Reading time: 8 mins.
Walking through the roads of Swieqi you would easily overlook this building hidden behind dull walls and generic metal doors. Apart from the mosaic letters spelling Mystique, which is also fading away with many missing pieces, there is not much to give away what beauty lies behind.
While searching for Villa Mystique before visiting, I could not believe that a property like this was abandoned or even accessible. Surely, something as unique was protected and safeguarded. Still, to my surprise, it was easy to access, and it was evident that many people had visited this abandoned jewel in the middle of a populated area in Swieqi, and even left their mark.
Once inside, you can immediately see that every nook and cranny of this space was well thought of and had something unusual to it. The roundness of the wall, the use of glass to create glistening attractions in the usually harsh Maltese Sun, the embellishment of every wall, floor and ceiling, the incorporation of broken pieces, there was nowhere you could look that isn’t decorated.
Cautiously climbing the steps to the upper floors, you are also met with a breathtaking view, as fit for true blood. The building is intertwined with stairs going up and down, walls of different levels, stone embellishments on every corner and adorned with colourful glass pieces stuck in the mortar or formed into images of animals and other motifs. With its humble existence and quirky designs, it reminded me of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, where all parts of the building flow as if part of nature.
If I had liked the building whilst looking at pictures of it online, I fell in love with it when I got inside. But as much as this building brought me joy and amazement, its previous visitors brought me sadness and anger. I looked up videos on how this property looked on the inside, like this one, and it looked abandoned but in much better condition. My heart sank when I saw how much deliberate damage was done to the property in a brief time with vandalising and spray paint on the walls, and even more infuriating how much litter was purposefully left in the building. I will never understand how one cannot enjoy these building without destroying them.
Alas, even from these sad remains, I could feel how much love and detail was put into the building of this creation; therefore, the natural question to ask was who build it? Well if you would like to know, hold on to your fancy hat, I’m going to take you on a journey back 250.
The building was designed and build in an astrological pattern in 1968 by Marquis Scicluna. His name may be new to you, but if you are from Malta I’m sure you know of his family. If not, we’ll start with a picture of the family tree cause this is going to get complicated.
Marquis Scicluna’s father’s side were bankers, setting up the first bank in Malta opened by a Maltese called ‘Joseph Scicluna et Fils’ in 1830, which in 1926 became ‘Scicluna’s Bank’. This was the bank that introduced cheques in Malta, giving the family the nickname ‘Cisk’, a derivative of the word cheque. Emmanuele Scicluna was a philanthropist and donated a lot of money to the Pope, whom made him the first Marquis Scicluna. When the first marquis dies with no heirs, his wealth passed to his nephew, Marquis Giuseppe Scicluna making him the second marquis. Marquis Giuseppe Scicluna later took ownership of The Malta Export Brewery, and that is how one of the most famous beers in Malta got its name ‘Cisk’. After twenty years of competition, The Malta Export Brewery merged with Simonds Farsons Limited in 1950 forming a new company Simonds Farsons Cisk Limited.
It was Marquis Giuseppe Scicluna who bought Palazzo Parisio in 1898, which was built in 1733 by Portuguese Grand Master Don Antonio Manuel de Vilhena. The marquis lived here with his wife and son John Scicluna until his untimely death in 1907, making his son John the third marquis. In 1921 Marquis John Scicluna married Violette Testaferrata Moroni Viani, who came from the Knights of Malta. They had four children, one of which was Marquis Jose’ Juan Duque de Scicluna, forth Marquis, 9th Baron of Tabria, the creator of Villa Mystique. (Told you its a long journey, and I gave you the abridged version!)
Marquis Jose’ or Joseph Scicluna was born on the 6th of September 1925 in the Dragonara Palace, which is now a Casino and was also owned by the Scicluna family. He joined the Royal Malta Artillery at the age of seventeen, later worked as an interpreter, translating German news to the British Intelligence. Later he studied to be a painter in Italy and became an artist and then went to Venezuela to work in the jungles to research and take documentary pictures of flora and fauna. During his life he also studied banking, pottery and ceramics, eventually becoming a teacher of ceramics.
Apart from reading the interview by Denise Micallef in this article, I managed to hear Marquis himself recalling the events of his life in this clip filmed in 1987 when he was 62. With his eccentricity radiating through and his views on woman questionable, you cannot listen to him without feeling his passion through his words, ‘I have a lot of imagination, surrealistic imagination.’ I have to admit I got Salvator Dalì vibes.
With the Marquis singing Harry Belafonte’s ‘Island in the Sun’ in the background, the clip shows priceless shots of the building in its prime, even including aerial shots of the famous Mystic building. The Marquis built this architectural creation from old slabs and debris from buildings that were bombed in ‘The Blitz.’ The Blitz was a German bombing campaign against the United Kingdom in 1940 and 1941, during the Second World War. These are the Marquis’s own words about this building as recalled from the video clip.
Marquis Scicluna died on the 6th of June 1995. Although it seems that the Scicluna Family have their own chapel at the Addolorata Cemetery, I did not yet manage to find out where he was buried; but I doubt he was laid to rest in the Mystique. I have never met the Marquis, therefore I will not vouch for his character, and although interesting to research, in no way am I intrigued by his story because of his titles on statuses. These are, after all, manmade and shouldn’t impact the person’s importance. But titles or not, I believe that such a building should have been preserved as a part of our history. Not only for who built it but also for the era it was built in, for how it unique look making it the only building of its kind in Malta and what it represents; the rebuilding of an architectural creation from the remaining debris of the war; a monument to what Malta has gone through. Having seen the creator of this property speaking fondly about his passion project, it feels wrong on so many levels to have people vandalise and litter this building, but after 25 years from his death, all I see is a once beautiful building now in ruins filled with the sadness of its creator’s spirit.
What do you think about Villa Mystique? Did you think it should be saved from its sorry state or is it irrelevant today?
My thanks go to historian Dorian Baldacchino for his help in researching the history and genealogy. Although all information here was fact-checked on multiple sources, any corrections are welcome.
- Baron of Tabria family line – http://www.santfournier.org/
- Cisk: Malta’s Award winning Lager, by Adam Claffey – https://www.airmalta.com/
- Farson’s Timeline – https://www.farsons.com/
- History of Bank of Valletta – https://enacademic.com/
- Reflections on the book ‘The Scicluna Saga 1772-2008’ – https://www.maltagenealogy.com/
- The Central Bank of Malta, by Vassallo History – https://vassallohistory.wordpress.com/
- The Decorative Programme at Palazzo Parisio, Naxxar, by Frederica Agius – https://www.um.edu.mt/
- The Mystique Marquis, by Denise Micallef – https://www.um.edu.mt/
- The Scicluna Saga 1772-2008 – A book by John Micallef
- Video interview with Marquis Scicluna filmed for TVM / ABC (Australia), uploaded by Jody Fiteni