Maybe it’s because I grew up in Valletta or maybe it’s just the morbidly fascinating murder story that’s tied to it…whatever the reason, the Splendid in Strait Street is another one of those abandoned buildings that gets my antennae twitching.
Well, abandoned no more. The old hotel has now been taken over by (I believe) the Fondazzjoni Temi Zammit and big plans are afoot for a massive restructuring. I don’t know whether to be pleased or nervous about the news. Don’t get me wrong: I am fully in favour of celebrating everything that is related to Strait Street’s historical heritage. But I shudder at the thought that said restructuring destroys the air of whimsy that makes the Splendid so intriguing.
A bit of background. The former hotel had its heyday during Strada Stretta’s days of glory, of course. It has been closed for decades; in fact I had been wanted to explore the interior for ages, but had no way of doing so until the Foundation re-opened the site for two art exhibitions. So for that, I definitely thank the powers that be.
The hotel had closed down in the late 60s soon after a particularly grisly murder was committed there. One of the prostitutes who was a habituee of the area was stabbed to death in the bathroom. Yep, pretty nasty stuff. But, twisted imagination that I have, this was also one of the reasons I wanted to explore the place. I just love what I call places with “an aura”.
The first exhibition was The Gut, a collaboration between about 14 Maltese artists: through different media, they very creatively enhanced the natural vibe of the place. The second one, entitled Fulu – a Malta Design Week satellite event – provided an interested contrast between the modern nature of the sofa installation and the olde-worlde, slightly shabby, environs.
The place oozes character but there is another reason why I love it and why I could spend hours wandering around the rooms. In a poignantly nostalgic way, it takes me back to my childhood and my great grandmother’s house. Not because my great grandmother lived in a brothel but because the Splendid is still furnished in that typical traditional Maltese way that all houses those days were furnished. There is the credenza tal-kewba (mahogany dressing table) the high windows with the wooden shutters, the tiles with the ubiquitous diamond design… Maltese people reading this will get what I’m saying.
If I close my eyes I can still imagine that I’m visiting my late great grandmother. But I still wouldn’t live there if you paid me.