Very few properties all over Malta have the same level of historical, botanical, architectural, social and cultural value that Villa Frère in Pietà boasts. In light of that that, the Planning Authority has just upgraded its classification to a Grade 1 structure.
“We strongly feel that Villa Frère merits the highest level of protection,” the PA’s executive council chairperson Martin Saliba said of the beloved villa. “The heritage richness of this property is not only tied to the architecture of the villa and its terraced gardens but also important is the social and cultural experience that this property was exposed to.”
Built in 1833 and famously becoming the residence of English diplomat Sir John Hookham Frère, Villa Frère was dubbed “one of the finest examples of neoclassical British architecture in Malta” by Saliba, who went on to reimind everyone that, for several years, the villa had already been protected as a Grade 2 building.
Last year, the promotion, maitenance and running of the historic building was entrusted to NGO Friends of Villa Frère.
The then-six-year-old NGO was set up by heritage architect Edward Said, a specialist in building conversation who first fell in love with the villa back when the site was still in a state of complete abandonment.
“We are very satisfied that the Planning Authority has upgraded to a Grade 1 monument status with the protection of Villa Frère,” Said reacted to this latest news by saying. “It reassures us that the sterling work and dedication many volunteers put into carefully conserving the existing fabric of the property over the last seven years and making it accessible to the public is not time-wasted.”
“The Villa and its unique grounds standing are distinct and once internationally acclaimed. The estate attained a carefully planned yet
organic design, defined by the Pieta’ hillside landscape rather than based on formality and symmetry which usually characterise Maltese gardens.”
Following the death of his wife, Frère built extensive terraced gardens on the rear of the property which was previously garrigue.
The garden was built up through excavation and construction of terraces and some 13 wells were dug to irrigate the area. The garden was adorned by a number of garden follies in the traditional english style. The gardens contain a number of rare architectural features, more importantly are the exedra built at the highest level of the gardens which is referred to as a ‘tempietto’, a belvedere and a blind arcade. These botanic gardens also have two rural structures, arched reservoirs, covered passages, staircases and ponds.
In the 1930s, some of these gardens were taken over for the construction of St. Luke’s Hospital, and in the 1970 and 80s, yet another part was developed as a state school.
It is documented that Sir John was a good friend of Mikiel Anton Vassalli, considered to be one of the fathers of the Maltese language.
Together with other distinguished guests, Vassalli was a regular visitor to these gardens. Sir John Hookham Frère died at his residence and was buried at the Msida Bastion Cemetery which is in direct sight of the glorious villa.
Earlier this year, a proposal of a nine-story hotel that would’ve been built right next door to Villa Frère and Giardino Zamitello was refused, to the joy of heritage activists nationwide.
“The iconic Giardino Zamittelo is there to stay!” National Heritage minister Jose’ Herrera had announced back in January. “I am pleased to be informed that the proposed development has been unanimously refused. Friends of Villa Frere & Heritage Malta for making a strong case!” Herrera said.
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