Din L-Art Ħelwa and residents have appealed for one of Balluta’s oldest landmarks to be scheduled and protected as the threat of development looms.

The heritage group formally requested that the Planning Authority legally protect the building known as Villa St Ignatius in Scicluna Street, St Julian’s, part of a larger property which once housed the first Jesuit College in Malta. The group has also asked for a conservation order to be issued.

The front of the old college is already scheduled, but no such protection has been extended to the villa, believed to be substantially older and already mentioned as a landmark building in an 1839 account of Malta.

No formal development application has been presented for the site, but residents told the Times of Malta they were informed of imminent plans and hoped to take pre-emptive action through scheduling to stave it off.

While today it is surrounded by buildings and in a poor state of preservation, architect Edward Said notes in a new report defending its architectural and historical significance that the structure once stood as a detached country villa surrounded by gardens and fields and serving as a landmark for the area.

“Villa St Ignatius, or ‘Bel-Vedere’ [its original name], has architectural significance,” Mr Said wrote in the report commissioned by concerned residents.

Despite the substantial alterations, the overall fabric still survives as it was originally

“Despite the substantial alterations both to the building’s exterior and presumably also internally (not accessible at time of study), the overall fabric still survives as [original owner] John Watson and the Protestants after him would remember it.

“Of course, the context has changed dramatically, what with practically all of the grounds gone, together with the once idyllic pastoral landscape.”

The report also suggests the villa may be one of the earliest buildings in Malta to display Neo-Gothic motifs.

An early 19th century painting of Balluta Bay, dominated by Villa St Ignatius (or “Bel-Vedere”).An early 19th century painting of Balluta Bay, dominated by Villa St Ignatius (or “Bel-Vedere”).

The request for scheduling has been supported by the local councils of Sliema and St Julian’s. Din L-Art Ħelwa has also written to the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, as well as the culture and education ministries, asking them to back the request.

The building is within the Urban Conservation Area and a stone’s throw away from the renowned Balluta Buildings, as well as the Carmelite Convent and gardens, recently the subject of an application to develop a supermarket and offices.

However, the Planning Authority announced just last week that it was assessing a number of properties around Sliema for possible scheduling.

The process involves accumulating detailed consultations with the SCH, and buildings under assessment are only disclosed after they are officially scheduled, to deter any attempts to damage the properties.

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