Turkish Military Cemetery

Iċ-Ċimiterju tat-Torok / Türk Şehitliği

The Turkish Military Cemetery is a cemetery in Marsa. Commissioned by the Ottoman sultan Abdülaziz to replace an earlier Muslim cemetery, it was constructed between 1873 and 1874. The cemetery was designed by the Maltese architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia, and it is built in an exotic orientalist style. It is currently maintained by the Turkish government.

A number of Muslim cemeteries have been located in various locations around Marsa since the 16th century. A cemetery in il-Menqa contained the graves of Ottoman soldiers killed in the Great Siege of Malta of 1565 as well as Muslim slaves who died in Malta. This cemetery was replaced by another one near Spencer Hill in 1675, following the construction of the Floriana Lines. Human remains believed to originate from one of these cemeteries were discovered during road works in 2012. The 17th-century cemetery had to be relocated in 1865 to make way for planned road works, with one tombstone dating to 1817 being considerably conserved at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.

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 1970. A properly sized mosque was designed by Architect Galizia but the project was abandoned. The drawing are available in Turkish archives in Istanbul which hold the words “Progetto di una moschea – Cimitero Musulmano“. A possible reason for shelving the project was the economic situation and political decline of the Ottoman Empire. A Jewish Cemetery was built directly adjacent to the Turkish cemetery in 1879.

During World War I, some Turkish prisoners of war who died in Malta were buried inside the cemetery. The cemetery was restored from March 1919 to October 1920, during which period it also saw renovation with the addition of a monument commemorating the World War I prisoners of war who died in Malta and the building of a prominent fountain. The project was executed by the Ottoman Officer Kuşcubaşı Eşref Bey. The cemetery also contains the graves of some Muslim soldiers from Commonwealth countries (seven from World War I and four from World War II) as well as fifteen French soldiers. The Commonwealth and French war graves are cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The cemetery was evidently lacking maintenance with its decay observed in early 2002. It further fell into a state of disrepair after a new Muslim cemetery was opened near the Mariam Al-Batool Mosque in Paola in 2006. Deterioration occurred since the area is prone to flooding, due to pollution since the site is close to major roads, and due to natural factors such as lightning strikes which damaged some architectural details. Further damage has been caused by car accidents. A project to restore the cemetery began in 2015, being sponsored by the Turkish government. In 2016 there was a planning application for a fuel station next to the cemetery and, if a favourable decision would have been taken, this may have been a possible ‘burial’ to the architecture of the cemetery itself. The application, presented by the company Cassar Fuel, was opposed by the Turkish Government and several Maltese entities.

Today the cemetery falls under the responsibility of the Turkish government and it is scheduled as a Grade 1 building. It is usually inaccessible to the public and people must first contact the Turkish embassy to arrange a visit.

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