Villa Frere gardens under threat

Earlier this year, Heritage Malta who has the title for Villa Frere gardens, signed a partnership and management agreement with NGO Friends of Villa Frere for the promotion, public availability, and the running and operation of the historical site.

Much work has been invested by Heritage Malta through government assistance and by the Friends of Villa Frere to restore the gardens so that they can be enjoyed by the public.

The Agency has also succeeded to acquire a 19th century painting of John Hookham Frere after the Friends of Villa Frere were alerted by Mr William Pounds that the artwork was up for sale at a local auction house. The purchase was sponsored by Mr Joseph Said, a former chairman of Heritage Malta, and the painting was officially presented to the “Friends of Villa Frere” to mark the 250th anniversary of Frere’s birth. Mr Eric Frere, a direct descendant of John Hookham Frere, attended for this presentation. The painting will be restored by Heritage Malta and is set to hang in Villa Frere once the Villa is integrated with the gardens – a significant objective of Heritage Malta so as to protect the Villa and its context.

Yet, the preservation of these gardens is proving to be a daunting task, particularly since the neighbouring Giardino Zammittello and its High Baroque gardens, which are even older than those of Villa Frere, are experiencing regular serious threats of being demolished to make way for a new huge development. Such a development would ruin completely the historical and environmental context of Villa Frere gardens, spoiling all the investment by Heritage Malta and the hard work of the Friends of Villa Frere and their volunteers who have dedicated their time to recuperate this site.

In their heyday, the 12-acre gardens of Villa Frere were renowned for their elegance, creativity and beauty. Dignitaries, scholars, and poets are known to have enjoyed this heavenly location during Frere’s time. One of these was none other than the renowned Mikiel Anton Vassalli, a Maltese writer, philosopher, and linguist, who succeeded to revive Maltese as a national language especially through Frere’s support, thereby turning this property as a key location connected to the struggle to boost the Maltese language.

In the years following the Second World War, Villa Frere gardens were slowly eaten away, first by St Luke’s Hospital expansion, then by the construction of a new nursing school, and later on by a helipad for the hospital, and by the building of a primary school. Just over a third of the original area managed to survive, including the building of Villa Frere, yet it still retains its magical beauty.

Heritage Malta and the Friends of Villa Frere are doing their utmost to safeguard this historical site for future generations due to its national and historical importance.