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Envisioning the Orient: The New Muslim Cemetery in Malta

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This paper analyzes a project for a new Muslim cemetery in Malta that was realized in 1873–74. It investigates the process of commissioning and implementing the project through an intricate set of relationships between the colonial authorities in Malta, then a British island-colony in the Mediterranean, and the Ottoman, Tunisian, and Moroccan authorities. It considers the key roles played by the various institutional agents and protagonists involved in conceptualizing and executing the project, from the Ottoman sultan Abdülaziz I, acting through his political and cultural interlocutor, the Ottoman consul Naoum Duhany, to Emanuele Luigi Galizia, the Maltese architect who designed the cemetery, and the British colonial authorities who permitted its construction. This paper also explores issues relating to the forms of neo-Ottoman architectural representation during the late nineteenth century, as it was actively promoted within a Western European cultural context and, in this case, on the peripheral edge, far removed from the traditional cosmopolitan urban centers. The Ottoman patronage of an overtly exotic and Orientalist building complex, “exported” to a British colonial outpost in the Mediterranean, gives rise to a series of political and ideological issues. This case study serves to provide broader and revisionary insights into the current discourse on Orientalism, not as a closed and binary system but rather as an open-ended and flexible form of artistic representation.

The author wishes to thank Professor Gülru Necipoğlu, director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University, Dr. Karen A. Leal, managing editor of Muqarnas, and the anonymous reviewers of the present article for the constructive criticism and suggestions made to the paper as it was originally submitted. I am indebted to the current ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Malta, H.E. Mr. Reha Keskintepe, as well as the former ambassadors Dr. Ayşe Sezgin and Mrs. Refika Nihal Çefik, for allowing me unlimited access to the Muslim cemetery complex and for providing me with a digital copy of the painting “Martyrs’ Cemetery in Malta” in the Harbiye Military Museum in Istanbul. Mr. Francis Galea Naudi, his son Mr. Robert Galea, and Prof. Mary Darmanin were very generous with their time and shared with me several family photographs, documentation, and other personal memorabilia relating to the architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia. Prof. Richard England provided me with information on Girolamo Gianni’s drawings of the cemetery.

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