Balluta Buildings is one of the first large apartment blocks in Sliema. Built in the late 1920s, today it is one of the finest Art Nouveau buildings in Malta. Apartments were already in demand back then.
The photo shows Balluta when this block was still going up, with only the lower floors constructed so far. On the left are a row of small houses on either side of the church, which remain relatively intact today.
Behind the houses and church lies the Carmelite convent with its gardens, which is also still there. A developer recently tried to build a supermarket and offices in the convent grounds. Hundreds of residents signed a petition and objected. The permit was refused initially but it is now under appeal and therefore the threat is still real and present.
Now I have heard that the back of the old Jesuit school, St Ignatius College (visible in the photo up the hill behind the rising Balluta Buildings) is also under threat. A developer has plans to build something at the back of the college, on the site which is today ‘St Ignatius Villa’. I know this building well as I live in the area.
Unfortunately, only the front of the college is protected, but the old back part of the block (as seen in the photo), was not scheduled. This was a mistake. The entire old block merits scheduling.
These are among the earliest buildings of Balluta, as can readily be seen in the image. The argument that Sliema is already full of flats so why not build more is nonsense. If anything, this makes what remains even more precious.
Where are the heritage authorities? I hope they will stand up and do their duty to protect the little of old Sliema that is left. These are not just any buildings – they have a special place in the development of the neighbouring seaside town of St Julian’s in the nineteenth century. Construct new buildings elsewhere by all means, but not on this site.
The heritage value of old buildings is not only due to their architectural merits but is also linked to cultural history. This college above was founded by a group of English Jesuits in the late nineteenth century. Old College Street and St Ignatius Junction nearby, get their names from this college.
St Ignatius College closed in 1907 and was the precursor to the Jesuit St Aloysius College in Birkirkara which opened that year. Apparently, most of the furniture from the old college in St Julian’s, including the statue of the College Madonna, were taken to the new St Aloysius College.
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