Today we will be visiting Paola or as it was named by the Order of St. John – Casal Nuovo. Paola started being developed during the time of the Order and was planned as a residential area for people working at the harbour. It kept on developing as a workmen housing area even under the British rule. Notwithstanding this, Paola still has a lot to contribute to our architectural heritage.
We will be starting our tour from Triq l-Arkata which goes through the oldest part of Paola. Triq l-Arkata is a narrow and steep road and named after an arched entrance which was demolished in the 1960’s to make way for the Civic Centre. Along this road one finds a number of old buildings which date back to the time of the Order. The first one is De Paule’s Palace having a Renaissance facade with a central Baroque open stone balcony reached through a recessed arched doorway serving as a frontispiece to the building. In this arched recess there is the coat of arms of Grand Master Perellos and on the main entrance the coat of arms of the Testaferrata family. Today this once large and noble palace has been divided into a number of small residences and its state of preservation leaves much to be desired.
Further up Triq l-Arkata, almost in front of Sant’ Ubaldeska church there is a corner single storey building which also dates back to the period of the Order which has a giant corner pilaster and a very plain facade. The church of Sant’ Ubaldeska we see today is a 20th Century addition to the original and smaller church built by the Order. The new church was attached to the old one which is found at the back of the new one.
In the space surrounding this church, mainly on its front and on the side along Triq Sant’ Ubaldeska, there are a number of large houses of architectural interest, one of which has elaborate stone carving in its detailing.
Walking out from Triq Sant’ Ubaldeska we find our way into Triq il-Belt Valletta with the Paola prisons right in front. These prisons were built by the British rulers and are typical of the British military architecture clearly evident in the facade of the women’s prison, today’s Paola police station. Facing these prisons is a large and noble palace, with an interesting and elegant panelled facade. This palace which dates back to the 18th Century was built by the Testaferrata Moroni Viani family of whom there is the heraldic arm on the central first floor window.
The architectural style of the domestic buildings found along Triq Bormla differs a bit from the style found on the palace referred to above. Although much more modest in size, these buildings are important contributors to Paola’s streetscape, mainly due to their common architectural treatment and the stone decorative elements found on a number of these buildings. But the most interesting part of Triq Bormla, is the row of houses found just before reaching Għajn Dwieli. The repetitive treatment of the facades especially through the use of closed timber balconies, gave a homogeneous appearance to this streetscape, today somewhat distorted due to the replacement of these balconies by cheaper looking aluminium ones.
From here we walk through Triq Mater Boni Consigli into Triq San Guzepp. A corner small but elegant and well maintained house catches our eyes. On the other side one finds a large complex with a wide fronted facade – the St. Joseph convent and school.
Our walk will now take us through the grid iron patterned roads built in the turn of the 19th Century. Here one finds rows of houses built in very similar facades such as the rows one finds fronting St Joseph Convent and along Triq tal-Borg. The Art-Nouveau detailing found on a number of doors in this area and in their iron work is impressive, both quantitively and stylistically.
At this part of Paola one also finds the primary school which also has some architectural merit. But the most architecturally impressive houses are found along Triq il-Knisja and Triq Guze’ Damato. Reference is being made to the row of wide fronted houses along Triq il-Knisja, some of which have elaborate stone carving around doorways and windows, and others have decorative stone work and iron work (also in Art-Nouveau style) on their doorways, and corbles. On the side of the parish church along Triq Guze’ Damato there is another row of houses also of considerable architectural significance and having stone decorations around windows and doorways.
The most impressive building with regards size and massiveness, is the main parish church built by the Maltese architect Guze’ Damato.
We will end up today’s tour in Misrah Antoine De Paule by looking at the grotesque figures found at the first floor of a three storey building on this square and the contrasting simple, but elegant facade of a single storey house found on the opposite side of the same space.