This painting is evidence of the evolution of the area around Crucifix Hill, Floriana

Piazza Maggiore, Floriana, and Grand Harbour, Malta, from the house of Edward Gennys Fanshawe, January 1858
Piazza Maggiore, Floriana, and Grand Harbour, Malta, from the house of Edward Gennys Fanshawe, January 1858 (click to enlarge)

This wonderful oil painting depicts the area between Floriana and Valletta.

The painting belonged to Admiral Sir Edward Gennys Fanshawe (1814-1906). He refers to it as “Piazza Maggiore, Floriana, and the Grand Harbour, from our house, Malta 1858,” however it is not clear whether he painted it himself or had it painted.

Admiral Sir Edward Gennys Fanshawe was in a naval command in the Mediterranean (HMS Centurion), and later he was appointed Admiral Dockyard Superintendent.

Since he refers to “our house,” this indicates that this is the 3rd known home of the Admiral. One is what was known as Garden House, on the bastions overlooking Valletta ditch; the other was in Birgu in the area of the Naval Bakery.

Piazza Maggiore, as the wide area was known, included part of St Anne’s Street, Pietro Floriani Road and Crucifix Hill.

Assuming that this picture’s details are correct, it gives us a good idea of what changes the area went through:

  • On the left is the war memorial; this has changed place twice.
  • Also on that side was the gallows and a burying point for the justiced, roughly where the memorial stands today.
  • In the middle-right is where the Britannia Circus, a place of entertainment owned and run by the Bonnici Brothers, stood; this, too, was eventually moved further left.
  • Before going down the winding road is where the King George V Hospital was built in the 1920s, and rebuilt after being hit by bombs during WWII. It is now Sir Paul Boffa Hospital.
  • Behind the hospital is Harper Lane and Harper Gardens.
  • On the right is what was known as the Kalkara Gate; this has nothing to do with Kalkara town, but is so named because a lime kiln (kalkara) was in the area. This gate was dismantled in the late 1880s.
  • In early 1920s, a road known as Crucifix Hill was constructed leading down to the customs area; the crucifix stood at the bottom of the hill, next to the seafarer’s lodging house.
  • On the far right, today we find a garden on the bastions overlooking the beginning of the waterfront.
  • Two calesse are also depicted; this was a two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle, predecessor of the karrozzin.

This picture was painted three decades before the arrival of steam trains, electricity, and later the tram; the start of another era which would transform further this immense area.

Picture and information provided by Joseph Piccinino. Written by Melanie Drury.

Melanie Drury

Melanie Drury

Writing has been Melanie's craft for as long as she could remember, and it combined well with her new-found love for long-haul travel, her greatest indulgence even now. Melanie's next favourite indulgence is dancing, whether out at a party, at a workshop or in her living room - it makes her feel alive, free, and connected, just as it does to experience nature, or to connect with people and their worlds.