The Turkish Embassy in Malta intends to formally object to the proposed construction of a massive fuel station next door to the historic Turkish military cemetery in Marsa, the Times of Malta has learned.

Architect John Attard, who is heading a large-scale restoration project financed by the Turkish government, which administers the Grade 1 scheduled cemetery, said the objection would be based on the fact that the proposal would completely surround the cemetery with industrial activity.

“The cemetery already abuts the industrial estate from the back, which has caused a lot of damage already,” he said. “Building a petrol station while the Turkish government is investing so much in the restoration, which will bring the cemetery very close to its original condition, is also disrespectful politically,” he said.

The restoration project is expected to be completed by 2017. 

A development application to build a fuel station and car wash instead of a disused factory on 3,300 square metres of land at the side of the cemetery was submitted by Cassar Fuel Service Station. It has not yet been assessed by the Planning Authority.

The Muslim cemetery is an orientalist-style architectural complex built in 1874, designed by the eminent Maltese architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia and financed entirely by Ottoman Sultan Abdülaziz.

As a Grade 1 scheduled monument, it is protected by law from changes that alter or impair its setting but no buffer zone was ever created around the historic site.

When contacted, Turkish Ambassador Reha Keskintepe said: “The monument is a jewel in architecture and has historical significance. It is a heritage site for the Maltese people and for Turks. We are confident that this fact will be taken into consideration when assessing any project around the military cemetery.”

Architect Conrad Thake, who has carried out extensive research on the cemetery, said the complex was one of just a handful of examples of the orientalist style in Malta, including Galizia’s own house in Rudolph Street, Sliema.

“It was a bit of a shock to hear about this application,” he told this newspaper. “It will have a negative effect both in terms of visual impact and from a conservation standpoint: the vehicle fumes and emissions will all have an impact on the stonework.”

Prof. Thake said the importance of the cemetery was well recognised in Turkey. A painting of the site hangs in the military museum in Istanbul and an in-depth research paper by Prof. Thake will appear later this year in the annual handbook of Islamic visual arts.

“They show so much appreciation for it abroad while here in Malta we do something like this,” he said. “I don’t know if we don’t care because it’s Muslim or if we just don’t consider it part of our own heritage.”

Heritage organisation Din l-Art ń¶elwa has also raised objections to the petrol station plan, which, it said, would have a negative visual impact and affect the state of conservation of the elaborate stonework.

“The proposed development is totally incompatible with the historic character of the complex,” the NGO said. “The proposed use on such a site is even disrespectful to the sensibilities of the local Muslim community and all those striving to restore the Turkish cemetery to its former glory.”

Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, meanwhile, recommended that the application be refused and the area occupied by the derelict factory be cleared and landscaped to “accentuate better the grand architectural style” of the cemetery.

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