Envisioning the Orient: The New Muslim Cemetery in Malta

In: Muqarnas Online

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.


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     CSG 04/37, 1865–66, no. 2206, letter dated August 30, 1865, from Victor Houlton, chief secretary of state, to Naoum Duhany, Ottoman consul. National Archives of Malta, Rabat, Malta..

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     CSG 04/37, 1865–66, no. 2206, letter dated August 30, 1865, from Victor Houlton, chief secretary of state, to Naoum Duhany, Ottoman consul. National Archives of Malta, Rabat, Malta.The tripartitearrangement of this diplomatic post could be explained vis-à-vis the limited financial and human resources of a small island state such as Malta. The appointed consul combined diplomatic relations with three Muslim states, two in the Maghreb region and one in the East, that together had extensive commercial links with the British island colony. The Regency of Tunisia was until 1881 an autonomous province under the rule of the Ottomans and hence, on a political level it was naturally coupled with the Ottoman Porte. The Empire of Morocco represented a different scenario since during the nineteenth century, under the rule of the Alaouite dynasty, it remained fully independent, until 1912 when, following the Treaty of Fez, Morocco was effectively divided into a French and Spanish protectorate. See Kenneth Perkins, A History of Modern Tunisia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); C. R. Pennell, Morocco since 1830: A History (New York: New York University Press, 2001); Susan Gilson Miller, A History of Modern Morocco (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.)

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