The Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery was built between 1862 and 1868 by one of Malta’s outstanding architects, Emmanuele Luigi Galizia. It is the largest and most beautifully-designed cemetery in Malta. It is Galizia’s masterpiece.

Entirely of limestone, the cemetery and its chapel were built in a neo-Gothic design, which was popular in the late-19th century and contrasts unexpectedly with Malta’s largely baroque churches and other cemeteries.

A large part of the overall impact of the cemetery arises from its landscaping and the way the stonework follows the gradient. The detailing and the wonderful use of the lie of the land, with the neo-Gothic chapel soaring from the summit of what was once a prehistoric burial ground, is the making of this beautiful cemetery.

The cemetery today holds the remains of about 200,000 people, including 268 as part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission from World Wars I and II. To walk through the Addolorata Cemetery is to trace history. It is full of old family mausoleums and statues in marble and bronze. But, sadly, today it is also to walk through a shameful cemetery of neglect.

During a recent visit to the cemetery, the Times of Malta again found mountains of garbage bags in various areas. Although there were several rubbish bins in place, these proved unusable. Candles and empty plastic bottles, placed on tombstones by visitors, were strewn everywhere. Signs throughout the cemetery, intended to encourage visitors to keep the place clean, were badly damaged and illegible.

Overgrown weeds and branches made walking around the cemetery a struggle, while the uneven and broken state of the foot paths were perilous, especially for the elderly. The few benches there are mostly damaged and unusable.

The way a country commemorates its dead and maintains its cemeteries tells us a lot about its respect for the dead. How can a country like Malta – whose outstanding prehistory is thought to have centred around the cult of honouring the dead – have developed such a careless disdain for the dead buried at Addolorata in the last 150 years?

It is the government of the day which has allowed this once pristine cemetery to become the sad mess it is today. When this newspaper reported this issue some months ago, the Ministry for Health, which is responsible for the cemetery, pledged there would be more maintenance personnel in the grounds to ensure that the general upkeep is improved. During this last visit, no such personnel were evident anywhere.

A few weeks ago, the government announced that Campo Santo, a private venture, had been awarded a €15 million, 15-year concession for works to revamp the cemetery.

It is tasked with restoring part of the complex as well as with the maintenance and landscaping of the entire cemetery. Ominously, it is also responsible for the “possible commercialisation” of the process.

Once the upgrade is completed, the government expects to make about €7 million from the sale of 2,880 new graves at a price of €8,000 each. In the meantime, the long-suffering public will judge the new joint private venture – which stands to rake in millions of euros from the cemetery – on their ability and competence in getting started on the landscaping of this outstanding burial place.

Our dear departed deserve it.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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