Art Nouveau arrived in Malta with a significant delay. The oldest surviving buildings in that style date back to the 1910s, most are from the 1920s, and its influence lasted well into the 1930s, creating a hybrid style with Art Deco. Although Malta was a colony of the British Empire at the time, the predominant influence on Maltese Art Nouveau was the Italian Stile Liberty. The most important architects representing the style here were Giuseppe Psaila, Andrea Vassallo, Gustavo Romeo Vincenti, and Godwin Galizia.
In this portfolio I will introduce 24 Art Nouveau buildings in Malta. In the first part, I will describe the most representative buildings of the style: mostly villas, but also one apartment block, and one theatre. In the second part of the portfolio, I will introduce the Art Nouveau townhouses of Malta. My list is comprehensive, containing almost all the noteworthy examples.
The following book provides more information about Maltese Art Nouveau: Thake, C. (2021). Art Nouveau to Modernism: Architecture in Malta, 1910-1950. Malta: KITE Publishers.
I took all the photos in December 2021 and January and February 2022.
You will find the locations of the mentioned buildings on the map below.
Part One: Representative Buildings
Below are nine best examples of the Art Nouveau architecture of Malta.
1. Villa Briffa / Roseville
Triq Sant’Antnin 85, Ħ’Attard
Alessandro Manara, 1912; Emanuele Borg, 1921
This villa is one of the most outstanding examples of Art Nouveau in Malta. It was constructed in two parts: the ground floor was built in 1912, and the first floor was added in 1921. The building has an elaborate façade with many intricate details, most notably the polychrome flower motifs above the windows and the various wrought-iron railings. The architects’ awareness of Belgian, French and Italian Art Nouveau designs is clearly apparent here. The house was built as a summer residence for Dr Walter Briffa.
2. Villa Torregiani
Triq it-Torri 225, Tas-Sliema
Giuseppe Psaila, 1914
This villa is a rare surviving structure from the early 20th century on the Sliema waterfront. It was built as the residence of industrialist and banker Antonio Cassar Torregiani. It was designed by Giuseppe Psaila, who was still a student at the time. His work shows the influence of two famous architects of Stile Liberty: Ernesto Basile and Raimondo D’Aronco. The original building was much lower; the upper storeys that replicate the style of the lower ones were added later.
3. Villino Chapelle
Triq il-Mosta / Triq Villeggjatura, San Pawl il-Baħar
This villa on the outskirts of St Paul’s Bay was originally the summer residence of Baron Francis Chapelle. It was designed by Godwin Galizia, son of Emanuele Luigi Galizia, the most prolific Maltese architect of the second half of the 19th century. Its most notable part is the closed verandah with pairs of columns and a rounded corner. There are Art Nouveau ornaments around the windows. The façade is set back from the street by what used to be the villa’s stables.
4. Villa Preziosi
Triq Buġibba, San Pawl il-Baħar
This villa, standing next to St Paul’s Shipwreck Church in St Paul’s Bay, was designed by Godwin Galizia. It is a simple cuboid framed by corner pilasters. Entrance to the ground floor is through the remissa door on the side, while the upper floors are accessed through the staircase and the porch on the sea-facing front. The façades are delicately decorated. The Art Nouveau ornaments can mostly be found around the openings and on the pilasters.
5. Villa Refalo
Vjal de Paule / Triq Birkirkara, Ħ’Attard
This villa is located near the San Anton Palace, which was the residence of the Governor of Malta in the colonial period, and now is the residence of the President of Malta. Its owner was Sir Michelangelo Refalo, the Chief Justice of Malta from 1919 to 1923. It is one of the most elegant villas on the island. The building looks austere at first glance, but upon closer look one can spot diverse decorative details. Old photos show a peaceful rural landscape around the villa. The old Malta Railway that linked Valletta and Mdina passed close by. The villa went to the hands of the Pisani family in 1959, who first converted it into a high-class restaurant and later added to it a hotel, the first of the famous Corinthia hotel chain.
6. Villa Madama
Triq Birbal / Triq Idmejda, Ħal Balzan
Philip Tortell, 1925
This villa was built for lawyer Filippo Nicolò Buttgieg. It was one of several buildings that architect Philip Tortell designed for him. The exterior is simple, the railing of the entrance gate being the most remarkable feature. There are some Art Nouveau details inside. Similarities have been drawn with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.
7. Villa Rosa
Triq in-Nemes, San Ġiljan
Andrea Vassallo, 1920s
This villa stands on an elevated ground and can be seen from nearly anywhere in St George’s Bay. It was designed by Andrea Vassallo, the architect of several notable buildings in Malta and Gozo, such as the Ta’ Pinu basilica, the Gothic Revival house near the Mdina Cathedral, and Casa Said, an Art Nouveau mansion on the Sliema waterfront (now demolished). Casa Said and Villa Rosa are said to have been the architect’s latest works so they must have been designed some time before 1928, the year of his death. The villa has a belfry-like tower, several semi-open spaces, and windows of different shapes and sizes.
8. Balluta Buildings
Pjazza tal-Balluta, San Ġiljan
Giuseppe Psaila, 1928
This structure stands on a plot of land that belonged, until the 1920s, to Villa St Ignatius. It was commissioned by Marquis John Scicluna and designed by Giuseppe Psaila. It is Psaila’s masterpiece and the most recognisable Art Nouveau building in Malta. It is named after the numerous oak trees that grew in front of it and that also gave the name to the bay that it overlooks. It is a huge structure made of three connected blocks of flats. Each block is dominated by a high arched opening with a mascaron on the keystone. There are many intricate floral and geometric decorations on the façade, both in stone and iron. The building contained some of the most luxurious apartments of Malta at the time.
9. Orpheum Theatre
Triq Sir Patrick Stuart / Triq Sir Charles Cameron, Il-Gżira
Harold J. Borg, 1932
The Orpheum Theatre was built as a movie theatre in the early 1930s. Its architect was Harold J. Borg, who was in his early 20s when he designed it. It was commissioned by developer Felix Gerada, whose monogram can be seen on the façade. The relief at the corner is said to be the work of Alfredo Azzopardi. The main hall has a tiled floor and a colourful coffered ceiling, with the painting of Orpheus in the middle (by Raphael Bonnici Calì). Other Art Nouveau elements include floral ornaments and railings.