At a distance of 50 metres from the parvis of the Attard Parish Church, stands Casa Depiro, a historic house set around 1,200 square metres of a citrus-filled garden. The villages of Lija, Attard and Balzan are well known for their hidden gardens behind stone walls within the very centre of these ancient streets. Attard appears to have existed as far back as the 15th century appearing in the Militia List of 1419 studied by Godfrey Wettinger, and it is referred to as Casali Attard.
The house itself is the product of additions and extensions carried out by the noble family Depiro in the first 30 years of the 19th century. Interestingly, the British Survey Sheet of 1924 appears to have no structures on this site apart from the very interesting historical structure in the corner of the garden, accessed from St Dominic Street.
The Marquis Nicholas Depiro had very kindly allowed access to his archives at Casa Depiro (Valletta) and in doing so we unearthed a valuation dated 1926 which refers to structures on the site. So, it is most likely that a very small house did exist and most likely consisted of the front rooms overlooking the street, the barrel-vaulted hall and the staircase leading to an open terrace above accessing the Piano Nobile. The house overlooked the courtyard and appeared to have been cut off from the garden by way of a high garden wall. The same archives revealed how the garden had a different owner than the house and that it was only in recent history that the garden became part of the house with a small door linking the baroque axial citrus-filled garden to the house.
As is often the case with such historical properties, houses and gardens get parcelled off with different owners and country houses, once conceived as having as a fulcrum a citrus-filled garden, become cut off from their lungs. In this case, the courtyard wall was high, dominating and created a very distinct division between house and garden by way of a tower-like battery of toilets added on in the latter half of the 19th century.
The challenge was intrinsically one of relinking a courtyard house with the garden and allowing views of the garden from as many rooms as possible of the house without the destruction of the layers of history which constituted this house. This challenge also included the important addition of a swimming pool which would sit within the citrus garden without destroying the very beautiful axial division of the garden in quadrants. Finally, of course, the house needed modernisation to include contemporary living spaces, bathrooms and bedrooms, the modern infrastructure of heating and cooling and general restoration of all the rooms, walls, floors, doors and windows.
The concept sketches toyed with the removal of large chunks of the division courtyard wall but the eventual solution was one of removal of the tower-like battery of toilets but the otherwise minimal intervention of the historic wall. This solution created a route through the walls to the baroque garden. This inner courtyard reveals a secret garden filled with orange and lemon trees that spread out in four sections created by the original stone paths, that now lead to an added swimming pool, which creates a new backdrop to the garden and humbly reflects its surroundings.
The painful and careful restoration programme resulted in a house being fully restored with old terrazzo floors lifted and relaid upon underfloor heating, restoration of all timber roofs and stone mouldings, restoration of all the original apertures, louvres and ‘nemmiesa’ and careful integration of air conditioning cooling system hidden within wardrobes and libraries. All the main spaces looking out towards the courtyard were carefully adapted and enlarged to be inhabited by the main living areas looking towards the villa’s preserved inner sanctum. Furthermore, at the first-floor level, a walkway was created utilising traditional masonry building techniques to link the U-shaped house to create a viewing platform of the citrus garden, outdoor terrace areas and an external link which is much used from the bedrooms to the garden below.
The grand rooms have now acquired some modern components whilst retaining the original unexpected concealed passages, and the juxtaposition of authentic aspects to a more contemporary aesthetic.The end result is harmonious and timeless.
Sean Mallia, Tracey Sammut