Villa Parisio and the Strickland Foundation

 

Standing in a typical Lija piazza at the end of a narrow lane is “Villa Parisio”, the seat of the Strickland foundation and the former residence of the Hon. Mabel Strickland. It was her home from 1943 until her death in 1988. The residence has a 450 year old history, originally belonged to the Muscati family of Lija, and the first documentation of the Villa dated back to 1567, when Simone Muscati married Margherita Giugale and the Villa was used as their country home. Their town residence was Palazzo Parisio in Valletta , Merchant Street , today occupied by the Foreign Ministry; whilst the two properties formed part of their Estates. In 1702 The Noble Emmanuele Muscati married Margherita Sciberras, and the Villa and Olive grove were mentioned in an inventory of the family Estate.

In 1769 the Estate was divided between their children and Villa Parisio went to their son Don Paulo Muscati, he later married the Noble Caterina Bonici in 1735 and their only child Donna Anna Muscati became sole heiress to the Estate. On October 13th 1760 she married Don Domenico Parisio, the eldest son of an impoverished but Noble Italian family from Reggio Calabria, where they lived for a number of years. The marriage proved to be an unhappy one, so she left her husband and took the youngest of their 5 children, Paolo, who had been born in Malta , to live at Villa Parisio. Donna Anna died in 1797 and Paolo , a knight of the SMOM inherited the Villa and married his 2nd cousin, Baroness Muscati Xara. Unfortunately they had no surviving children and upon the death of Paolo, Baroness inherited the Villa, which on her death passed on to her second husband Baron Joseph de Piro – thus ending the Parisio family.

The Villa remained in the de Piro family until the beginning of the 20th century, after which it changed hands several times. Mabel Strickland acquired it from her step mother in 1943, The Villa had beautiful high ceilings, with some exceptional antique’s, including paintings of various members of the family, who had owned and resided in the Villa.

The Strickland foundation was set up by Mabel Strickland, by public deed in 1979 and the Chairman of the council of Administration is no other than the Emeritus Profs. Guido de Marco, BA, LL.D, K.M, KUOM who was her trusted friend and legal advisor.

(Reproduced by kind permission of the Strickland Foundation and the British Resident's Assoc. Magazine http://www.britishresidentsinmalta.org )


Scicluna


Naxxar Palazzo

Two other important Maltese palaces, both having the same name, Palazzo Parisio, one in Naxxar, the other in Valletta, are currently being restored.

Apart from the two palaces, a third building with the Parisio name exists, this being the Villa Parisio in Lija as mentioned above.
The three buildings, which once belonged to the same family, today play very different roles: the one in Merchants Street, Valletta, is the foreign office; the Naxxar building, opposite the parish church, is a stately family home opened for public viewing and used as a wedding reception hall, and the villa is the seat of the Strickland Foundation, the beneficiary of the majority shareholding in Allied Newspapers Ltd.
At present the foreign ministry building is having its exterior restored, while at the Naxxar palace, restoration works are also underway, particularly on the gold bedecked ballroom ceiling. 



The three buildings were the main and summer homes of the Parisios, Sicilian gentry who married into the Maltese nobility but did not leave direct heirs. Their main house in Valletta even hosted Napoleon during his short-lived residence in Malta in 1798.
The history of the two palaces goes back nearly 300 years. According to the writings of Victor Denaro in Scientia, the site on which the present palace was built was originally occupied by two houses which were demolished and the new palace in Valletta erected with its simple but elegant architecture. When owner Bishop Sceberras died in 1744, the property passed on to his sister Donna Margherita Muscati and it was her granddaughter, Anna Muscati, who on October 13, 1760 married the penniless Cavalier Don Domenico Parisio of Reggio Calabria.
The noble house of Parisio, finding itself beset by enormous debts, had cast an eye on Donna Anna Muscati, heiress to a large fortune and one of the prominent ladies of Valletta.

Cavalier Don Domenico Parisio came to Malta to woo her and often spoke of the large property which his family was supposed to possess, but no mention was ever made of the huge debts. Donna Anna agreed to marry Cavalier Domenico and brought with her a dowry of 80,000 Maltese scudi. She was persuaded by her husband that, for a short while, they would have to live with his father at Reggio until the Messina residence was ready. On arriving at Reggio, however, the newly wedded bride saw for herself the true state of her husband's family fortune.
The newly married couple suffered continuous importunities from the family creditors. At one time the bride had to pawn her own jewellery and her husband asked her to return the jewellery which he had given her as a wedding gift because they were borrowed and were being reclaimed by their owners.

Reggio's climate seriously affected Donna Anna's health and on three occasions she was forced to return to Malta. On her third visit in 1774 she was prohibited by her physicians from returning to her husband's native land. The marriage was an unhappy one and eventually Donna Anna left her husband and four of her children to return to Malta with her youngest child Paolo at Villa Parisio in Lija. The villa was considered the families' main summer residence because of the ample country side used for hunting. It was at this time that the Naxxar palace was acquired by the Marquis Giuseppi Scicluna, a philanthropist and banker whose summer residence was the Dragonara palace.

Donna Anna died in 1797 and Villa Parisio was inherited by Paolo, who had by then been made a knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. In the same year, Paolo Parisio married his 14-year old noble bride, the Baroness of Benwarrad Antonia Muscati Xara. The couple, however, were unable to produce an heir for their extensive inheritance. No children of the marriage survived and the baroness, Paolo Parisio's wife remarried after his death on December 10, 1841, at the age of 65. 

Her second husband was Sir Joseph de Piro, Baron of Budak who became the universal heir on her death in 1856. The property passed to the De Piro family and remained in their ownership until the 1900s when the estate was divided and sold. On Sir Paolo Parisio's death, the Valletta palace passed through several hands until it was taken over by the government in 1887 for use as a General Post Office. The top storey of Palazzo Parisio was completed after the first World War to house the Audit Office. During the Second World War, the Valletta palace was partly destroyed through enemy action, and in the repairs that followed, the exterior was left unaltered, though it was not possible to restore the decorations on the walls and ceilings. The Scicluna contribution to the Naxxar palace was formidable and it was upgraded from a pleasant noble country house to a flamboyant regal residence. The works to transform the house were started in 1898 and were completed eight years later. The Marquis Scicluna established himself in the Palace in 1906 and died in 1907, leaving a six-year-old child as his only heir. The child, who later became Marquis John Scicluna, was known as 'The Cisk'.

His two daughters, Corinne Ramsay Scicluna, 10th Baroness of Tabria, and Mignon Marshall, own the palace today. His granddaughter, Christiane Ramsay Scicluna, is the driving force behind the current restoration and marketing activities, strongly supported by his grandson, Marcus Marshall.

Villa Parisio Lija changed hands several times until the Hon. Mabel Strickland acquired it and used it as her residence until her death in November 1988.

(Reproduced by kind permission of Count Charles Said Vassallo and the Maltagenealogy.com)