Villa St Ignatius

Villa St Ignatius
St. Ignatius Villa 49.jpg
Side of the villa, which today appears as the front]]
Former names Bel-Vedere
St. Ignatius' College
St. Ignatius Hospital
General information
Status Partially intact
Type Villa
Architectural style Gothic Revival
Location Balluta, St Julian's, Malta
Coordinates 35°54′49″N 14°29′44″E / 35.9137°N 14.4955°E / 35.9137; 14.4955Coordinates: 35°54′49″N 14°29′44″E / 35.9137°N 14.4955°E / 35.9137; 14.4955
Named for Ignatius of Loyola
Completed Early 19th century
Renovated c. 1877–81
Demolished December 2017 (partially)
Client John Watson

Villa St Ignatius is a historic villa located in the Balluta area of St Julian's, Malta. It was built in the early 19th century for the English merchant John Watson, and it might be the earliest example of Gothic Revival architecture in the country.

The house was converted into a Protestant college in 1846, and it later housed a Jesuit college, which closed down in 1907. It was used as a military hospital in World War I, before being divided into tenements. Its grounds were built up during the 20th century, and the once-imposing villa is now surrounded by apartments and other buildings.

Part of the building was controversially demolished in December 2017, violating a court order and attracting widespread condemnation by heritage NGOs and other entities. Plans to demolish the entire villa were made in April 2018, and the fate of the building currently remains unclear.


Villa St Ignatius was built in the early 19th century for the English merchant, John Watson, and it was originally called Bel-Vedere. It was a landmark detached country villa overlooking Balluta Bay, and it incorporated a walled garden. The earliest known description of the building was made in a book published in 1839. In 1846, it was purchased by the English Missionary Association, in order to open a Protestant College for training Missionaries for the East. The college closed down in 1865.[1][2]

Pointed arched windows, a Neo-Gothic design

Some time later, the building was purchased by three Maltese who invited the Society of Jesus[1] to open a Roman Catholic college in the building.[3] The Colonial Office approved this move in 1877, and the Jesuits added an extension and end-wing to the building. In 1881, a church dedicated to Saint Ignatius of Loyola was completed adjacent to the villa. St. Ignatius' College became one of the leading schools in Malta, and within a few years after its opening it became a boarding school.[4] A refectory, dormitories, a gymnasium, study halls, laboratories and sports facilities were located within the villa and on its grounds.[5][6] It notably was used as the meteorological centre for the Maltese Islands.[7] The college closed down in July 1907.[1]

Details of sculpture

In 1915, the former college was converted to a military hospital known as St. Ignatius Hospital.[8][9] By this time several buildings were already erected on site close by. The hospital was considered small and probably gave better service than other hospitals of the time, in terms of comodity, but this opion is subjective.[10] It housed recovering soldiers who had been wounded in World War I, and it originally included 155 beds, an operating theatre and an X-ray room.[8] Musicians were occasionally sent to alleviate the clients of the hospital and their visitors.[11] The first patients arrived on 2 July 1915. In 1917, the hospital's use was changed to include patients with mental illnesses, and it was increased to accommodate nearly 200 men. It closed down in January 1919 following the end of the war.[1][12] During this period, the building also housed several Russian refugees fleeing the Russian Revolution.[13][14] These Russians lived in exile from their homeland and their status gave the area a name as still known today, “The Exiles”.[15][16] At this point the building was painted by the Russian Mr Krasnoff.[17]

The building was then divided into tenements and sold off as housing units. Most of its grounds were also sold, part of which were built up as the Balluta Buildings in the 1920s.[1] In the 1930s, the villa also housed the Melita Football Club.[13] By the 1970s, the entire area had been built up with numerous apartment blocks, and the villa was no longer visible from the bay.[1]

Partial demolition[]

In June 2017, a court order was issued which allowed the removal of some dangerous structures and other works at the building. All works were to be supervised by a court-nominated architect.[18] In July, the architect Stephan Vancell submitted a request to the Planning Authority to demolish an entire wing of the building, including the dangerous structures which were broken xorok (roof slabs) which could easily be replaced.[19]

Partial demolishment of the villa
Remains of the balcony in situ

On 29 November 2017, the NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa and some residents submitted an application for the building to be scheduled.[20] A report detailing the building's history and architectural significance was carried out with this goal in mind.[1] A couple of days later, on 2 December, demolition work began on part of the building.[21] Workers were told to leave the site by a Planning Authority official, but they returned and resumed their work once the official left.[22] Demolition continued two days later, when the distinctive street-facing balcony was destroyed.[19] The parts of the building which have been demolished were not part of the original villa but part of the extension built in the 1870s.[23] The demolition works were condemned by the Democratic Party,[24] while Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, the Chamber of Architects and the Sliema Heritage Society expressed concern at the works.[19][25][26] The Interdiocesan Environmental Commission expressed its disappointment at the demolition.[27]

The Planning Authority turned down the application to schedule the building on 11 January 2018.[13][23] On 17 February, Din l-Art Ħelwa requested that the courts rule if contempt of court proceedings were to be taken against the Planning Authority and the developers responsible for the demolition.[28] On 11 April, the developer responsible for the partial demolition, Paul Gauci, applied to demolish the entire villa in order to create a public square.[29] On 20 April, the court ruled that the partial demolition violated the court order, and the Planning Authority enforcement chief, the developer and the architect might face fines or possible prison sentences if found guilty.[18][30]


