|Villa St Ignatius|
Side of the villa, which today appears as the front]]
St. Ignatius' College
St. Ignatius Hospital
|Architectural style||Gothic Revival|
|Location||Balluta, St Julian's, Malta|
|Named for||Ignatius of Loyola|
|Completed||Early 19th century|
|Demolished||December 2017 (partially)|
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.
Some time later, the building was purchased by three Maltese who invited the Society of Jesus to open a Roman Catholic college in the building. 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. A refectory, dormitories, a gymnasium, study halls, laboratories and sports facilities were located within the villa and on its grounds. It notably was used as the meteorological centre for the Maltese Islands. The college closed down in July 1907.
In 1915, the former college was converted to a military hospital known as St. Ignatius Hospital. 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. 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. Musicians were occasionally sent to alleviate the clients of the hospital and their visitors. 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. During this period, the building also housed several Russian refugees fleeing the Russian Revolution. These Russians lived in exile from their homeland and their status gave the area a name as still known today, “The Exiles”. At this point the building was painted by the Russian Mr Krasnoff.
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. In the 1930s, the villa also housed the Melita Football Club. By the 1970s, the entire area had been built up with numerous apartment blocks, and the villa was no longer visible from the bay.
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. 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.
On 29 November 2017, the NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa and some residents submitted an application for the building to be scheduled. A report detailing the building's history and architectural significance was carried out with this goal in mind. A couple of days later, on 2 December, demolition work began on part of the building. Workers were told to leave the site by a Planning Authority official, but they returned and resumed their work once the official left. Demolition continued two days later, when the distinctive street-facing balcony was destroyed. 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. The demolition works were condemned by the Democratic Party, while Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, the Chamber of Architects and the Sliema Heritage Society expressed concern at the works. The Interdiocesan Environmental Commission expressed its disappointment at the demolition.
The Planning Authority turned down the application to schedule the building on 11 January 2018. 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. 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. 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.
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, but this was demolished in 2017.