FAA Visit to the Turkish Cemetery

Start Date & Time: 04/03/2017 - 12:00 am

End Date & Time: 04/03/2017 - 12:00 am

FAA Visit to the Turkish Cemetery.

On Saturday 4th March, FAA members assembled inside the entrance to the Turkish Muslim Cemetery in Marsa for a guided tour around the grounds led by Prof. Conrad Thake, author and expert in Maltese architectural history and made possible thanks to the sponsorship of the Turkish Embassy.  This visit was a follow up to the talk given by Prof. Conrad Thake earlier, on the Life and Times of Maltese government architect Emmanuele Luigi Galizia (see previous report for details) who designed the Turkish Muslim Cemetery.

Prof. Thake first gave a brief history of Muslim internment in Malta, then talked about the requirement for a much larger site for Muslims.  A month after the formal transfer of a parcel of land at Ta Sammat from the British Government to the Ottoman Porte, construction of the new Turkish Muslim Cemetery, financed by Sultan Abdülaziz, began in 1873 and was completed in 1874.

The cemetery is a rectangular enclosure with two main physical structures, the entrance at the front and a Funerary Lodge at the back connected by a central pathway.  Galizia resorted to an Orientalism style boundary bringing together a wide range of architectural forms, such as horseshoe and ogee arches, bulbous onion domes (Figs: 1, and 2) and a decorative pencil minaret in each corner (Fig.3).  Prof. Thake pointed out the architecture of the entrance to the cemetery, which is flanked by columns and surrounded by multiple decorative stone carvings.  At the central entrance, a crowning bulbous dome rises over four decorative pinnacles.

 

           

Fig.1: Inner Entrance. Fig.2: Inner Entrance. Fig.3: Decorative Pencil Minaret.

 

In the garden areas, trees and shrubs mask part of the view of the wonderful oriental style architecture.  Pathways lead to a hexagonal Monument (Fig: 4) commemorating Turkish prisoners who died in Malta during WWI and in the adjoining garden area their Mecca-facing graves (Fig. 5), as well as those of commonwealth soldiers of Islamic faith who died in WWII.  The Muslims buried here were mostly members of the military corps and navy personnel, or prisoners who died while detained in Malta.  Navy personnel included those who lost their lives whilst serving on the 6,000 gross ton freighter SS. Burdawan which formed part of the ‘Harpoon’ Convoy sailing to Malta from the west in June 1942 in WWII.  In a garden area in front of the Funerary Lodge, there are a few headstones moved from the earlier Muslim cemetery, Strada Croce (Fig.6).

  

Fig.4: Monument commemorating all Turkish prisoners who died in Malta during WWI. Strada Croce cemetery.
Fig.5: Mecca-facing tombstones.
Fig.6: Headstone from Strada Croce cemetery.

The Funerary Lodge at the back of the rectangular enclosure (Fig. 7) has two identical rooms, one each side.  On the right-hand side was the preparatory room for burial according to the Muslim rites and on the left-hand side was a prayer room.  Between the two rooms there is a plaque on the wall with a poem in French (Fig. 8) composed by Sultan Abdülaziz, which Prof. Thake translated for the group.

 

 

Fig. 7: Mecca-facing tombstones with Funerary Lodge in background.
Fig. 8: Plaque on Funerary Lodge wall with Poem (in French) by Sultan Abdülaziz.

Very little documentation was found on who actually was involved in the cemetery’s construction, but owing to the quality of the craftsmanship in stone it is believed they were foreign.  The cemetery was restored between March 1919 and October 1920.  Part of the project included the erection of a monument commemorating all prisoners of war who had died in Malta during WWI (Fig.4).  Prof. Thake informed us that there were Muslim burials in the Turkish Cemetery up until 20 years ago, and as there was no mosque on the island at that time the cemetery had also been used for Friday prayers.  The cemetery, its state deteriorating over time, was still in use until 2007, when a bigger facility was opened on a parcel of land in Corradino next to the modern mosque and Islamic centre.

 

In October 2015 the Turkish government agreed to provide financing to restore the cemetery to its former state through a three-year cooperation between the Turkish Embassy and the Planning Authority.  The first phase of the restoration of the front entrance has been completed and the second and third stages are to be finished by June 2018.

 

Derek Moss

FAA Member

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