The Friends of Ta' Braxia, a voluntary arm of the heritage non-governmental organisation Din l-Art Helwa, has reported significant progress in the restoration of the cemetery and its historic chapel and garden over the past year.

Details were given at the association's first annual general meeting held earlier this month. The association was set up last year under the presidency of Judge Maurice Caruana Curran to support the restoration and assist members both in Malta and abroad with the maintenance of the burial places of their relatives.

Friends executive director Charles Gatt said the project was a major exercise and was likely to run for another three years before it was completed. However, the transformation taking place in the cemetery was now becoming very evident.

Volunteers, working mainly on Tuesdays and Saturdays, carried out various tasks including cataloguing of graves and inscriptions, pruning bushes and overseeing surgery of invasive tree growth.

Some 40 truck loads of debris were removed. Walls have been rebuilt and iron railings secured. However, the most painstaking task was the piecing together of the several hundreds of fragments of broken tombstones which had to be assembled like giant jigsaw puzzles.

During the past year, many beautiful stones of great artistic value had been discovered in the overgrowth. Some were still intact while others still needed repair and cleaning.

Other work being done by volunteers included helping overseas members of the association and others who were unable to visit Malta to identify the unmarked graves of their ancestors and then to assist with their maintenance.

For the restoration project, funds from the general restoration fund of Din l-Art Helwa were raised over the year by several fund-raising activities of the heritage NGO.

These have been augmented by members' subscriptions which continued to increase and the very generous donations received from many individuals.

Through the support of the Public Health Department, it was possible to repair and reinforce the perimeter wall of the cemetery which had previously offered poor security and was in a bad state of decay.

Similarly, the wall separating the main part of the cemetery from the Jewish cemetery behind Ta' Braxia had also been repaired. The Russian Cultural Institute was also helping to reinstate the tombstones of many Russian Orthodox personalities who are buried there.

Project consultant Alexander Welsh said that future programmes of the Friends included working with the environment department to ensure urgent repairs were made to the roof and timber beams of the chapel.

The government has agreed to add a number of new graves as there was a long waiting list, while the installation of washroom facilities and services was badly needed as the number of visitors was on the increase.

The group intends to have an interpretation centre and a small museum, and a small room at the entrance of Ta' Braxia had been designated for this purpose.

An illustrated guide to Ta' Braxia has been published by historian Alan Keighley and is available from Ta' Braxia or Din l-Art Helwa.

DLH intends to include ta' Braxia and the Garden of Repose at the Msida Bastion in a heritage trail through the bastions which will be of particular interest to lovers of historic gardens and funerary art.

Ta' Braxia was designed in 1856 by Emanuele Louigi Galizia.

The cemetery is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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