Finally! 19th century Villa Drago to be restored by one of Malta’s top architectural firms
The former residential home has been abandoned for decades.
First Palazzo de Piro, then Gozo’s Cittadella. Could Villa Drago be next? Local architect Martin Xuereb, of Martin Xuereb & Associates, is proposing a restoration project for this grand Sliema villa. And the good news? It’s a proposal to restore rather than demolish, which is a nice change given so many development proposals that include knocking down Malta's old architectural gems recently!
What is Villa Drago?
Villa Drago was a summerhouse with extensive gardens built by Marquis Casimiro Drago V in about 1881. The villa was a prominent landmark in Sliema for over 150 years, and is one of the last of its kind to survive, “matched only perhaps by Villa Portelli at Savoy as a fully detached late 19th century stately residence,” says Mr Xuereb. It was mainly used as a residential villa and then as the Libyan Arab Cultural Institute. It now has a Grade 1 protection status.
Interestingly, the villa boasts a rare style not seen much around the island called Maltese Palladianism, which was championed at the end of the 19th century by the highly respected architect Francesco Zammit. The property has beautiful and extensive grounds, but has sadly been abandoned for years.
The brains behind the project
The mastermind behind the proposed restoration project is Martin Xuereb from the award-winning architectural firm Martin Xuereb & Associates. Mr Xuereb was also behind the restoration works on Palazzo de Piro in Mdina, and the more recent project in Gozo’s Cittadella, where not only was the façade restored to its former glory, but a wonderful and interactive visitor’s centre was created in the ditch, adding a modern feel to the historic place.
Given that the Villa Drago restoration plans are a highly specialised job, Mr Xuereb intends to ream up with Italian landscaping architects Paisa and Maltese landscape architect Antoine Gatt for the project, who has established an esteemed reputation for his environmentally sensitive and sustainable designs. Honestly, these guys are a breath of fresh air!
What are the plans for the villa?
The restoration will see a dramatic revitalisation of Villa Drago, which has lain in shambles for too long! If the proposal goes through, it will form part of the larger proposed Townsquare project.
The most significant intervention will likely be the removal of the extension that the previous owners installed in the '70s at the rear of the property. This will be done in order to reinstate the terrace. Meanwhile, most of the piano nobile ceilings are in dire need of some TLC, and will be seen to. Just walking past Villa Drago, you will immediately notice an elaborate yet overgrown front garden, which will be preserved and enriched.
A challenging aspect will be restoring the façade, as previous owners had painted over the natural stone. While the internal restoration will mostly be cosmetic apart from some ceiling replacements, the exterior is a more detailed and laborious job, as it may require crucial reconstruction works.
In fact, works are projected to last for about a year, which will ensure the villa regains its old grandeur. “It’s all about injecting life into something,” says Mr Xuereb.
Geraldine Portelli via FAA Facebook Group
What do you think about the proposed project? Are you eager to see this neglected villa rise from the ashes?