Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Msida Bastion Cemetery - Malta

Msida Bastion Cemetery
"A delight to visit"
The Msida Bastion Cemetery near the Excelsior Hotel is one of those magical finds that you make every now and again through sometimes humdrum cemetery hunting. The cemetery is on the Island of Malta and it's set against the walls of the City facing out to Marsamxett Harbour. The waters of the harbour are soft and blue and the walls of the ancient Bastion or fortress are hard and blindingly white in the sunlight of Malta. The Cemetery is on the edge of the City and I suspect that many Maltese don't know that the cemetery / garden is there hiding behind the walls holding secrets to itself. The guests of the 5* hotel nearby may not even know that such an historical jewel is so close to the hotel and within easy walking distance.

The opening hours are a little restricted and access is available on a limited basis which is frustrating although if you want to get there then you'll try to make space in your routine. The heat of the day means that you may not want to be out in the garden for long. There is only so much time in the sun that you can manage in Malta and the cemetery seems even hotter than usual because the cemetery is situated between the stone walls of the bastion. The stones warm up and throw heat outwards towards the visitor. The volunteers who work with the National Trust of Malta are rather wonderful as they give their time to maintaining the cemetery to the present high standards. In many ways it would be good to see the many Anglicans Churches in the UK spend so much time on their heritage. In Malta the volunteers work towards maintenance and restoration under the hot sun. During my visit I observed a 'mature' lady haul a heavy bucket of weeds through the heat (coming up to mid day)  after spending time lifting them out of the dry and inhospitable soil. The dedication of volunteers to heritage and conservation is clear and the outcome of the effort is that the cemetery is a beautiful garden.

Msida Bastion Cemetery
A beautiful and well conceived garden
The flowers in the cemetery are well chosen. They require little water and are just right for the dry Mediterranean environment although there are water pipes carefully laid out around the edges. The wild lawn looked good on the day of the visit in April although in the heat of August the lawn may look a little brown and threadbare. The flowers are reminiscent of an English Garden and they carry the atmosphere of the 'homeland' left behind by the inhabitants for this corner of the Mediterranean. The flowers aren't overwhelming. The visitor isn't oppressed with the weight of floral displays. Everything is balanced and 'tasteful'. It takes a lot of thought to be this understated. The Cemetery is a garden that befits its original purpose and which does honour to the frail remains of humanity resting under the thin sandy soil.

The monuments themselves are an interesting mixture. There are the simple 'stele' type of monuments that stand there with a name and details on one side and there are truly massive monuments belonging to the great and the good. In this cemetery there are the ordinary people brought to Malta as well as the landed gentry brought to govern as well as those in transit from one part of the growing Empire to the other. The stonework is a measure of the social cohesion of death. The stonework is a way of bringing together the Protestant community of Malta and those Catholics such as Vassaillis who had fallen out with the Catholic hierarchy. The Bastion cemetery is a place for the in gathering of the dead in a strange land.

Msida Bastion Cemetery
The lives of ordinary people preserved
for the future
The stone is largely very worn and de-laminated as the result of pollution and hard wear. Some monuments are very much on their last legs as they fade before our eyes. The work in the cemetery has conserved the monuments for the future although a lot of stonework in Malta is ready for re-building after the ravages of time. The headstones have been put together as much as possible although there is only so much that can be done with the weathered and shattered limestone and broken marble.

On the day of the visit I hadn't left enough time and I aimed to run off to Pieta and Hamrun to see other things and meet other people. Thanks to the work of the volunteers there would be time to visit again and take in the peace and special tranquillity of this garden that sits so peacefully  under the hot sun and behind the limestone walls.

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