History of the Opera House / Square

The cultural hub of the capital city; the Piazza on Republic Street is where people get together to embrace traditional music, have a good time and soak up the history of Malta through performance.

The Royal Opera House, or rather the remains of it, were built originally in 1886. Edward Middleton Barry, an English Architect, was the creator of the theatre and famous for designing the Houses of Parliament in London. He wanted the building to segue between the classic Mediterranean look of new buildings at the time, while holding a sense of great Roman theatres from the neighbouring country. From the offset though the building would prove to be one of trouble for all those involved. When Barry first drew up his plans, the building was designed in a flat manner, which is a completely ordinary thing to do, but when you’re looking to building a city that slowly dips down towards the sea, you end up having what are called sloping streets where there is a ramp effect on either side of the theatre. This caused the building plans to be quickly redrawn, with the building having to ever so slightly “sink in” to the street. In its current stature, this layout is prevalent if you’re walking along either side of the outdoor space.

The first real drawback for the opera house came in 1973, a mere six years after the theatre was completed. A fire broke out inside and caused extensive damage. It’s a good thing that Barry had kept his column design outside as the structure remained safe and sound, without the need for major repair works to be carried out.

 

A full refurbishment took another four years, as locals and the government argued over whether to completely rebuild again and change the design of the building (many were not happy with how it looked upon completion originally).

For the next few decades the opera house was home to every great performer to come to Malta and was seen as a great venue and attraction across Europe. This would come to an end though during the second world war. June 7th 1942 seen the theatre devastated by bombing. Luftwaffe bombers hit the island with an aerial attack that completely destroyed most of the building, with only the rear of the building remaining somewhat intact.

To keep the area safe afterwards, much of the building was levelled as no one wanted the middle of the city centre to be a pile of rubble. The remains were left untouched until plans were drawn up time and time again to do something with the space. Unsuccessful attempts in the 1950s and 1980s all came down to local government and arguments over budget concerns. There was a period in the late 90s were the governement came very close to turning the area in to a commercial district, but this was quickly rejected too.

It wasn’t until 2006 that a new opera house became a reality, if not because of what was to be done with the site. The government wanted to build a new parliament house on the old site and was going too, until Renzo Piano, who was one of the people who tried to get the opera house rebuilt in the 80s highlighted to the government that the area was just too small to build on. With the time period in which the area lay dormant so long, it had gained notoriety now as a monument more than a building space. This was were the idea for the open air theatre which we now have today came from. Bear in mind that as lovely as it looks, it too was a controversial process. Piano felt incredible backlash from many Maltese people as they didn’t like the idea of someone from another country interfering in their business.

2015 summer set up Valetta

And this today is what the site looks like. A fully operational outdoor space fit for any performance. It may not have the grandiose that the original building did, but it still has charm a plenty.