Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery

Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery, Paola, Malta

Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery, Paola, Malta

It’s easy to explore Malta, which is not a big island, by red double-deck open-top tourist bus for €20 for one day, €37 for two:  http://www.citysightseeing.com.mt/en/home.htm.

I chose to buy a seven-day Explorer pass from Malta Public Transport for €21:  https://www.publictransport.com.mt/en/bus-card-and-ticketing.  (Indeed, the ExplorerPlus card at €39 includes ferry-rides and a day on the open-topper.)

Breezing around the island on a succession of service buses, I spotted the distinctive Gothic outline of the chapel of Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery [The Cemetery of St Mary of Sorrows] on Tal-Horr hill at Paola, just south of Valletta.

The lady in the bus station information booth recommended an 81 or 82 bus, and assured me there was a stop labelled Addolorata.  What she didn’t tell me, because she presumably hadn’t ever travelled to the cemetery by bus, was that though the inbound Addolorata bus stop is right by the cemetery gates, there are two outbound bus stops, one for each route, both labelled Addolorata, neither of them anywhere near the cemetery.

I got off at the one by the prison – Addolorata is indeed a suburb of sorrows – and with directions from a succession of passers-by, walked for at least half an hour before I reached the cemetery gates.

Addolorata Cemetery is a classic example of a mid-Victorian landscaped cemetery, built 1862-1868, opened 1869 but not actually used until 1872.

Designed by the Maltese architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia (1830-1907), it makes use of the steep site:  graded drives and flights of steps divide terraces of superb mausolea, many of them still in use and immaculately kept.

Galizia travelled in Italy, France and England to undertake extensive research into contemporary ideas about cemetery design.

The delicate Strawberry Hill gothic stonework of the entrance court and the simple Gothic of the cemetery church contrast with the predominance of Baroque church architecture throughout the island.

There are 268 Commonwealth war graves within the cemetery, along with a plot for the remains of French servicemen.

It was run by the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin until they relinquished responsibility to the Maltese government in 2011.

There has been recent press comment suggesting that the cemetery is not well maintained:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20170401/local/addolorata-cemetery-in-pieces-not-in-peace.644064.

Photography is not allowed within the cemetery, and there is a conflict in local attitudes about how the place should be used and respected.  A recent survey indicated that about seventy per cent of interviewees were not in favour of photographs or video recordings being made on the cemetery grounds, yet 72.5% of respondents wanted to have organised tours of the site:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20171120/community/the-addolorata-cemetery-a-unique-cultural-asset.663594.

Indeed, there is widespread recognition of the broad appeal of Addolorata to Maltese people and visitors who have no direct family connection with it:  https://lovinmalta.com/opinion/survey/30-of-addolorata-cemeterys-visitors-arent-there-to-visit-family-graves.

Though extensive research has been written up for academic theses [https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160529/letters/addolorata-and-our-cultural-heritage.613597], there appears to be no publication celebrating this magnificent necropolis.

I was content to enjoy walking around the cemetery admiring the tombs and reading the inscriptions, but I’d have valued the opportunity to learn more about it as well.

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