Culture
Meet the creative mind & Maltese architect behind Gozo’s marvellous Ta’ Pinu basilica
He’s known to have built quite a few prominent buildings.

Jillian Mallia

Gozo’s Ta’ Pinu basilica is, in our humble opinion, one of the most magnificent churches on the Maltese Islands. The creative mind behind the stunning structure is none other than the Luqa-born Andrea Vassallo. Ernest Ferrante shared some throwback photos along with information on MALTA – Through the ages Facebook group.

vassallo

Vassallo (2nd January 1856-28th January 1928) designed buildings in various styles including Rococo Revival, Neo-Gothic, Neoclassicism, Neo-Romanesque and Art Nouveau. Keeps things interesting, I guess! His all-time masterpiece is the Ta’ Pinu church, however, he’s got others under his belt, including Villa Rosa, the domes of the Siggiewi and Hamrun parishes churches, together with the now-demolished Casa Said.

Early career

Vassallo was the son of a stonemason and first worked as a sculptor. In 1887, he was involved in various projects within the construction industry including the designing, building or remodelling of different buildings. In December of that same year, he took over from the late Webster Paulson’s post of Clerk of Works and entered government service.

Five years later, he was admitted into the Institution of British Civil Engineers after coming highly recommended by Sir Linton Simmons and Sir Osbert Chadwick (yes, the guy Chadwick Lakes is named after).

But obviously, careers don’t come without a bit of drama. Vassallo become a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1907 and was granted his Warrant of Land Surveyor and Architect a year later in late 1908, without the need to sit for an exam. However, this was highly condemned by the Istituto dei Periti as the architect had never actually formally studied the subject.

vassallo

His work

Vassallo’s work is actually littered across the islands, having been involved in the construction of houses, schools, workshops and even hospitals. A notable structure he worked on was the wrought-iron conservatory at the Floriana Argotti Botanic Gardens. Around the same time, between 1908 and 1910, Vassallo designed the Neoclassical Sliema Government Elementary School, too.

The architect also designed residential buildings such as the Neo-Gothic house located near the Mdina Cathedral. While the design was well received by the public, it was also criticized since the style does not blend well with its surroundings. He also designed two houses in Art Nouveau style which were built in the 1920s: Villa Rosa in St. Julian's and the now-demolished Casa Said in Sliema.

vassallo

Later years

In the 1920s, Vassallo won a competition for the design of the dome of the Parish Church of St. Cajetan (San Gejtanu) in Ħamrun, which was eventually be built between 1953–55 under the direction of Ġużè Damato. Despite being constructed decades after his death in 1928, the dome was built according to Vassallo’s original designs with structural alterations made by Damato. This is regarded as being one of the finest domes in Malta.

In 1919, he also designed the dome of Siggiewi’s Church of St. Nicholas, followed by the Rococo Revival Sanctuary of Our Lady of Tal-Ħerba in Birkirkara in 1923, and then the renowned Neo-Romanesque basilica of Ta' Pinu in Gozo. Apart from these large buildings, he also dabbled in the design of prominent Victorian townhouses situated at Saqajja in Rabat.

vassallo

Legacy

Andrea Vassallo died on 28th January 1928 at the Zammit Clapp Hospital, a hospital he designed himself in 1910. Vassallo's legacy is sometimes overlooked since many of the designs and buildings are often wrongly attributed to other architects.

Ernest Ferrante via MALTA – Through the ages / Facebook

20th June 2021


Jillian Mallia
Written by
Jillian Mallia
A book lover, writer and globetrotter who loves exploring new places and the local gems that the Maltese Islands have to offer. An avid foodie and arts fanatic, Jillian searches the island and beyond for the perfect settings to write about.

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