An application for an industrial garage complex next to the Ottoman-Muslim cemetery in Marsa should be refused to avoid repeating past mistakes, when this historic site was damaged due to nearby industrial activities, the Turkish Embassy has said.

“Previous incidents have demonstrated the incompatibility of industrial activity in the proximity of this historical site,” the embassy noted in recent submissions made to the planning authority.

The embassy’s objection was made to a proposal for a three-storey complex comprising 29 industrial garages adjacent to the unique specimen of orientalist-styled building.

Constructed in 1873-74 by renowned Maltese architect Emmanuele Luigi Galizia, the cemetery is a Grade 1 scheduled building – the highest level of protection offered by the Planning Authority. Contemporary writer and artist T. M. P. Duggan described it as the ‘The Ottoman Taj Mahal’.

The Turkish embassy, which is financing the restoration of the burial place, noted that the back of the cemetery abutted on an access road and passages to the Marsa industrial estate.

“History has shown how industrial activities encroached directly onto the boundary of the cemetery, how gates and other structures have been affixed to the actual peripheral wall.”

Concerns were also raised that the flow of heavy vehicles from the access road had had a very negative physical impact on the cemetery’s structures.

The boundary wall had to be restored several times due to accidental damage caused by collision of heavy vehicles

“Apart from damage caused by pollution and vibration, the boundary wall had to be repaired and restored several times due to accidental damage caused by collision of heavy vehicles. The numerous development applications for its repairs give a small indication of the severity of this problem,” the embassy pointed out.

Other arguments made by the embassy against the proposed development echo the barrage of objections made during the public consultation period, such as the negative impact on the views of the cemetery and the visual integrity of its surroundings. 

Submitted last August by Mark Cassar, the proposal covers an area of 5,744 square metres adjacent to the cemetery, on a partially developed site which has been abandoned for years.

Architecture historian Conrad Thake, who for the last decade has carried out extensive research on the building, described the proposal as “nothing short of barbaric”.

Apart from the Turkish Embassy, objections have also been made by heritage organisation Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna and most recently the Marsa local council.

The council argued that the fact that the “architectural gem” was at the heart of an industrial zone should not detract from its cultural value.

No development which would negatively impact this Grade 1 building should be allowed, it insisted.

Prior to this attempt, the site for the proposed garage complex had already been identified for development, when in 2016 an application was filed for the construction of a fuel station.

While it is not known if the matter had been raised at diplomatic level by the Turkish embassy which had objected to it, the applicant, Cassar Fuel Service Stations, had not forged ahead with the application.

However, it was never withdrawn, and it is currently listed as “incomplete” on the Planning Authority’s website.

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