A piece of land in the Ta’ Sammat area of Marsa was chosen as the new location in 1871. The new cemetery was commissioned by the Ottoman sultan Abdülaziz, and it was constructed between 1873 and 1874. Construction took over six months to complete. It was designed by the Maltese architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia, who designed many other buildings in a range of contrasting styles, including the mixed-denomination Ta’ Braxia Cemetery and the Catholic Addolorata Cemetery. The outcome and reception of the later was pertinent for the appointment of Galizia as the architect of the Turkish Military Cemetery. The design for the project was unique in Maltese architecture at that point. Galizia was awarded the Order of the Medjidie by the Ottoman sultan for designing the Turkish cemetery, and thus was made a Knight of that order. At the end of the 19th century the cemetery became a landmark by its own due to its picturesque architecture. On the turn of the 20th century it became an obligation to acquire a permission from the Health Department for each burial within the cemetery for sanitary purposes.
Due to the absence of a mosque at the time, the cemetery was generally used for Friday prayers until the construction of a mosque in Paola. The small mosque at the cemetery was intended to be used for prayers during an occasional burial ceremony, but the building and the courtyard of the cemetery became frequently used as the only public prayer site for Muslims until the early 1970s.
Galizia (1830-1906) needs little introduction in the local field of architecture. Apart from his revivalist affinities, this architect is acclaimed for his eclectic creativity which he acquired as his career progressed. Revivals and pseudo-styles were the norm around Europe. Galizia, who was a traveled man, took a great liking to this romantic movement and embodied it in some of his more famous commissions. The Addolorata Cemetery (almost complete by 1869) strategically set upon the Tal-_orr hillside is one such example. It stands as Galizia’s largest and most celebrated undertaking.
Just as civil works were nearing completion on this national necropolis, Galizia was engaged to design a more diminutive burial ground, this time for the Muslim community residing in Malta. His concept for this cemetery exploited the character of the brief he was given, together with his acquired tastes for exotic forms. Galizia went for Oriental-Islamic ornament with its typically intricate qualities. When on tour in England he most likely visited John Nash’s Royal Brighton Pavilion (1815-21). Again, this was a style very much in fashion in Britain and the colonies. Much of this inspiration came from India, back then regarded as the crowning glory of the British Empire.
The rectangular plot set in a relatively flat landscape was also opportune for the use of vertical members such as minarets with onion-shaped finials. As with the Addolorata, Galizia also introduced the use of architectural trees as part of the landscaping, this time for the Muslim setting using ubiquitous palm trees. The carved lace-like perimeter walls are pierced by a lofty, horseshoe arched gateway through which one enters the cemetery. The only rooms present are chambers in which funerary rituals were performed prior to interment.
The constrained geometry of the site seems to have inspired Galizia into designing the orthogonal layout of the burial ground, perhaps more akin with classical grammars. It is here that his inclinations towards a fusion of styles begin to manifest themselves. The result was a symmetrically apportioned garden-like necropolis interspaced with sober horizontal grave slabs and simply engraved tombstones. Galizia’s sensitivity towards landscaping is evident again in the presence of flowerbeds. During the spring the cemetery abounds with blossoms and flowers appropriately recalling the Muslim vision of paradise.
“The Muslim Cemetery at Marsa (1871-74)” in The Architect, (p.24)