been forgotten and replaced by the unstoppable advances of the age. The photos, most probably dating from the second half of the 19th century, were found in a personal archive of Calleja’s.

Balluta Bay, St Julian's

Balluta Bay: the old house that today houses the Barracuda and Piccolo Padre restaurants looks almost unchanged and stands out at the bend that separates Sliema from the Balluta Bay buffer before St Julian’s. Still standing are the houses next to the Carmelite Church, but behind the Barracuda restaurant, a new five-storey development is in the offing.

Carmelite Church of St Julian's

The old Carmelite Church, without the two wider naves it had built instead of the neighbouring houses: today’s parish church is higher and wider than the original seaside ‘chapel’. Images of bystanders by the rocky pier down below convey an almost bucolic impression of the sleepy village.

From the same standpoint, this time looking at where the Neptunes and St Julian’s water-polo pitches would be. Of course, the absence of cars means no major roads cutting through the village.

St Julian's centre

Today St Julian’s is the centre of one of the island’s major entertainment areas, and the start of a golden mile for hotels, restaurants and luxury development. But in the 19th century this fishing village had little else to offer than fishing boat shelters - which still stand today beneath the restaurants - and the Spinola Palace, which today houses the Parliamentary Assembly for the Mediterranean.

Racecourse Street, Rabat

Contrasted with the expansive development in Sliema and St Julian’s, this photo of Racecourse Street, in Rabat, shows how the town’s skyline has remained relatively unchanged, an inspiration to planners and local councillors to ensure that one of Malta’s oldest of towns should retain its pictoresque and welcoming townscape instead of opting for intensive construction and apartment blocks.

The artist Giuseppe Calleja (right) poses for a photo with his friend Felice Beatu. The photos were found in an album that had been in his possession.

Kirxa hill, and Balluta Bay

Compare the barren landscape of the 19th century with the speed of today, as a car zips down the Kirxa hill in St Julian’s on towards Balluta Bay. Back in the day, the square was indeed a grove of Judas trees, from where the piazza takes it name. Not yet built are the majestic Balluta Buildings, but the street on Kirxa hill looks almost identical except from some modern accretions along the road.

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