Saint James Cavalier
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (May 2007)|
St. James Cavalier is Malta's Millennium Project- A Centre for Creativity. St. James, one of two Cavaliers built out of the originally projected nine, by the Knights of Malta. It was designed by military engineer Francesco Laparelli de Cortona, who, on his departure from Malta in 1569, entrusted the continuation of his work to Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar.
Brief history of St. James Cavalier
Faced with the continuing threat of Turkish attack and the weaknesses caused by the Great Siege of Malta (1565), the Knights of Malta had to decide whether to abandon the island, or attempt its restoration.
Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette preferred to stay and ask for aid, which promptly arrived from several quarters, most notably Pope Pius V, who sent not only financial assistance but also the famed military engineer Francesco Laparelli de Cortona. It is Laparelli who masterminded the plan of Valletta as we see it today.
On his departure in 1569 Laparelli entrusted the continuation of his work to Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar.
St. James was built to act as a raised platform on which guns were placed to defend the city against attacks from the land (Floriana) side. As well as prohibiting entry, St. James could also threaten those who had already breached the city's defences.
Despite the impression of size given by the external aspect of the building, half of the structure was filled with compressed earth and the rest consisted of series of sparse chambers and a ramp by which cannons could reach the roof.
Architecturally it was not designed to rival the more sophisticated Auberges but as a utilitarian, no-nonsense solution to a straightforward defensive problem.
The British period
As the function changed, so did the design. Upon their arrival, the British converted St. James into an officers' mess, later utilising its raised position to provide water storage for the city of Valletta. Water was pumped to the two cisterns via the Wignacourt aqueduct, thus solving a major problem of the Maltese islands.
Also during this period, the ramp leading to the roof was replaced by a staircase and the number of rooms was increased by serving the ground floor room with arched ceilings, creating two stories where there had been only one. Changes were also made to help combat humidity.
Finally, during the latter part of British rule, St. James was turned into a food store, known as the NAAFI.
The Centre for Creativity- Malta's Millennium Project
Once more St. James has performed a startling transformation; an edifice once designed to prohibit entry now welcomes visitors. The task of affecting this tremendous change was given to Prof. Richard England, one of Malta's best known architects who describes his brief as "making it possible for the building to accommodate new needs in a way that, while respecting the past, accepts the concept of change, without fear." However, the work was the cause of much controversy and was deemed unsatisfactory by many Maltese, partly resulting in the halting of other planned projects in Valletta and the decision to use celebrated architects (including Renzo Piano) rather than Richard England.
One of the biggest challenges that Prof. England faced was that of increasing accessibility in a building created to repel invaders. This necessitated major structural intervention and very difficult decisions about which areas should, and must, undergo such drastic intervention.
This task was carried off with great aplomb in the conversion of the two water cisterns, one into St. James' spectacular theatre space and the other into the atrium. A stunning, inufying space which provides access to the upper galleries. the design nonetheless incorporate glass panels and a marvelous awareness of space that allows the visitor to read the historical narrative told by the wells.
The work was carried out in collaboration with the restoration expert Michael Ellul. With and emphasis that firmly discouraged the use of replica and imitation. Hence anything that looks 16th century is 16th century and anything that looks contemporary is contemporary. The national heritage organization Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna did protest against the removal of a rare World War Two gas shelter and other historical remains from the British period.
This theme is particularly obvious on the ground floor. In the Music Room, the British-installed ceiling has been removed, and the room restored to its original state. The gift shop, on the other hand, is split. In other halls partial removal of the ceiling has allowed both periods to be represented in this modern interpretation of a deeply historical building.
The restoration of St. James Cavalier was the first phase of a much larger project which aims to radically change entrance to Valletta. The rest of this project is currently halted at the planning stage, and on occasion the subject of political wrangling.