Egypt and Malta – Unusual Historical Connections

Ask anyone in Malta to direct you to the Mosta Dome and you’ll get immediate directions. Not all churches on the island are as well-known as this one is. Not many people are aware of the connections between this church and Ancient Egypt.

The church as it is now is not as old as you may think. It was finished in the 1860s based on a design by Maltese architect Giorgio Grognet de Vassé. Grognet had studied in Italy to become a priest before joining French revolutionary forces in Egypt. He was sure Malta was the lost city of Atlantis. [1] A colourful character, in other words. This starts to explain why the local bishop opposed his proposal to rebuild the old church in a neo-classical design. [1]

A photo of the facade of the Mosta Church - Mosta, Malta

The Mosta Church – Mosta, Malta

The parish church at the time was on the same site. It was almost 200 years old. Population growth meant that the town needed a larger place of worship. Grognet’s idea for a neo-classical design was to mimic the Parthenon in Rome. Neo-classicism was still in its infancy at the time. The conservative bishop can therefore be forgiven his opposition to this design. Yet, one of his main arguments was that a Roman Catholic church should not use the Parthenon – a Roman pagan temple, to boot – as a model. [2] I can understand this point of view, even if it was a little narrow-minded.

The main facade of the new church has six Ionic columns and a portico. [2]
The Parthenon has eight Corinthian columns and a portico. [3]

Grognet used his inspiration wisely, it seems. This links the Mosta Dome to Rome, but what about the connection to Egypt?

A photo of the facade of the Parthenon - Rome, Italy

The Parthenon – Rome, Italy

The Parthenon as we know it is not the first temple on that site. Like the Mosta Dome, it was built on the site of a previous temple. The Corinthian columns were mined from Mons Claudianus, the Roman quarry in Egypt, near Luxor. They were cut on site – 11.9 metres tall and 1.5 metres in diameter. The Romans floated the 60 ton behemoths up the Nile, across the Mediterranean and then up the Tiber river. The original plans called for columns 14 metres high. The facade of the structure had to be redone to cater for this. [3] The Romans could not have cut taller columns since they could not transport anything larger. In other words, the Parthenon’s height was restricted by technological limitations. This was because the quarry was Egyptian (i.e., so far away).

Technological restrictions in the Egyptian quarry influenced the Parthenon’s design, which in turn was the inspiration for the Mosta Dome.

Have you heard of any unusual connections between countries? Leave a comment below and tell us about them!

References

[1] Wikipedia, Giorgio Grognet de Vassé, 2017
[2] Wikipedia, Rotunda of Mosta, 2017
[3] Wikipedia, Parthenon, Rome, 2017

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4 Comments

  1. This was interesting! And I remember visiting this church when I was in Malta many years ago!

  2. Very interesting indeed… I didn’t know of the Panteon connection with an Egyptian quarry!

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