Turkey objects to garages next to Malta’s ‘Taj Mahal’

Turkish embassy tells MaltaToday it is “gravely concerned” at proposed garages next to Marsa’s Ottoman cemetery

(Left) A graphic representation of proposed development next to Ottoman cemetery (Right) Photo of recent damage sustained by one of the cemetery’s minarets
(Left) A graphic representation of proposed development next to Ottoman cemetery (Right) Photo of recent damage sustained by one of the cemetery’s minarets

The Turkish embassy in Malta is firmly objecting to a proposal to erect an industrial garage complex next to the Ottoman cemetery in Marsa.

A two-storey complex of 67 industrial garages and basement on a 5,320sq.m site, adjacent to the protected Turkish cemetery, has been recommended for approval by a Planning Authority case officer. But two weeks ago, the PA’s planning commission chaired by Claude Mallia postponed a decision on the project, asking for revised plans due to concern on the impact on the historical monument. A final decision is now expected on 26 January when the new plans are assessed.

“We are not only concerned, but also gravely concerned and highly disappointed on the said development, after the first two attempts to build a petrol station in 2016 and an industrial complex in 2019 had been averted with Turkish and Maltese joint efforts for which we are grateful,” said Muzaffer Yuksel, a counsellor to the Turkish embassy,

The embassy spokesperson described the Turkish cemetery as “a symbol of eternal friendship between Turkey and Malta” which is “to be proudly cherished for future generations” and also as “a monument of our common historical and architectural heritage of joint pride as well as one of Malta’s most-visited touristic destinations”.

The outstanding architectural value and historical interest of the Turkish cemetery was recognised by the Planning Authority that has listed this heritage building as a Grade 1 monument. 

The cemetery was built at the request of Sultan Abdulaziz during his visit to British-ruled Malta in 1867, and was designed by renowned Maltese architect Emmanuele Luigi Galizia in 1873-74. The cemetery is called the ‘Ottoman Taj Mahal’ or Malta’s Taj Mahal because of its extravagant Orientalist style.

“It is the eternal resting place not only of the Turkish martyrs but also nationals of other countries,” the embassy spokesperson told MaltaToday.

The Turkish embassy is warning that the building of an industrial complex on the land adjunct to the cemetery will have an enormous detrimental impact on this architectural gem. “The construction of a massive block next to a 19th century architecture will completely be incompatible with good urban design. It will overshadow the prominence and unique glory of the Cemetery and destroy the visual integrity of the area. Moreover, it highly risks its physical damage if realised.”

The embassy pointed at the vulnerability of the cemetery, with damage sustained by one of the small minarets of the cemetery as documented in a photograph taken just a few days ago. The damage is unrelated to the proposed project but highlights the urgency of protecting the building from encroaching development.

“This demonstrates how a historical building can be such vulnerable and its preservation with its environs requires a dedicated and persistent concerted effort as it deserves,” Yuksel told MaltaToday.

Apart from the risks posed to the cemetery, the embassy spokesperson described the proposal as a betrayal to Galizia’s exceptional legacy.

But despite the threat, the Turkish government is hopeful that their concerns are shared by the Maltese public and authorities. “While we’re searching ways to prevent such an undesirable and irreversible outcome, we are assured that the same views and concerns are shared by the Maltese authorities, Maltese people, NGOs and media.”

As proposed, the garage complex along Triq il-Qasam Industrijali will have a height limitation of 12 metres. Along Triq il-Marsa, the building height is being staggered from 6m in the vicinity of the Islamic cemetery, to 12m. In addition, the first-floor level was set back by 11m.

 “We rely on Malta’s support in order for this proposal not to be permitted and architectural value of the site be forever preserved,” the embassy spokesperson told MaltaToday.

Previous plans to build a petrol station in close proximity to the cemetery were shelved following strong objections from heritage campaigners and the Turkish embassy. Architect Conrad Thake, who long campaigned to preserve the cemetery, had described the plans as “nothing sort of barbaric.” The Turkish government, which is the custodian of the cemetery, had also presented its objections to the proposed petrol station before these plans were abandoned.