The Turkish Cemetery, Marsa, Malta, by Emmanuele Luigi Galizia

Left: The Turkish Cemetery, Marsa from an old postcard, reproduced (in slightly enhanced form) by kind permission of Malta Family History (see sources). Right: Modern photograph of the main entrance gate. Notice the horseshoe-shaped arches, intricate stone-carving around the portal, fluted sequential domes and high crowning sickle, symbol of Islam; also the way the piers along the road echo the motifs in the portal itself. Architect: Emanuele Galizia (1830-1906). Completed 1874. Marsa, near Valletta, Malta. The Turkish government's restoration project started here in October 2015, and is expected to take three years in all. [Click on these and the following images to enlarge them.]

Two more modern photographs. Left: Closer view of the highly decorated entrance. Right: The effect of light and shade is accentuated now by the different colours of the worn stone, in one of the side entrances.

Islam came to Malta as early as the ninth century. When the Turks invaded Malta in 1565, they camped out in Marsa because of its harbour facilities and water supplies. Many died there though, because the wells had been poisoned in advance of their arrival. Since then, Muslims from a number of Arab countries have come to the islands with different intentions, and have received warmer welcomes. When the Turkish Sultan Abdul Aziz visited Malta in 1867, he presented Galizia with the knightly order of Mejidie, and commissioned him to build a new cemetery, at his own expense, on the older burial ground there. Galizia's travels in Cyprus, where the British twice sent him to report on the feasibility of a Maltese settlement, must have helped him to design this "fine example of Moorish architecture" (Zammit 233). He evidently enjoyed the style, turning to it again in the houses he built in the fashionable town of Sliema — one of which was for his own use.

Muslims are very much in a minority in predominantly Roman Catholic Malta (about 1.2% of the population), and the cemetery is no longer used.

Historic photograph of the outside of the cemetery from a different angle, giving a better idea of its perimeter wall and extent.

The photograph immediately above was kindly supplied by Robert Galea-Naudi, great-great-grandson of the architect, and was possibly taken by the well-known early photographer Richard Ellis (1862-1924), who was working in Malta. Ellis had been commissioned by the architect to make an album of the nearby Addolorata Cemetery. In one of those photographs, Galizia himself is shown sitting by the east window of the chapel. Perhaps here too the tiny figure on the extreme right, standing by the railings, is the architect himself.

Modern photographs by the present author. You may use these without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Many thanks to Anthony Pace, Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, Malta, for correcting a wrong attribution on an earlier version of this web page, and to Robert Galea-Naudi for the last photograph.

Related Material


Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture: Form, Function, and Meaning. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994.

"New book sheds light on Galizia's Turkish delight." 7 November 2016. Times of Web. 10 May 2017.

"Town at a Crossroad." Marsa Local Council. Web 1 September 2012 (this website has since changed).

"The Turkish Cemetery at Marsa." Malta Family History. Web. 1 September 2012.

Zammit, Martin R. "Malta." Yearbook of Muslims in Europe. Ed. Jorgen S. Nielsen et al. Vol. I. Boston: Brill, 2009. 229-235.

Last modified 9 May 2017