The Paola mosque was the first proper Muslim place of worship in Malta in the modern era but a recent discovery in the Ottoman archives in Istanbul shows that plans for a mosque had been drawn up a century before.

Architect Emanuel Luigi Galizia.Architect Emanuel Luigi Galizia.

Designed by renowned Maltese architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia, the mosque was planned to complement the Ottoman Muslim cemetery in Marsa, by the same architect. For some reason, however, it never materialised.

Conrad Thake, the author of the publication The Ottoman Muslim Cemetery in Malta, was recently alerted to this discovery by a Turkish academic colleague.

Galizia’s plans for the mosque were published in a book titled Osmanlı mimarisi’nde plan ve projeler (Plans and projects in the Ottoman architecture), published by the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation.

Edited by Ahmet Vefa Çobanoğlu, the publication sheds new and important archival information on the Ottoman Muslim cemetery in Marsa. It transpires that the drawings collection of the archives of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul contains several original sketches of the cemetery.

Apart from the main front elevation, there are two detailed ones of a project for a small mosque that was planned to be built within the cemetery. One of the drawings bears the title in Italian, Progetto di una moschea – Cimitero Musulmano (Mosque project – Muslim cemetery), and both are signed by “E.L. Galizia”.

A drawing of the mosque that was planned for the Ottoman Muslim cemetery in Marsa in 1883.A drawing of the mosque that was planned for the Ottoman Muslim cemetery in Marsa in 1883.

“This is an exciting new discovery as the presence of an architectural project for a small mosque in late-19th century Malta was, to date, totally unknown,” Prof. Thake told Times of Malta.

However, Galizia’s proposal for a mosque within the grounds of the cemetery was not part of the original project that was completed in 1873-1874 under the patronage of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Aziz Khan (1830-1876). This stems from the fact that the mosque drawings bear the date September 3, 1883, nine years after the cemetery had been completed.

According to a separate drawing consisting of the cemetery’s plan, the mosque would have stood behind the prayer lodge at the back of the complex.

The mosque had an octagonal plan and was intended to be roofed over with a bulbous onion-shaped dome crowned with a metal spire terminating with a crescent moon. Galizia’s beautiful watercolour drawings, executed in meticulous detail, relate to the elevation and cross-section through the mosque.

A cross-section drawing of the proposed mosque.A cross-section drawing of the proposed mosque.

For some unknown reason, the mosque, which in terms of physical dimensions would not have been much larger than an average-sized funerary chapel at the Addolorata Cemetery, was never built.

At the time the mosque project was submitted, Sultan Abdul Hamid II was in charge (1876-1909) and the Ottoman Empire was in decline and facing considerable financial difficulties.

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