Crenelated rooftops and red ochre
The main courtyard

Villa St Ignatius was one of the earliest, and possibly the first, buildings in Malta to display the Gothic Revival style. It includes crenelated rooftops and pointed Gothic-style arches. The street-facing forecourt included a louvered balcony,[1] but this was demolished in 2017.[19]

By the early 20th century, the building was painted in a distinctive red ochre (Maltese: demm tal-baqra) with white trims. Traces of this finish still survive on the building.[1]

See also[]

Further reading[]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Said, Edward (November 2017). "St Ignatius Villa, Scicluna Street, St Julians – Heritage Assessment" (PDF). Architecture XV. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 April 2018. 
  2. ^ Kitson, Albert Ernest (1931). "Geological Notes on St. Helena". Colonial. H.M. Stationary Office (66): 301. OCLC 12064224. 
  3. ^ Burnand, Francis Cowley (1924). "The Catholic Who's who and Yearbook". 34. Burns & Oates: 486. OCLC 1771198. 
  4. ^ "The Tablet". Tablet. Tablet Publishing Company. 86: 189, 190. 1895. ISSN 0039-8837. OCLC 1767092. 
  5. ^ Sessional papers. Inventory control record 1. 53. Great Britain: House of Commons. 1904. p. 171. 
  6. ^ Armstrong, Gary; Mitchell, Jon P. (2008). Global and Local Football: Politics and Europeanization on the Fringes of the EU. Routledge. p. 23. ISBN 9781134269198. 
  7. ^ John H. Cooke, ed. (1981). "Merranean naturalist". A Monthly Journal of Natural Science. Malta: G. Muscat. 1: 104, 168. OCLC 61636856. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 18 May 2018. 
  8. ^ a b Mitchell, Thomas John (1921). Medical Services: General History. H.M. Stationery Office. p. 242. OCLC 271716489. 
  9. ^ Cassar, Paul (1965). Medical History of Malta. Wellcome Historical Medical Library. p. 556. OCLC 2649845. 
  10. ^ Mackinnon, Albert Glenthorn (1916). Malta: The Nurse of the Merranean. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 55. OCLC 2220795. 
  11. ^ Roynon, Gavin (2011). A Prayer for Gallipoli: The Great War Diaries of Chaplain Kenneth Best. Simon and Schuster. p. 209. ISBN 9780857202260. 
  12. ^ Savona-Ventura, Charles (2005). Contemporary Medicine in Malta [1798–1979]. Malta: P.E.G. Ltd. p. 209. ISBN 1-326-64899-3. OCLC 983340528. 
  13. ^ a b c "Balluta landmark refused protection by Planning Authority – DLĦ". Times of Malta. 12 January 2018. Archived from the original on 12 January 2018. 
  14. ^ Scicluna, Frank L. (May 2014). "Russian Refugees in Malta in 1919" (PDF). Maltese E-Newsletter for Maltese Diaspora. High Commission of the Republic of Malta: Consulate of Malta in South Australia Newsletter (42): 1, 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 May 2018. 
  15. ^ Spiteri, Michela (10 December 2017). "The Russian exiles of St Ignatius". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 19 May 2018. 
  16. ^ Caruana Colombo, Victor (9 September 2007). "Exiles beach". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 19 May 2018. 
  17. ^ Torpiano, Alex (2017). "Letter to Prime Minister: Ex-Sea Malta / NAAFI building in Marsa (Part 1) - Villa St Ignatius in St Julian's (Part 2)" (PDF). Kamra tal-Periti. Gzira. pp. 4–6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 May 2018. 
  18. ^ a b Martin, Ivan (20 April 2018). "Landmark judgment means Villa St Ignatius developers, PA unit head could face jail". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 20 April 2018. 
  19. ^ a b c d "Workers send Villa St Ignatius structure crashing down". 4 December 2017. Archived from the original on 20 April 2018. 
  20. ^ Leone Ganado, Philip (29 November 2017). "Protect Balluta's Villa St Ignatius, says NGO". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 29 November 2017. 
  21. ^ Vella, Matthew (2 December 2017). "Balluta's landmark St Ignatius villa being dismantled by workers". Malta Today. Archived from the original on 17 January 2018. 
  22. ^ "Workmen hack at Balluta landmark with impunity: Destruction of Villa St Ignatius stops, then resumes once PA officer leaves". Times of Malta. 2 December 2017. Archived from the original on 21 April 2018. 
  23. ^ a b "Planning Authority refuses to schedule Villa St Ignatius in Balluta – DLH". The Malta Independent. 13 January 2018. Archived from the original on 14 January 2018. 
  24. ^ "Destruction of Villa St Ignatius shows anarchy looming – PD". Times of Malta. 3 December 2017. Archived from the original on 3 December 2017. 
  25. ^ "PR 16/17 – Irregular demolition of Villa Ignatius". Kamra tal-Periti. 4 December 2017. Archived from the original on 16 April 2018. 
  26. ^ "PR 17/17 – Planning Authority acts with impunity". Kamra tal-Periti. 6 December 2017. Archived from the original on 16 April 2018. 
  27. ^ Costa, Massimo (6 December 2017). "Church Environment Commission laments construction 'madness'". Malta Today. Archived from the original on 6 December 2017. 
  28. ^ Leone Ganado, Philip (17 February 2018). "Demolition of Balluta's historic villa prompts possible court action against PA". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 17 February 2018. 
  29. ^ Leone Ganado, Philip (11 April 2018). "Developers plan square cutting right through Balluta's Villa St Ignatius". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 20 April 2018. 
  30. ^ Martin, Ivan (3 May 2018). "PA chairman's 'reservations' over Villa Ignatius judgment". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 3 May 2018. 

External links[]